How a Fifth-Generation Old Master Gallery Is Exploring Its Contemporary Side While Remaining True to Tradition
Alain Kraemer shares his thoughts on reinventing his gallery, mixing 18th-century and contemporary art, and his passion for American artists.
What is the right way to view an Old Master painting? In recent years the historic Parisian Kraemer Gallery has been pushing the boundaries of how centuries-old paintings and antiques are viewed and enjoyed.
With nudes by George Condo and the photographer Miguel Soler Roig currently showcased alongside antique furniture, this daring display is another of the many times Kraemer has shown a flair for the unconventional.
Recently Alain Kraemer gave us a peek inside the historic space and talked to us about why antiques and contemporary art can be a marvelous match.
You lead a famed Old Master gallery and a family business. How does it feel to be active in such an historic métier?
It is a great pleasure to do this fascinating job and an honor to continue the family tradition that began in 1875 with my great great grandfather in Paris. It’s also a wonderful challenge to continue this great adventure with my brother Mikael and my cousin Sandra representing the 5th Generation. To live with and display masterpieces of previous centuries is absolutely thrilling. It is like touching the past.
What challenges have you faced in steering an Old Master gallery into the 21st century?
We must reinvent ourselves continuously and imagine new stagings and collaborations, especially with top-tier international contemporary art. At our gallery, we have staged some contemporary decor — the 18th century and contemporary art match very well together. Showcasing contemporary masters entices visitors who would not usually pass through an antiques dealer’s gallery door.
Old Masters are known to be collected by a more seasoned generation. How do you connect with younger aficionados?
Reinvention makes it possible to attract a new and younger clientele, who then begin to collect 18th-century furniture and objets d’art. Contemporary art collectors come in from all around the world, but primarily from the United States. Additionally, we are encountering more and more collectors from Asia and the Middle East.
Often people are interested in works created in their own time, but it’s also important to bring a touch of personality and history with Old Masters. Collectors who are just starting out as well as more seasoned connoisseurs visit our galleries not only to purchase the best, but also sometimes to simply take a look. We constantly endeavor to to help visitors understand that Old Masters can look beautiful in a contemporary setting and harmonize well with contemporary art.
Is this the first time that you have shown contemporary pieces alongside Old Masters? Why did you decide to mount this exhibition?
It’s not the first time that we show Contemporary pieces with 18th century furniture and objets d’art. My family started to introduce blends about 20 years ago with Impressionist painters or modern masters such as Mark Rothko. We really started exhibitions with contemporary art in 2015 for our 140th anniversary with artists like Anish Kapoor, Lee Ufan, and Daniel Buren, and then with Street Artists as Banksy, Shepard Fairey aka OBEY, Space Invader, Vhils and Zevs.
We have created a new presentation in several rooms of our house so that art lovers can really visualize how a contemporary setting and today’s decor harmonise with Old Masters and antique furniture.
As an example, during such a contemporary art exhibition, a young couple who had never bought any 18th century furniture suddenly fell in love with a pair of armchairs which were exhibited in a classical period room of the gallery. They wondered if it would fit well in their loft. I moved the pair of chairs in one of our new setting rooms, with grey concrete ground. They bought them immediately and they now are very happy with this first purchase of 18th century art.
Right now you’re exhibiting photographs by Miguel Soler-Roig. Where does your interest in photography come from?
My interest in photography goes back to my childhood. I remember my father taking me to a Richard Avedon exhibition. I was fascinated by these photos, especially how Avedon captured so much expression and emotions so candidly!
Why did you decide to show Soler-Roig and George Condo simultaneously?
We were already planning to exhibit this particular series of black and white nude women by George Condo before meeting Miguel; he was introduced to me by a friend who encouraged me to view his astonishing photographs. When he showed me his series “The Great American Nude”, I immediately made the link with the works of Condo.
After spending some time in Warhol’s factory, Condo lived and worked in Paris for several years. Does his show at Kraemer reflect the influence living in Paris had on his life and work?
George Condo is a great lover of Paris but this series does not necessarily reflect an influence of his stay. Meanwhile a slightly erotic series can evoke the atmosphere and sensuality of Parisian cabarets.
Installation view of Kraemer Gallery, 2019.
Soler-Roig cites Ansel Adams and Edward Weston as inspirations for his exhibition at Kraemer Gallery. What convinced you to mount a show with such an American influence?
Americans have always been great collectors, patrons, and art lovers. From Andy Warhol to George Condo or Richard Avedon, the United States boasts many talented and influential artists who can be credited with changing the way one traditionally views art. They have inspired many painters and photographers worldwide, such as we hope to inspire our collectors and friends.
Apart from Soler-Roig, which other photographers do you admire?
Peter Lindbergh, Helmut Newton, Richard Avedon, Sebastião Salgado, Robert Doisneau, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Jean-Lou Sieff, Cathleen Naundorf, among many others…
What can we look forward to at Kraemer this autumn?
We are working on many new exhibitions at the same time but we cannot communicate about them just yet. We are focusing on long-term exhibitions in museums and public spaces worldwide, especially in Asia’s biggest metropolises.
The Great American Nude exhibition is on view at Kraemer Gallery through November 2019.
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