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Subscriber: null; date: 25 August 2019

Blondel, Alainlocked

(b 1939).
  • Bénédicte Martin

French art dealer. Blondel became active as an art dealer in Paris in the late 1960s, and his high-profile gallery in the Marais district closed in December 2014. Blondel is best remembered for restoring attention, in the market and in the scholar community, to figurative painters from between the two world wars such as Tamara de Lempicka, Aleksandr Yakovlev, and Bernard Boutet de Monvel (1881–1949). Blondel was also interested in the applied arts, dealing for instance in Jean-Jacques Ruhlmann furniture and Gallé glass, when few collectors were interested in these objects. After studying architecture, Blondel became keenly interested in art, developing a special fascination with Hector Guimard, the Art Nouveau architect and furniture designer who famously created the iconic Parisian Métro entrances. In 1966 Blondel’s passion inspired him to open his first gallery, the Galerie des quatre vents (Gallery of Four Winds), in the sixth arrondissement of Paris. His intention at the time was to re-value forgotten artists from the first half of the 20th century. Due to public indifference, many paintings and objects from this period were very accessibly priced. Demand for such objects was very low, and a functioning market for this niche hardly existed. At the same time, Blondel and Laurent Sully Jaulmes began an urban photography project, which they pursued between 1970 and 2006, designed to document the evolution of the urban landscape.

The rapid success of the Galerie des quatre vents led to several relocations, the first of which happened as early as 1968. The gallery remained in the sixth arrondissement but changed its name, becoming the Gallery du Luxembourg. In 1971 it reinvented itself again when moving to the neighbourhood of Les Halles, which was then being rebuilt. The gallery now featured retrospectives of painters and sculptors from the 1920s and 1930s, both figurative and abstract artists, and the gallery established its aesthetic orientation.

In 1977, when the Musée National d’Art Moderne located in the newly built Centre Georges Pompidou opened, the gallery again moved to the Beaubourg neighbourhood, adjacent to the Centre Pompidou, and changed its name to become Alain Blondel Gallery. The move coincided with Blondel’s separation from his previous business partners. The gallery now turned towards figurative art in all its forms: hyper-realism, narrative figuration, and fantastic realism. It mounted exhibitions of living artists (e.g. Sergio Ceccotti (b 1935), Jürg Kreienbühl (1932–2007), and Jean-Pierre Ugarte (b 1950)) rather than organizing retrospectives and ‘rediscoveries’. The economic model of the gallery was modified to focus increasingly on international contemporary art fairs, which at about this time emerged as central marketing tools for enhanced visibility and access to the global art market. Blondel’s client base during the 1970s and 1980s included Karl Lagerfeld, Yves Saint Laurent, Pierre Bergé, Ileana Sonnabend, Andy Warhol, and Lucino Visconti.

In 1992, after a fourteen-year tenure at the Foire Internationale d’Art Contemporain (FIAC; International Fair of Contemporary Art) in Paris, Blondel’s gallery was rejected by the selection committee. Asked about this decision by his peers, Blondel claimed at the time that, in the eyes of the committee, he had failed to promote avant-garde artists, but instead showed painters ‘of craft’. The rejection highlighted the growing controversy surrounding the definition of contemporary art, since the Alain Blondel Gallery had been rejected by contemporary art experts because it featured artists ‘fidèles à la figuration poétique de toujours’ (faithful to the endurance of poetic figuration; Mavrakis, 1998), and artists qualified as ‘modernes’. The genres of ‘contemporary’ and ‘modern’ were henceforth not only seen as distinct, but were also pitted against each other over the question as to whether or not they condoned a rupture with tradition.

From 2005 until its closure in 2014, the gallery operated from the Marais district, behind the Centre Pompidou, on 128 Rue Vieille du Temple.

Photographic publications

  • with L. Sully Jaulmes: Un siècle passé (Paris, 2007)

Bibliography

  • L’image du temps dans le paysage urbain (exh. cat. by A. Blondel and L. Sully Jaulmes, Paris, Mus. A. Déc., 1979)
  • N. Heinich, Le triple jeu de l’art contemporain: sociologie des arts plastiques (Paris, 1998)
  • K. Mavrakis: ‘L’impartialité du sociologue’, Le débat, vol.100(3) (1998), pp. 207–10
  • N. Heinich: Pour en finir avec la querelle de l’art contemporain (Paris, 2000)
  • R. Moulin: Le marché de l’art: Mondialisation et nouvelles technologies (Paris, 2003)
  • Vent aux enchères de la collection Yves Plantin (sale cat., preface by Y. Plantin, Paris, Galerie du Luxembourg, part 2, 23 Nov 2015)