EX­PÉRI­ENCE POM­MERY

An ex­tra­or­di­nary com­mit­ment to art and in­no­va­tion.

Neue Luxury - - Front Page - By Ray Edgar

THIRTY ME­TRES BE­LOW GROUND, CARVED OUT OF CHALK AND LIME­STONE, IS ONE OF THE BIG­GEST AND MOST UN­USUAL PRI­VATE ART GAL­LERIES IN EUROPE. HERE, AMID 18 KILO­ME­TRES OF IN­TER­CON­NECTED RIB AND BAR­REL VAULT GAL­LERIES, ART IS SERVED AT AROUND 10 DE­GREES – THE SAME TEM­PER­A­TURE AS THE 30 MIL­LION BOT­TLES OF CHAM­PAGNE THAT SUR­ROUND IT. THIS IS THE DO­MAINE POM­MERY CEL­LARS, ONE OF THE MOST SPEC­TAC­U­LAR SET­TINGS FOR ART IN THE WORLD.

Since the Vranken fam­ily bought Pom­mery in 2002 the cel­lars and grounds have been host to an­nual ex­hi­bi­tions of in­ter­na­tional avant-garde art. Each year some 135,000 vis­i­tors take the mon­u­men­tal stair­case (116 stairs) to the cel­lars be­low to en­ter Pom­mery’s Ex­péri­ence. The six month long ex­hi­bi­tion fea­tures be­tween 30 and 40 artists whose work oc­cu­pies the 110 arched lime­stone cor­ri­dors and fills niches be­neath chalk bas-re­liefs cre­ated in the 19th cen­tury.

“This place of­fers a drama that most places with which we’re fa­mil­iar can­not,” Bernard Blistène, guest cu­ra­tor of last year’s Ex­péri­ence Pom­mery told De­par­tures magazine. Blistène, direc­tor of cul­tural de­vel­op­ment at Paris’s Cen­tre Pompidou, says: “I was struck not by the au­dac­ity, but by the free­dom that Nathalie Vranken – wife of Pom­mery’s pro­pri­etor, Paul-françois – gives the cu­ra­tors she in­vites.”

Artist Daniel Buren, and French art crit­ics and cu­ra­tors like Regis Du­rand and Stephanie Mois­don are among the dis­tin­guished cu­ra­tors Madame Vranken has com­mis­sioned since 2003. This year cu­ra­tor Florence Derieux, to­gether with mul­ti­dis­ci­plinary de­signer Matali Cras­set who pro­duced the ex­hi­bi­tion de­sign, cel­e­brated 30 years of art in the district with Ex­péri­ence 11. “I choose a cu­ra­tor who I know will pull in the right group of artists of the right cal­i­bre and we go from there,” Madame Vranken told Ur­ban Life. “I don’t choose the artists, but of course I keep an eye on them. If one of them de­cided to paint every­thing yel­low I will say, ‘thank you very much, but it’s not pos­si­ble’. I am here to be the pro­tec­tor of what’s pos­si­ble. I am the com­mon sense.”

Judg­ing by the art in the per­ma­nent col­lec­tion and the ex­hi­bi­tion themes, those pos­si­bil­i­ties are very open. In­deed, de­spite the his­toric sur­rounds and the trap­pings of tra­di­tion, the ap­proach to art is far from stuffy. The same zesty flavour, ebul­lient spirit and joie de vivre one as­so­ci­ates with cham­pagne, an­i­mates the ex­hi­bi­tions and col­lec­tions. Yes, that is an ac­ro­batic ele­phant stand­ing on its trunk, Daniel Fir­man’s sculp­ture Würsa. Mean­while Lau­rent Grasso’s Truf­faut-es­que ti­tled neon art­work day for night for day for night sug­gests ei­ther ex­is­ten­tial en­nui or a never-end­ing party.

Amid or­nate 19th cen­tury ar­chi­tec­ture, on 20 hectares of prime cham­pagne pro­duc­ing land, one might glimpse a tree of plas­tic buck­ets (Pas­cale Marthine Tayou’s Talk­ing Tree [2012]), or Stephen Wilks’ carousel of cir­cling de­flated an­i­mals, Don­key Round­about (2000). Nearby Philippe Ramette’s whim­si­cal lev­i­tat­ing chair ap­pears teth­ered to the ground, as if fear­ing it will float away, while Sylvie Fleury’s alien sculp­ture, Chi­to­nia (2008), seems to have crash-landed.

These works are me­men­toes of past Ex­péri­ence ex­hi­bi­tions, which, for the past decade have be­come Do­maine Pom­mery’s sig­na­ture event. Each year on open­ing day a char­tered train from Paris Gare de l’est takes vis­i­tors on the 45-minute ride to Reims, the heart of the Cham­pagne district.

The ex­hi­bi­tions reg­u­larly play with the set­ting it­self. While a spirit of whimsy floats above ground, down be­low many of the events play­fully re­spond to the sub­ter­ranean sur­rounds: Vir­ginie Barre’s cor­pu­lent Bat­man, Fat­bat (2005), leaps through his French ‘bat­cave’ while there’s a fun­house feel to Theo Mercier and Colin Johnco’s choir of spi­ral eyed skulls in Ex­péri­ence 9. In­evitably such at­mo­spheric gal­leries con­jure al­lu­sions to an Aladdin’s cave, an evil ge­nius’ lair, a su­per­hero’s sanc­tum, the ethno­graphic cu­rio, the ar­chae­o­log­i­cal dig and a gen­eral sense of adventure.

