Stephane Danant talks about design for ARTINFO
What do you have planned for the remainder of 2015?
After ten years in Chelsea, we are moving to an expanded space that will open in the spring of 2016. In addition, we have two exhibitions coming up.
We are continuing to explore the various facets of French design in the 1970s. At the Salon Art + Design, we are going to be showing work by French sculptor César alongside furniture created during the same time period, stressing the use of similar materials, such as Plexiglas and certain plastics, all in a setting inspired by the gallery-apartments that were very much in vogue in Paris in the 1970s.
For Design Miami in December, the Design Steel exhibition will showcase steel furniture created in France between late 1960s and early ‘70s, Furniture by Maria Pergay, Jean-Paul Barray and Kim Moltzer, Jean Garçon, Roger Tallon, Yonel Lebovici, Michel Boyer, Olivier Mourgue and others will be shown along with lighting from the same time period produced by Verre Lumière, the most prestigious and creative French lighting design firm.
What was the vision behind founding the gallery?
Suzanne Demisch and I discovered French design from the ‘60s and ‘70s progressively. We first approached this period from an aesthetic perspective. As we started accumulating documentation about these years, mostly magazines, we started identifying the creators, all unknown at the time. As we deepened our knowledge, we started collecting all the pieces we could find, to be able to organize exhibitions and make a wider public aware of these designers.
It’s long-term work, which has taken several years, sometimes even a decade. This is how we became specialized and acquired the knowledge and expertise that are at the core of our reputation today.
What have been some of the most significant achievements and landmark moments of the gallery?
Rediscovering Maria Pergay, and helping her become known and acknowledged as a major artist in the second half of the 20th century. The retrospective we organized at Place des Vosges in Paris in March 2012 is one of our most ambitious projects and one of my dearest and most intense memories.
Our series of exhibitions about the postwar French generation, which has most certainly contributed to the public’s rediscovery of designers Joseph-André Motte, Antoine Philippon and Jacqueline Lecoq, Pierre Paulin, Pierre Guariche, Michel Boyer and René Jean Caillette.
For a few years now, we have been regularly presenting historic pieces by Sheila Hicks. To some extent, we are part of a larger movement that is rediscovering this great American artist.
More generally, we are proud to have imbued with value things that didn’t have any some ten years ago.
How has the market changed since you entered the business?
When we began, some 15 years ago, the market for design barely existed. There were very few specialized auctions, a few hodgepodge fairs, and no Internet. Art Deco dominated, and French furniture from the 1950s (such as works by Prouvé and Perriand) was just beginning to come to the fore. Contemporary design was not at all present on the design market as we conceive it today.
At the beginning of the 21st century, things began to shift, until the market exploded around 2005 to 2010. Auction sales grew in size. Wright, in Chicago, became an important actor in the field. Then came Design Miami/Basel, which structured an entire community of dealers, designers and collectors around these events.
Whether American, Brazilian, Scandinavian, Italian, French or Korean, historical or contemporary, design has blossomed. It has found its clientele.
What trends are you seeing?
Design Art is a new, more artistic and poetic approach to the functional object. It has recruited a whole new generation of designers and given status to what we call Design. I consider this movement—if it is one—as belonging to the field of contemporary decorative arts more than to that of design.
Who was the last designer you encountered that thoroughly impressed you?
Etienne Fermigier is a designer who died in a car crash in 1973, when he was only 41. He nevertheless left a very important body of work in all fields of design—everything from furniture and lighting, to industrial design, radio and television, to machine tools, a car, graphic design, and even photography. In my mind, he’s one of the first ‘global’ designers in France, like Roger Tallon, or Philippe Starck today.
What qualities must a good gallerist possess?
This is complex work that deals with many fields. Suzanne and I are lucky in that we are a two-headed animal , a duo of personalities that complement each other quite well. I dare hope that the synthesis of our two personalities may paint the portrait of a good gallerist.
And what should a good gallerist never do?
Knowing how to stay on point is quite important. Knowing how to adapt to the market and be self-critical is a good thing, but I believe that coherence and some sort of legibility over the long term are indispensable if you want to have any credibility.
If the constrictions of ordinary existence were not a problem, what one work of design would you love to own?
If I had to cite only one, it would be a desk in steel, ebony and macassar that Joseph-André Motte created in 1967. Not only do I consider this piece as one of the most beautiful desks made in the second half of the 20th century, but in itself it marks the origin of the use of steel in French furniture of the late 1960s—so it’s both magnificent and historic!
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