August 1, 2010

High Contrast: Paris’ Galerie BSL By Agence Néonata

Among the stylish enterprises that have emerged in the northern Marais, Paris’s current epicenter of trendy chic, are the Christian Lacroix-designed Hotel du Petit Moulin and the contemporary-art galleries of Emmanuel­ Perrotin and Thaddaeus Ropac. Adding to the roster of visionary dealers is Béatrice Saint-Laurent, a former­ PR rep who went on to become a speechwriter for the French foreign ministry before reinventing herself as a curator. When she was considering potential locations for her Galerie BSL, there was no doubt in her mind that the northern Marais was the place to be. “It’s the only Parisian area where you can find cutting-edge art, design, and fashion,” she maintains.

Galerie BSL exhibits and commissions vintage or limited-edition examples of all those disciplines, blurring the distinctions between while defining an editorial viewpoint. Styles and eras collide. In the inaugural show, for example, a single vignette juxtaposes a bench in papier-mâché and iron by Nacho Carbonell, a 1952 chandelier in black enamel and gold-plated brass by Gino Sarfatti, and a dress in draped black silk by Martin Grant. This dis­parate mix-Saint-Laurent calls it a “universe of objects”-conveys her belief that functional items can have “an emotional value, speaking to us as individuals.” She also shows Ettore Sottsass, Joe Colombo, Gae Aulenti, and Interior­ Design Hall of Fame members Ingo Maurer and Matteo Thun.

To give physical form to that vision, Saint-Laurent hired Noé Duchaufour-Lawrance of Agence Néonata, having been drawn to the organic fluidity of his interiors. Her top request for Galerie BSL was that he rethink the archetypal gallery or boutique: no podiums or clothing racks. Instead, she imagined an oversize sculptural element with the visual punch of the monolith in Stanley Kubrik’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, something that could redefine the ground level of a modest 18th-century building that once housed three craftsmen’s workshops.

The 1,200-square-foot gallery narrows from about 17 feet at the front to just 12 feet at the rear, where a skylight caps a former courtyard. Duchaufour-Lawrance ebonized the oak floor and painted the walls and the exposed columns­, beams, and pipes a matte anthracite gray. Into this dark void he inserted a ribbon of smooth white solid-surfacing that unfurls as it moves away from the entry, enticing people on the street to follow.

Animating what could have been just a long box with little spatial variety, the white ribbon starts as a low platform running along a sidewall-an object for displaying other objects as well as a sculpture in its own right. It then flows outward to become the floor of the rear area, beneath the skylight, before rising along the opposite sidewall and finally peeling away to double back as a canopy. Except where the gray-painted steel columns pierce the white, it’s entirely seamless, “a blank surface that allows design pieces to express themselves,” he says. “A different material, like concrete, would have created the reverse effect.”

However, he points out, “Not everything reacts well to white, so the anthracite offers more display possibilities.” Opposite the vertical section of the ribbon, the gray serves as the background for a sprinkling of wall-mounted glass boxes. “Like the spray of a comet,” he suggests. Illuminated by LEDs, these mini vitrines hold a variety of small objects including jewelry showcased on biomorphic resin forms. There are minimal drop earrings by Ron Arad and a gold ring with numeric details by Jasper Johns. One vitrine almost­ overflows with a jumble of Carbonell’s foam giraffes. Near the reception­ desk, another anthracite wall supports lacquered shelves lined with Italian and Japanese lamps from the 1950’s, ’60’s, and ’70’s. 

“I’m particularly interested in exploring territories that testify to the resurgence of design-its exclusivity and transversality,” Saint-Laurent says, her words revealing a background in that very French academic field, semiotics. 

Iluc Giros: Agence Néonata. Créa Diffusion: Solid-Surfacing Contractor. Artis: General Contractor.

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