The president of the BRAFA, Harold t’Kint de Roodenbeke, wanted to reinforce the eclecticism of the pieces presented and to accompany the choice of the city of Brussels to highlight Art Nouveau, in a partnership with the Horta Museum and the ROCAD (Royal Chamber of Antiquaries of Belgium). But doesn’t Art Nouveau symbolise the beginnings of modernity? Between the curves of the walnut armrest of a sofa by Eugène Vallin, enhanced by an organic base typical of the Nancy school, the wooden volutes of the furniture designed by Horta for the shop of the jeweller Wolfers, and the screens with asymmetrical panels, created for the restaurant of the Grand Hotel in Brussels by Paul Hankar, a resolutely early 20th century atmosphere was taking shape. While the works of Joan Miro, echoing the exhibition at the BAM in Mons which ended on 8 January 2023, or Calder’s mobiles added notes of primary colours, taking us back to the sources of abstraction… And above all, more contemporary art and more design, just about everywhere!
The unusual paper
It may be the humblest of materials, but with paper, artists work wonders. As a support for the works of Pierre Alechinsky, echoing the writings and “vagabond drawings” of Christian Dotremont of the Cobra group, paper acts as a blank page to be coloured or blackened. Among the masterpieces, the model of the book “Extraits pour Traits”, composed of 88 drawings in dialogue with 47 texts whose authors are part of Alechinsky’s entourage, Pol Bury, Hugo Claus, Christian Dotremont and Luc de Heusech. “On dirait le Sud”, a crumpled and sculpted paper tree by Charlot & Cie, proposed by the gallery Hélène Bailly, transformed the material into a light force. While Christian Renonciat’s hyper (realistic) works in lime wood, presented by the Galerie Divonne, featured an unfolded paper or a taped cardboard envelope. A sort of trompe-l’oeil of simple things, his bluffing work provokes emotion.
The good news
BRAFA welcomed three new galleries specialising in design furniture, including that of Parisian Pascal Cuisinier, one of the greatest collectors of French historical design from the Trente Glorieuses. He had wanted to exhibit for a long time. But until now, he was turned down for lack of space. His vast stand made a striking entry into the world of vintage furniture with creations by Pierre Guariche, Joseph-André Motte, Michel Mortier, Antoine Philippon & Jacqueline Lecoq, and the rational lighting of Robert Mathieu. The Belgian gallery New Hope presented American and Danish creations from the second half of the 20th century by Paul Evans, Phillip Llyod Powell, Poul Henningsen, Poul Kjaerholm and Finn Juhl. And one could dream in the garden of botanical books, offered by the bookshop Amélie Sourget. The colours of the illustrations, lithographs done with a brush, highlight Pierre-Joseph Redouté’s treatise on flowers and roses. Located in the Odeon district of Paris, this specialist was a hit with visitors interested in rare and precious books.
The design galleries also mixed pieces by historical designers with more recent ones. For example, the Parisian gallery Maison Rapin presented a chest of drawers studded with amber cabochons by Kam Tin, a Hong Kong-based company founded in the 1970s that has produced only a few pieces covered in pyrites, agates and turquoise, as well as tables in brass and polished copper (Nuages collection). Amongst Maison Rapin’s new acquisitions, a set of 8 decorative wooden panels, each part of which consists of 5 figurative watercolours signed by Paolo Malchiodi, dated 1940s. The Van den Bruinhorst gallery, specialised in the Dutch De Stijl movement, exhibited pioneering pieces by Gerrit Thomas Rietveld, such as the Zig Zag chair that he produced for his house in Utrecht. The poetry of these pieces of furniture, which seem to have been cobbled together from wooden planks painted like monochromes à la Piet Mondrian, revealed the beginnings of design, the genius as well as the rusticity, the geometrisation of forms, in connection with the Bauhaus school. The Morentz gallery, specialised in 20th century furniture, with exceptional pieces, a sculptural and gleaming staircase, an incredible table in metal marquetry, works by George Nakashima, Hans Wegner and Mats Theselius, Ado Chale. The Brussels gallery La Forest Divonne presented the work of François Cante-Pacos, who designed Pierre Cardin’s furniture in the 1970s and created the logo for his famous “Espace”, where the great couturier regularly exhibited his work. Contemporary cabinetry pieces, his Carapace cabinet in ivory lacquer and oak interior and his sculptural bench in black-stained wood Napoleon III revive ancestral techniques to project them into a modern universe. The cabinet is published for the first time in 8 copies, based on drawings from the 1970s. The Gokelaere & Robinson gallery, which specialises in Italian and Brazilian design from the 1940s to the 1980s, chose a screen by Piero Fornasetti, studded with birds, which was anything but minimalist…
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