I was busy doing my first finger-painting in 1948 when art dealer Pierre Matisse had an exhibition in New York entitled Twentieth Century Masters — an eclectic show featuring pieces that ranged from Bonnard to early Leger, Rousseau to Chagall, and Picasso to Soutine.
Typical for Matisse — the youngest son of the great artist himself — the catalogue for this exhibition was uncompromising, reflecting the enormous confidence he had in the artists he exhibited at his gallery in the city’s Fuller building. The younger Matisse made it is life mission to bring Modernist masterworks to America and make sure they stayed there, placing works with important and committed collectors.
I wish I had seen just one of these historic shows. Fortunately, this summer, London’s Stephen Friedman Gallery will be recreating the ‘1948 Moment’. Until the end of May, the gallery will abandon its usual name to become Galerie de l’Epoque, a fictional gallery founded in Paris in 1948.
Left: Jiro Takamatsu, The Pole of Wave, 1969. Wood, lacquer. © The artist. Courtesy of the artist and Stephen Friedman Gallery, London. Right: Jim Hodges, Untitled (Black Door I), 2010. Black mirror. © The artist. Courtesy of the artist and Stephen Friedman Gallery, London
Step through the door and you are taken back in time, entering a space that evokes the brave aesthetic of an earlier era. Works by European 20th century masters are shown alongside pieces by classical contemporary artists from America, Europe, Japan and South America — a curatorial feat that Pierre Matisse himself would no doubt have admired. At Galerie de l’Epoque, Picasso, Schwitters and Klee sit comfortably with the likes of Isa Genzken, Jiro Takamatsu and Gego.
French interior designer Emilie Bonaventure has transformed the gallery, her décor recalling the most chic interiors of 1950s Paris. Iconic furnishings by Alain Richard and Jacques Dumond are set against original wallpaper and an historically accurate palette, the collaboration between curator and designer resulting in an entirely immersive environment.
Left: Jiro Takamatsu, In the Form of Square, 1972. Pencil, gouache on Kent paper. © The artist. Courtesy of the artist and Stephen Friedman Gallery, London. Right: Jiro Takamatsu, In the Form of Square, 1973. Pencil, gouache on Kent paper. © The artist. Courtesy of the artist and Stephen Friedman Gallery, London
The exhibition goes beyond simply pairing and comparing the old and new, following a wider curatorial movement which sees art works from several periods grouped together. Transported to the past, viewers are reminded that our desire to look both forwards and backwards, bringing the art of the past and future together, is by no means new — though has recently gained enormous momentum.
Galerie de l‘Epoque blurs the lines, not only between historical and contemporary art, but also between international borders, presenting artists from South America, Japan, Europe and America. It is an exhibition which demonstrates that art of exceptional quality has a binding and profound synergy, regardless of period. This is a show that is extremely well done, and for that reason I urge you to go and see it!
Main image at top: Installation view of Galerie de l'Epoque, Stephen Friedman Gallery, London (2015). Photography Mark Blower
For more features, interviews and videos, see our Christie’s Daily homepage