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by Jennifer Olshin
|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
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
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
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
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
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.