Paris wakes up the art world's Autumn season every two years. 2014 is one of those years. On the 9th of September there is a huge and fancy dinner for the VIPs, yours truly not invited once again. And on the 10th at 6.30 the normal preview crowd gather to enjoy the much anticipated glamour of this capital city art show.
But Paris is not just about the Biennale - the whole city of art and design sparkles in the early autumn sun and shows proliferate. My friend Sylvain, who has an exquisite gallery on the Quai Voltaire, is putting his best foot forward with a gathering of Meissen porcelain. Over on the Right Bank in the Faubourg St Honore, Philippe Perrin is showing photography and polished steel furniture, whilst next door Marella Rossi, the charming daughter of the legendary Jean Marie Rossi, has a mixed show with tribal art and has recreated a room from a film-making collector's home. Down the road the ever energetic Benjamin Steinitz has a one-man show of the Art Nouveau cabinet maker Le Lievre. Back over the river and Nicolas and Alexis Kugel have a spectacular show of silver-gilt pieces from Strasbourg dating from the 16th to the 18th centuries. The city buzzes with excitement as everyone gossips about who is doing what and where. We rush from one much vaunted event to another, passing by Sotheby's and Christie's on the way. There is a palpable sense of the market rousing itself from its slothful summer recess and everyone is now raring to go and get down to the serious work of buying and selling.
Feeling a little naughty I decided to arrive at the preview at 6.45 rather than be there on the dot of the opening time. I presumed that this would allow the crowd to enter and I could therefore stroll in without the burden of queuing. What a mistake. The line was horrendous. It snaked right round from the front of the Grand Palais past the corner and almost around to the back. It is not often you see such a dressed-up crowd being kept waiting, kicking their high heels. Nearly an hour later the aficionados were finally let in. You cannot compare any venue to the Grand Palais which is simply majestic - a festival of glass and iron, it swoops and swirls with captivating verve. Any show has a challenge matching up to these surroundings. The look of the Biennale changes every iteration and some years it is truly spectacular. In 2012 the central area was dominated by a massive Montgolfier-style balloon. This year the feeling was more muted. The theme was garden pavilions, each stand decorated with a white trellis against a green ground. The carpet was green too with patriotic fleur-de-lys amid subsidiary scrolls. However, the Ruinart champagne flowed like the Seine and the snacks were copious, innovative and delicious. Pretty and elegant waiters popped up hither and thither with micro work stations from which they dispensed morsels of foie gras or finely chopped aubergine on a leaf of crispy parmesan-infused pastry. The preview crowd began their progress in a demure fashion but sadly as the evening progressed so the event descended into the familiar scrabble for delights from the caterers.
As as been the pattern over the last few fairs, jewels dominate with all the big names parading their wares. This year the laurels for the most talked-about show went to the Hong Kong maverick Wallace Chan who brought pieces of extreme fantasy and eye-watering extravagance. It will be a long time before I forget the the white jade model of a fisherman draped in rags of 24 carot gold and bearing his catch of ruby and diamond encrusted fish. Garnishing this drama are a few traditional dealers in furniture, paintings, sculpture and and antiquities but they seem peripheral, an adjunct - not the main attraction. I did see many masterpieces; Chenel put on a superb and dramatic display of white marble from ancient Greece and Rome. Gismondi brought some breathtaking examples of Pietra Dura, quite the best I have seen in Years. The dealers crowded round gasping in awe. It was also always a treat to see the dealers Kraemer who have some of the finest French furniture on the market and who very rarely show at fairs apart from this one.
Weary with opulence we headed off to the Brasserie Lipp where the show ceded prominence to a simple meal in this legendary place. Dark red wine from near Beaune, called St Joseph, accompanied by foie gras, delicate sweet small oysters followed by a robust and hearty steak tartare. Good discussion ranging over the joys of Paris and we were sent off into the night for rest.
A few days pass and I find myself at the other great trade awakening. The south of France plays host four times a year to the confluence of brocante fairs at Beziers, Avignon and Montpellier. Each one has probably over a 1000 dealers stalling out their wares and Beziers kicks off with two days of hard sell. Everyone gathers early looking for the bargain that will invigorate and stir up their Autumn trading. The bustle begins at 8 and the hurly-burly of the buyers' hustling and the traders' unpacking ensues for 3 hours and then calm is restored; lunch and culture follows. This pattern is repeated over the next few days at the other venues. Everyone sells and everyone buys and equally everyone complains that business is not what it used to be.
I buy something straight away; it is quite useless but I feel it serves as a symbolic act, you have to start somewhere and the bent, rusty plant stand is like my entry ticket. I can move on from there, and I do. This is not to say I do not fritter away more euros but there are also useful and commercial temptations and I make regular trips to the friendly on-site shippers carrying objects to be wrapped up and trucked over to London.
So, the season has begun, and now I have to knuckle down to the grind of selling - not just the fun of spending money.Suggest a correction