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    Paris Passages
by Jennifer Olshin
 
     
 
From a series of gold Spanish rosettes set with diamonds, pearls and rubies, an emerald pendant in the form of a salamander
ca. 1580-1600
at J. Kugel
 
A quéridon table
attributed to Sebastian Youf
ca. 1830
at the Galerie Ariane Dandois
 
Antique dolls at Capia
in the Véro Dodat, Paris
 
Robsjohn Gibbings's installation
at Eric Phillipe
 
Robsjohn Gibbings's
"griffin table"
at Eric Phillipe
 
Robsjohn Gibbings's
armoire
at Eric Phillipe
 
The first floor of
Galerie Patrick Seguin
 
A view from upstairs
at Galerie Patrick Seguin
 
A Bo Plastic delivery...
 
Lichtenstein prints and Verner Panton chairs
at Bo Plastic
 
Olivier Mourque's foam-over-steel settee in purple stretch jersey
at Bo Plastic
 
Interior of the
bar/restaurant/nightclub
La Scene
 
Interior of La Scene (with Jean-Marc, general manager)
 
Last month, the blockbuster Biennale des Antiquaires in Paris closed its spruced up doors, sending home to new owners the Comte d'Artois' armchairs, Marie Antoinette's porcelain chestnut jar and countless other lacquered, gilded and shark-skinned curiosities. Buying trends have been assessed and the new taste declared [see Decorative Arts Diary by Brook S. Mason].

While the curators, collectors, and journalists drawn to the city of light by the world's greatest antique show have returned home, the dealers of Paris still have plenty more to show you.

Renaissance splendor at J. Kugel
In their own sumptuous maisons, several members of the old guard mounted exhibitions of particular note. One such is "Joyaux Renaissance, Une Splendeur Retrouvée" at J. Kugel (279 rue Saint-Honoré, until Oct. 31). For the show, the brothers Nicholas and Alexis Kugel, who are fifth-generation dealers, gathered over 200 examples of Renaissance jewelry and objets. Passing the cases of antique gemstones in a shop on France's most expensive street of antiques is like a trip into the center of the natural earth.

Piece after piece is encrusted with layers of diamonds, rubies, sapphires, cameos and other stones. A squirming salamander from early 17th-century Spain writhes in his glassy emerald skin. These objects' presence is so forceful that one can almost hear the excited whispering that must have accompanied their original presentations to the Queens and aristocrats of the courts for whom they were made.

Empire at Dandois
No less splendid is "L'Empire A Travers L'Europe: 1800-1830," at the Galerie Ariane Dandois (until Oct. 30, at Place Beauvau, 92, rue du Fauborg Saint Honore). The show, a seamless enfilade of polished gilt-bronze, plum-pudding mahogany, "sea-green" and "royal blue" painted porcelains, is nothing short of majestic. With works like the guéridon table flaunting its brightened bronze ram's head supports (ca. 1830, attributed to Sébastian Youf), Dandois' exhibition presents French, Spanish, Russian, Italian and Swedish products from or influenced by the Empire, in all their exalted grandeur.

As the old guard stands strong in Paris, the new regime is encroaching. Twentieth-century design dealers flexed their muscles to an embracing public response at the Biennale and the trend is echoed in focused exhibitions all over town.

In the arcades
Steps away from the Caroussel du Louvre I discovered a covered alley known as galerie Véro Dodat while seeking refuge from a brief but fervent Paris rainstorm. This picturesque crossing (named for the two wealthy charcutiers, or butchers, who built the structure in the 1880s) is fit with gas light fixtures, arched windows, wooden shop fronts and tiled floors, and is home to several well-known design galleries including Galerie Lelouch, Galerie du passage, and the antique doll shop, Capia.

All welcome perusing, but at Galerie Eric Philippe was a real gem of a show, "Terence Harold Robsjohn Gibbings" (at 25, galerie Véro Dodat, closing Oct. 7). With only 14 objects and three period photographs, it represents an unusual French devotion to this British-born American designer.

Robsjohn Gibbings may be best known today for his iconic klismos chairs, lotus tables and mass-produced designs from the 1950s for the Widdicomb furniture company of Grand Rapids, Mich. This show, however, boasts nine works with "Casa Incantada" provenance -- i.e., one of kind pieces commissioned between 1934-38 for Hilda Weber (widow of the industrialist J.O. Weber), for her Bel Air home. The contents of "Casa Incantada," bought by the designer Conrad Hilton in 1952 and later sold, are legendary and rarely seen.

Among the early Gibbings masterworks, a whimsical carved griffin with flowing wings effortlessly supports a heavy ash console-table top. Adapted from neoclassical English and antique Greek prototypes, the piece is both handsome and humorous. A sycamore table with hoof-footed supports follows a similar esthetic. Despite their homage to antique models, the pieces are striking in their pared down modernity. It is their playful departure from the past that renders them creations.

Eric Philippe fills out his show with later Gibbings works, including a striking blondwood armoire made by Widdicomb in 1946-7 -- and placed directly facing the gallery entrance. With its mazelike moldings, the armoire draws one's attention and beckons passersby in.

Seguin, Royere in the 11th
Though originally stumbling on the centrally located Gibbings show, it was a poster advertisement that led me to "Mobilier d'architectes et de décorateurs" at Patrick Seguin (5, rue des Taillandiers, indefinitely) located in the tourist-remote 11th arrondissement. Near the place de la Bastille, scene of the populist revolt, this east Paris locale is associated with the working-class Parisian.

Traditionally a district for furniture and other craftsmen ateliers, the area retains cobbled alleys and courtyards dating from the 18th century. Today, streets such as rue des Taillandiers and the adjacent rue de Charonne have been claimed by hip cafes, clothing stores, contemporary art galleries and furniture shops.

Seguin's poster illustrates an appliqué made in 1956 by Le Corbusier, but his warehouse turns out to be an enchanting world of mid-century French design. Not only is the appliqué there, but entire "Corbu" rooms exist alongside works by other visionaries in bent steel, wood and aluminum. Scanning the room, signature Charlotte Perriand pieces (a wall-mounted bookshelf and forme libre table) stand out. A second look reveals an "African" wood table that Seguin explains was made by Perriand and Jean Prouvé for the Air France employee housing in the Congo.

After taking in all Seguin offers on the first floor, go upstairs where more decorative pieces as Jean Royere's marble-top coffee table can be found.

Bo Plastic, more
Just down the road Americans can feel at home among the Eames chairs and Lichtenstein prints at Bo Plastic (27, rue de Charonne). But so can Germans, French, Italians and Danes! Bo's selection of pop furniture from the '50s, '60s and '70s, includes Verner Panton's classic injection-molded stackables in black and Olivier Mourgue's foam-over-steel settee in purple stretch jersey ... (surely recognizable to children of the '60s as it's a version of a piece in the "Hilton interior" of Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey).

Don't leave the 11ième without checking out La Scene (2, bis rue des Taillandiers). It's a bar/restaurant/nightclub, but so much more. Concocted by decorator and scenographer Jean-Paul Bernard (who created the special effects for the film The Fifth Element, and numerous fashion events for Galliano and Kenzo), the steel and leather furniture, gold and red collaged walls are only a part of the picture. From the front doors -- made of "Yves Klein" blue foam set within silvered latticework frames -- to the funky jazz and blues that emanate from its stage, the place is much like Paris itself, a complete artistic experience.


JENNIFER OLSHIN is the director of the gallery at Ingrao, Inc., in New York.

 
 
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