3 questions for… Alain de Monbrison

By Artkhade with Art Media Agency

Paris, 3 September 2017

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  • What, in your opinion, is the main asset of the Barbier-Mueller collection?

A.d.M.: First of all, the fact that it’s gathered very coherent sets of objects, as precious as they’re simple. The archaeological bronzes of the Vietnamese Dông Son civilisation comes to mind, but also the African chairs, a legacy of Josef Mueller that Jean Paul Barbier-Mueller took care to add to. It’s also a universal collection which gathers objects from Africa as well as Oceania or Indonesia. Not forgetting its Pre-Columbian art objects which comprise a key collection. It’s also exceptional for the rarity of certain pieces that are listed nowhere else… and for the beauty that unites all the objects.

  • How was Jean Paul Barbier-Mueller a great collector?

A.d.M.: For his eye that was so unique and accurate… and his great erudition. Jean Paul Barbier-Mueller was a cultivated man who left nothing to chance. When he started up a collection, he invested in it entirely. He studied every object, consulted the best ethnologists and historians. He had an incredible capacity to nose things out, inherited from Josef Mueller. This is how he came to get interested in Oceanic art, at a time when certain German and Hungarian museums were getting rid of parts of their collections. He understood straight away the necessity to buy them up. The same goes for the Indonesian objects, still little known at the time in Europe. Barbier-Mueller had a head start on the market, but this wasn’t what interested him: he first and foremost bought for the sake of pleasure.

Is it still possible to collect like an encyclopaedist these days?

A.d.M.: Yes, I think so. It’s true that in the last 30 years, the price of tribal art has shot up. The opening of the Musée Dapper, in the mid 1980s, then that of the Musée du Quai Branly, have roused a renewal of interest in these objects. Wealthy new collectors have turned their attention to this niche market. However, we’re still very far off from reaching the heights that painting has. Pieces from Gabon and Congo are still amongst the most sought-after works, and are therefore the most expensive. But whatever the region or ethnicity, it’s above all the “exceptional” object that attracts buyers today. In particular, it’s possible to acquire very beautiful objects that aren’t yet fashionable at entirely reasonable prices. Jean Paul Barbier-Mueller, who often commented on the year’s public sales in his journal Arts & Cultures, has always said this. In my opinion, specialising in an ethnicity or a theme means depriving oneself of many interesting objects.

Alain de Monbrison is a primitive-arts dealer and a member of the Syndicat National des Antiquaires. He is a valuer for the Syndicat Français des Experts Professionnels en Œuvres d’Art et Objets de Collection.

Tags: Asian Art, Pre-Columbian Art, Oceanic Art, African Art, Interviews, Events