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Future Classics

Flashy French mod is back

Written by Eric Wunsch and Noah Wunsch

Pierre Paulin (1927-2009) decorated President George Pompidou's apartments of the presidential palace in 1971. Above, Paulin's Élysée Bookcase is signed "Paul."
Photo: Courtesy of Demisch Danant

Whiz kids of American antiques championing a show called Made in France? As co-directors of the Wunsch Americana Foundation, my brother Noah (age 27) and I are expected to be devotees of all things mahogany, 18th Century and above all…American. Well, frankly, we are not. What we’re really passionate about is inspiring, thought-provoking design, whether from the masters of 18th Century Newport (what's up, John Townsend?) or the pioneers of Italian Modernism (Ciao, Gio Ponti).

At the moment, we are particularly captivated with the irreverent soft structures and radical minimalism of French post-war design from the 1960’s and 70’s. For the very best of this genre, we look to Suzanne Demisch and Stephane Danat, co-founders of the pioneering design gallery Demisch Danant, which has recently migrated from Chelsea’s gallery row to a beautiful new space in Greenwich Village, expertly designed by Rafael de Cardenas.

Discovery is what’s so fundamentally compelling about collecting design, and in speaking with Suzanne Demisch, it quickly becomes apparent that there is an intensely personal narrative underlying the pieces chosen for the gallery’s Made in France exhibition open through October 29. This show is about connoisseurship, she explains; it is a reflection of more than a decade of scholarship, investigation and travel centered on the landscape of French post-war design, with particular attention paid to under-appreciated, or overlooked segments of the market - a perfect example being Maria Pergay, who they tracked down in Morocco and persuaded to begin producing new work, a 21st century design crusade of sorts.

Art or design? Stainless steel Pouf Vague / Wave Bench (1968) by visionary designer Maria Pergay (b. 1930) 
Photo: Courtesy of Demisch Danant.

Represented on the floor are stunning works by Pergay, Pierre Paulin, Sheila Hicks and Joseph-Andre Motte, among others. But this is not a greatest hits record. You will not see Paulin’s iconic mushroom chair on the floor. Instead, they’ve opted to showcase rare and stunning pieces like the Elysee Bookcase (1971), one of two known examples of the form. The show stands out because Demisch Danant uses the exhibition as a platform to educate their audience, to share their scholarship. Their passion for design and process is contagious. Go to the show to browse, to buy, or simply to learn. 

Etienne Fermigier, cabinet, 1960. "He was a brilliant designer, who died at 41 in 1973, but held an important place in the world of French design," says Stephane Danant.
Photo: Courtesy of Demisch Danant

One of America's greatest artists, Sheila Hicks (b. 1937), who resides in Paris, is part of the Made in France show at the Demisch Danant Gallery in Manhattan. Above, Sheila Hicks' Palghat Tapestry, c. 1966.

For more, visit the Demisch Danant website, and to follow design-loving Americana experts on Instagram @Wunschcollection.