The 26th Paris Biennale des Antiquaires was, as ever, a thoroughly lavish affair. No expenses were spared by fashion legend Karl Lagerfeld whose design saw 122 top international art dealers gather to share their works on an elegant Belle Époque boulevard staged under the magnificent glass roof of the Grand Palais.
The range of works on sale was larger than in previous years as exhibitors covered the broad cultural spectrum from pre-history to the present day. Contemporary works were presented for the first time helping to shift the Biennale’s longstanding reputation as a rather stuffy celebration of antiquity. New York and Los Angeles based L&M Arts’ stand, near the entrance, was a veritable who’s-who of modern masters, exhibiting seminal works from Picasso to Warhol; from Fontana to Hirst, their stand was a testament to the outstanding quality that resonates across the board at the Biennale.
At the other end of the scale we had the impressive archaeological offerings of Geneva based Phoenix Ancient Art. Displaying a variety of mostly sculptural works from the cradle of civilisation, highlights included the stone bust of a pharaoh dating back to the 19th century BC. The sheer age of this superb piece was topped only by Galerie Gilgamesh’s foot-long Neolithic flint with the rather vague and distant dating of 800,000 – 460,000BC. Galerie Gilgamesh of Paris was situated in the Salon d’Honneur, an upstairs sub-section of the Biennale housing thirty-eight dealers in a much more traditional fair setting, giving smaller galleries a chance to exhibit at the Biennale without the enormous cost attached to the main floor.
A clutch of high-profile jewellers dominated the central section. Cartier, Chanel, Bulgari and Wallace Chan were particularly prominent, showcasing their new creations and old classics to a swirling crowd of wide-eyed enthusiasts. Interestingly, Wallace Chan is the first Asian company to exhibit at the Paris Biennale, reflecting subtle shifts employed to boost links between the Asian and European art market. SNA (Syndicat National des Antiquaires) president Christian Deydier, whose Paris based gallery is at the forefront of ancient Asian art, expressed his excitement and trust in the Biennale’s ability to attract serious collectors from around the world and especially the emerging markets of the far-East.
Biennale veteran Richard Green of Bond Street showed an interesting breadth of works. Old Masters, Impressionists and Continental Modernists were hung side by side on a stand that drew in the crowds with its something-for-everyone approach. Jermyn Street’s Sladmore Gallery offered fine bronzes from the late 19th and early 20th centuries including sought after works by Rodin, Degas and Bugatti. Stoppenbach & Delestre of Cork Street was in its element. Their specialism for museum worthy French paintings of the 19th and 20th centuries was no doubt lapped up by both the home crowd and international collectors with a passion for French art. These galleries represent just a selection of the British dealers who exhibited at this year’s Biennale. All but two of the nine British exhibitors had taken part in the fair before; newcomers Mullany and Carpenters Workshop Gallery expressed that the fair attracted a potent mix of first-time buyers and serious collectors.
With exhibitors of the highest calibre displaying the very best of their respective disciplines, the 2012 Paris Biennale des Antiquaires has proved once again that it is among the most glamorous international art fairs. Equally captivating for well-informed collectors and those just looking for a cultured day out, the Biennale does not disappoint. I for one am eagerly anticipating the Grand Palais’ 2014 offering.