Interview with Armel Soyer on the eve of Design Miami Basel


Galerie Armel Soyer will be interpreting a Neo-Classical theme in the 21st Century in her booth at Design Miami Basel this year. It will be, without a doubt, a tour de force. We spoke with Armel as she was preparing for the Fair.

What do you see as the role of the design fair in today’s market? Is its role continually evolving?  There are design fairs and Design Fairs! For example Design Miami/Basel is THE fair which truly values the artists. It is extremely selective and only the best of the international galleries are presented there, be it vintage or contemporary design. Galleries from every continent are present in Basel (Europe, America, Africa, Asia…) and they have all been scrupulously vetted by the strict selection committee. Did you know that each and every piece exhibited at the fair has its own vetting form? That very detailed form presents and describes the piece to the vetting committee. For the most important works, the form has to be sent ahead of time so that the experts have the time to study it carefully. The selection committee passes through the fair the night before it opens, stopping at each stand to inspect each piece with the help of the description form. The objective is to create a climate of confidence for the buyers and collectors who can proceed with reassurance to follow their heart’s desire in the various galleries represented at the fair. Its a very strict and serious procedure and underlines the professionalism of the participants. For sure at Basel you will find the best!


Could you tell us a little about the artists you will be presenting at Design Miami Basel this year and the theme?  For our 4th year at Design Miami/Basel, we will be presenting a neo-classical room from the XXI° century, a period room where all the classical elements of the ceremonial salon will be presented. As contemporary creations, all of the following pieces interact, converse together and by doing so, propose a reinterpretation of a classical salon. During the Fair, we will be introducing a new artist: Denis Milovanov from Northern Russia.

– Red marble pieces, PALAIS by Pierre Gonalons .
After a solo show in Basel in 2012, Pierre Gonalons is now returning with new pieces in French marble, which echo the magnificence of Versaillles and the Louis XIV period.
– The tapestry « Soldats endormis » by Gilles Pernet. This is a modern jacquard tapestry where contemporary photography and renaissance painting meet.
– A sculptural bench «  Seating #13 » and Panels from the Russian artist Denis Milovanov presented for the first time by the gallery. Inspired by the culture of North Russia, Denis Milovanov sculpts oaks weathered by storms. His pieces are abstract, brutal, totemic.
– A console in stainless steel « Inverted Bulgy » by Ifeanyi Oganwu. With his fluid and powerful design, Ifeanyi is part of the current exhibtion at the Vitra Design Museum, Making Africa.
– The new mirror « Mercure » by Mathias Kiss is emblematic of his work in the folds and deformation of rigid materials.  ‘Mercure’ was created on the occasion of the AIR MUSEUM Exhibition at the Palais des Beaux Arts Museum, Lille,  in collaboration with the French band AIR.
You show the exquisitely polished marble work of Pierre Gonalons alongside more abstract brutalist pieces by Denis Milovanov. What do you look for in the artists you work with?  This is a question I often get asked. First of all, I’m a hunter. I like to make discoveries. I constantly move between the artists’ creations which I am studying and considering and my own culture of classical furniture; all whilst seeking to avoid falling into the ‘post-something’ description bracket.
I constantly ask myself the following question: Is this really new, is this really unique, what will it bring to the world in 50 years? Then, its essentially a question of taste and thats difficult to explain…. But it is that which makes creations that are so fundamentally different work well together. My objective is to place these works within the history of furniture. I’d like each piece to have several lives, to cross different epochs, to be recontextualised and to pass from family to family as pieces from the 17th century have survived through to the present time.
A really beautiful piece, that is what transcends time, even if it carries with it the mark of its era, it remains beautiful among every other style and and in every other period.

We have seen recently an emphasis on the values of traditional craftsmanship in contemporary design. Could you comment on this?  You know my commitment as far as traditional savoir-faire is concerned. For me, its almost political. We need to make sure these extraordinary skills carry on and endure! Its not by chance that I am part of the ‘Conseil Scientifique and Culturel de l’institut national des métiers d’art’. Right from the very first days of the Armel Soyer Gallery I undertook a strong commitment to work with contemporary designers and artisans.

I remain very influenced by my time with Lalique where I worked at the beginning of my career. I travelled all over the world to promote the wonders of Lalique crystal. And when you see the admiration which the pieces inspire in the clients all over the world, you realize that it is truly essential that this craftsmanship and these artisanal skills never cease. They must endure. Artisans maintain their skills and knowledge through their work in restoration but need to continually push the limits of their art with contemporary creation.

What inspires you in design?  For me design is a functional utopia!  To work with artists and develop new pieces is a continual source of inspiration. Certain artists, like Ifeanyi Oganwu invent new ways to live or work, like his contoured crater desk, which corresponds entirely to our epoch and couldn’t have existed even 10 years ago. It defies the laws of gravity and stretches materials to breaking point. Others like Pierre Gonalons create a dialogue with other eras and classical culture.

Its enchanting to walk around a piece and see the play of light on its surface. And when you have the opportunity to live with that piece, its even more fantastic!
I am personally not creative, I never learnt to draw but I find it wonderful that I am able to contribute in my way and invent a future world!  All this is made possible by the genius of my artists, designers and artisans!

Contoured Crater desk by Ifeanyi Oganwu
‘Inverted bulgy console’ by Ifeanyi Oganwu

Soldats endormis’ tapestry by Gilles Pernet



Console ‘Palais’ by Pierre Gonalons

Galerie Armel Soyer


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