The collectible design market straddles the line between functionality and artistic exploration. And it is often traversed by fast-moving trends that capture the public’s imagination, but then fade after a few seasons. In such a field, a solid foundation is a very useful requirement. Such is the case of Renaud Vuaillat, a Frenchman in New York, founder of Twenty First gallery.
Vuaillat’s story is one of passion combined with business acumen: in his early twenties, he had opened a stall at the Marché Serpette, one of the most prestigious of the Marché aux Puces in Saint-Ouen, just outside Paris, where he dealt in 18th-century pieces. “In the 90s, the Marché aux Puces was the center of the antiques trade”, he says. “It was as though the whole world was coming to buy furniture and objects and the market was as eclectic and diverse as the clientele, which ranged from Parisian and UK dealers to US designers to celebrity clients.”
It was a time of great dynamism, helped by the exchange rate, which was particularly favourable to Americans. Vuaillat opened a gallery in Saint-Germain, in the so-called Carré Rive Gauche. However, interesting pieces from the 18th and 19th centuries were becoming increasingly rare. And Vuaillat’s taste was evolving: at the beginning of the 2000s he began to take an interest in contemporary creation, presenting contemporary designs alongside antiques.
At the same time, he matured his decision to settle in New York, a more dynamic and fun market, where he opened his new gallery (initially in Chelsea, from 2018 in TriBeCa): “The US market is great because clients are open to discovering new things. They have a sense of excitement and spontaneity – like kids in a way”, he explains. Vuaillat began to visit the main centres of contemporary creation and became the gallerist for a long line of designers, all of whom had a direct relationship with the material. Sculptors dedicated to a kind of functional art.
From Valentin Loellmann, who shapes wood into fluid forms, to Marcin Rusak, who creates furniture out of resin, flowers and leaves (a reminder of the past: his parents were florists), to the ‘metallurgist’ Erwan Boulloud, the artists/designers with whom Vuaillat works – often long-standing friends – contribute to defining a new concept of applied art.
For the gallery owner, the target audience is often young people, whom he encourages to be curious, to experiment, to juxtapose different eras. “The Internet has undeniably changed the market, with the availability of information making everything more transparent and clients more knowledgeable,” he concludes. These are the best conditions for personal research and for defining a new aesthetic. Thinking about the future.