Art: French Polish

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The one drawback to the Biennale des Antiquaires, which takes place September 14 through 28 in Paris, is that it only occurs every other year. However, by staging the event on a biennial basis, the Syndicat National des Antiquaires, sponsor of the fair, ensures that the Biennale remains a rare treat. A total of 103 dealers will bring more than a billion dollars’ worth of furniture, paintings, drawings, sculpture, decorative objects, and jewelry to the Carrousel de Louvre, an underground exhibition area adjacent to the famed museum. The rich and varied collection of items on display, which will range from ancient coins to furniture made as recently as 1950, tempts collectors with the promise of returning home with exquisite discoveries. More than 100,000 attendees are expected at this 22nd edition of the Biennale, and the gala opening night party, a charitable event hosted by Bernadette Chirac, wife of the French president, will draw more than 3,000 revelers.

First staged in 1956, the Biennale has undergone some significant changes of late. Once an overwhelmingly French affair, the show now makes a point of diversifying its roster of exhibitors. Roughly a third of the galleries that will be represented at the 2004 show are located outside of France. “We want to invite the best dealers we can find, and we plan to try to draw more foreign dealers in the future,” says Hervé Aaron, vice president of the Syndicat National des Antiquaires and son of the founder of the Didier Aaron gallery, which has branches in New York, London, and Paris.

What never changes, however, is the sumptuous quality of the booths. The Biennale, more than any other art and antiques fair, inspires its dealers to engage in a decorative arms race, in which they battle to design and create the most lavish and captivating displays. Preparations often begin months in advance, and some started planning their 2004 layout the minute that the 2002 Biennale ended. “A good 10 to 15 dealers spend from $100,000 to $150,000 on decorating their booths,” says Aaron. At the 2002 Biennale, Paris dealer Jean-Jacques Dutko installed a 200-square-foot vintage 1928 bathroom in his booth; Belgian dealer Axel Vervoordt displayed a Roman marble kore, or female figure, inside a little temple.

Although it is smaller than TEFAF Maastricht in terms of the amount of space it requires and the number of dealers that are invited (about 100 fewer), the Biennale is as celebrated and as eagerly anticipated as the fair held every March in Holland. Indeed, TEFAF stalwarts such as Vervoordt, Rob Noortman of Maastricht, Colnaghi of London, and Landau Fine Art of Montreal will again be among the Biennale participants this year.

Robert Landau, president of the Montreal gallery, first exhibited at the Biennale in 2002. He received several thousand visitors at his booth, one of whom was President Jacques Chirac, who inspected every stand at the Biennale. Landau has met with several important people on the floors of major fairs, but only in France has the sitting head of state paid him a call during exhibition hours. “Much of the same crowd visits Paris and Maastricht, and you get the same attitude and level of professionalism at the Biennale,” Landau says. “But in Paris, you see prime ministers and queens in greater numbers. . . . There is a level of pomp and circumstance in Paris that you don’t find anywhere else.” 

The Biennale des Antiquaires


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