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Out With the Old, and in With La Biennale Paris

“If I can get more Americans to come to the show, I dare say I will have done my job,” said Mr. Forbes, who is known as Kip.


Alexis Lartigue, one of the fair’s youngest dealers, will be showing Fernand Léger’s “Yellow Cameo Composition” (1931).

Courtesy Galerie Alexis Lartigue

Ninety-four exhibitors will display their wares — from antiques to jewelry, clocks to Pop Art — at the Grand Palais. By art fair standards, that is still fairly intimate, since some events have more than 200 participants.

The Biennale is aiming for a more international feel over all. Roughly a third of the exhibitors are from outside France. “Hopefully that trend will continue,” Mr. Forbes said. “Being more international makes all the dealers up their game.”

Traditionally, the fair has had a strong French flavor. “We have the best galleries in Paris, but we also want important galleries from all over the world,” said Mathias Ary Jan, the president of the National Federation of Antiques Dealers, known as the SNA, which organizes the fair.

One of the most significant changes for the Biennale is something that happens behind the scenes, which collectors may not notice. The vetting, or examination and evaluation of the pieces offered for sale, has gotten much stricter. And it is no longer done by the SNA, as it was in years past.

Now it is handled by an independent committee of experts, none of whom show at the fair, and whose decisions cannot be reversed by the SNA.

“We can’t do the vetting and do the Biennale, too,” Mr. Ary Jan said. “We needed something independent. Collectors want transparency.”

An added attraction this year is a non-selling exhibition called “The Barbier-Mueller Collections: 110 Years of Passion.” Assembled by four generations of the Barbier-Mueller family, it features works by Georg Baselitz, Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun and Jeff Koons, along with Roman antiquities and tribal art from New Guinea.


Brame & Lorenceau will have a set of late 19th-century translucent glass-paste friezes by Henri Cros on display.

Brame & Lorenceau

This year’s Biennale features 26 dealers who are new to the fair. They include Lee & Sons of Hong Kong, with a focus on Asian sculptures; Dewitt of Geneva, specializing in clocks; and the postwar and Pop Art gallery Whitford Fine Art of London.

Alexis Lartigue of Paris, one of the youngest dealers at the event, is also a newcomer.

“I go to the Biennale every year, and I always wished I would have a booth there one day,” said Mr. Lartigue, who opened his modern and contemporary art gallery in 2006. “For me, it’s good news.”

Mr. Lartigue said that, compared with other longstanding fairs, the Biennale was ahead on style points.

“The booths are better decorated,” he said. “Each is different, and you have a real atmosphere. People like that.”

No matter the surrounding décor, the works themselves have to galvanize the attendees, and Mr. Lartigue is offering about 15 pieces, a range of painting, sculptures and works on paper. The lineup includes what he called a “masterpiece” by the French painter Fernand Léger (1881–1955), “Yellow Cameo Composition” (1931).

“It’s never been at auction before, and that will interest collectors,” he said.

Plenty of veteran galleries remain year after year, providing continuity for the fair amid the recent changes.

“The Biennale is part of the history of French art,” said Antoine Lorenceau of Brame & Lorenceau, a family-run Parisian gallery that traces its roots to 1864 and helped found the fair.


A bracelet influenced by Claude Monet’s “Water Lilies” will be shown by the jewelry designer Anna Hu.

Brame & Lorenceau still deals in the 19th-century art that made its name, but often the choicest older pieces do not make it to the Biennale.

“When we have the right level of Impressionist art, we sell it privately,” Mr. Lorenceau said. “The fair works tend to be more modern. That’s the taste of the day.”

He will offer Biennale visitors Sol LeWitt’s colorfully patterned “Wavy Brushstroke” (1994).

“Sol LeWitt created his own language,” Mr. Lorenceau said of the pioneering conceptual artist. “There’s been increasing recognition of his art nowadays.”

That abstract work will be alongside a few older pieces, including a set of late 19th-century translucent glass-paste friezes by Henri Cros (1840–1907).

Cros was looking back even further with his art, which often has mythological subjects. “He has a singular approach to history,” Mr. Lorenceau said. “It’s a return to ancient time.” And despite the prevailing taste these days for newer works, he added, “There are still a lot of collectors who favor that.”

Jewelry is a small but sparkly category at the fair, with four dealers. The New York-based jewelry designer Anna Hu, also a first-time exhibitor, will show 20 of her creations at the Biennale, including a bracelet and two necklaces influenced by Claude Monet’s “Water Lilies” that are made from sapphires, diamonds and other precious stones.

“When I saw Monet’s garden, it was an inspiration,” Ms. Hu said of the artist’s estate in Giverny. “I stayed there from 8 a.m. until 7 at night. I feel visually connected to it.”


V.I.P.s dining under the barrel-vaulted glass roof of the Grand Palais in 2016.

Kelly Ann Taub

Ms. Hu, a former cello prodigy who was born in Taiwan, worked at Van Cleef and Arpels and Harry Winston before founding Anna Hu Haute Joaillerie in 2007.

“I use stone like a painter uses pigment,” she said. Many celebrities have worn her artistry on gala red carpets, including Emily Blunt, Gwyneth Paltrow and Uma Thurman.

Organizers hope for a similarly glamorous air during the Biennale’s annual signature event for V.I.P.s, a dinner for 900 under the Grand Palais’s barrel-vaulted glass roof that will require about 200 people to make and serve it.

It is an example of what the organizers see as a primary point of difference for the Biennale, especially compared with the art fairs in Maastricht, the Netherlands, and Basel, Switzerland, two cities not known for romance.

“For me, Tefaf and Art Basel are big and important, but just for business,” Mr. Ary Jan said, referring to the European Fine Art Fair. “We have the Grand Palais dinner, the French touch. It’s not just a show.”

Mr. Forbes, a francophile who owns a chateau in Normandy that houses some of his collection relating to what he called “France’s least popular monarchs,” had his own take on that idea.

“One of the greatest draws is the city of Paris itself,” he said. “It has that je ne sais quoi.”

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