Many artists ex­ploit the po­ten­tial of light in the cel­lar depths. Jac­que­line Dau­riac’s Ver­tigo (2012) dis­ori­ents view­ers’ frame of ref­er­ence us­ing coloured lights down the tun­nels. Richard Fauget’s Opa­lines lights hang through­out, while a laser beams down in Pierre-lau­rent Cassiere’s work The Blue Ray (2011).

But just as many ex­hibits are drawn to the dark­ness: as we know dark­ness has a way of metic­u­lously arous­ing all of the senses. Us­ing such or­di­nary ob­jects as metal plates and fork­lifts Ex­péri­ence 9 (sound fac­tory) played with un­set­tling in­dus­trial noises, con­jured clank­ing Franken­stein ex­per­i­ments and gen­er­ally ne­far­i­ous go­ings-on.

Grand in­tel­lec­tual themes are also ex­plored: Gen­e­sis (2004), or Mar­cel Duchamp’s con­tin­ued in­flu­ence in Id­iocy (2005) and – this year – the Odyssey (2014). Ju­di­caël Lavrador’s 2006 theme Su­per­nova played on science-fic­tion im­agery and took view­ers on a space odyssey evok­ing space op­eras, satel­lites in or­bit and mu­tant in­vaders. There have been crit­i­cal over­views as well. As part of the of­fi­cial pro­gram of France’s Pres­i­dency of the Euro­pean Union, Fabrice Bousteau took a look at con­tem­po­rary cre­ation on the Con­ti­nent, se­lect­ing works by some 50 young artists from every coun­try in the Euro­pean Union, a tes­ta­ment to its rich, vi­brant art scene.

THE LONG TALL HIS­TORY Cor­po­ra­tions have long associated them­selves with art, by col­lect­ing (Banks such as UBS and Deutsche), com­mis­sion­ing (BMW Art Cars) or spon­sor­ing (you name it).

“We are not en­gaged in con­tem­po­rary art sim­ply be­cause it’s fash­ion­able,” Madame Vranken told Ur­ban Life. “We have a great tra­di­tion in the field.”

The mai­son was founded in 1836. Dur­ing the late nine­teenth and the early twen­ti­eth cen­tury Madame Louise Pom­mery was a great sup­porter of art. Many of these im­por­tant com­mis­sions are in the cel­lar it­self. In 1882 Madame Pom­mery com­mis­sioned Gus­tave Navlet to sculpt mon­u­men­tal bas-re­liefs from the cel­lar’s chalk walls and had busts made of her by sculp­tors Leon Joseph Chavail­laud and Henry Vas­nier. An­other re­lief was com­mis­sioned from art nou­veau mas­ter Emile Gallé. He carved the ‘grand foudre’ or large bar­rel for the 1904 World Fair in St Louis, Mis­souri. Carved from Hun­gar­ian oak, the cask can hold the equiv­a­lent of 100,000 bot­tles of wine.

Mean­while Madame Pom­mery’s earth­en­ware col­lec­tion –– drawn from the pres­ti­gious cen­tres of Rouen, Moustiers, Stras­bourg, Nev­ers and Luneville, as well as porce­lain from Sevres and pot­tery from Sin­ceny and Delft ––

was al­ready fa­mous dur­ing her life­time. It now re­sides in the Reims Mu­seum, as per her be­quest. As for her love of paint­ing, when Jean-fran­cois Mil­let’s Glean­ers was up for auc­tion and cov­eted by the United States, Madame Pom­mery bought it and also be­queathed it to the state (it now re­sides in the Musee D’or­say).

“What we want to do is to con­tinue with [Madame Pom­mery’s] tra­di­tions, and to do that we have to have an in­ter­est in what’s new and com­bine that with what she built,” said Madame Vranken. In­deed fol­low­ing in Pom­mery’s foot­steps Madame Vranken com­mis­sioned her own bas-re­lief in the chalk walls –– Daniel Buren’s rather less or­nate ab­stract stripes.

“Louise Pom­mery was def­i­nitely tougher than I am,” Madame Vranken joked with Kunst magazine. “She made Navlet work in the chalk cel­lars for three years, but I only kept Daniel Buren work­ing there for five days.”

Since ac­quir­ing the Pom­mery brand in 2002, the Vranken Pom­mery Monopole group has reignited the tra­di­tion of art pa­tron­age with the com­pany.

Where Madame Pom­mery pi­o­neered the cel­lar tour, Madame Vranken com­bined it with an art ex­pe­ri­ence. Around the world, part­ner­ships with the Ar­mory Show in New York, the Mu­seum of Con­tem­po­rary Art in Syd­ney, FIAC in Paris and Frieze in Lon­don have been es­tab­lished. Art is an es­sen­tial pil­lar for de­vel­op­ing the com­pany, Madame Vranken has said.

Since start­ing his own com­pany in 1976, Paul-françois Vranken has built up an ex­cep­tional cel­lar of cham­pagne houses. Be­fore Pom­mery, he ac­quired Hei­d­se­ick & Co. Monopole and Charles Lafitte. To­gether with a col­lec­tion of ex­cep­tional vine­yards to­talling more than 2,500 hectares – in Cham­pagne, France the Douro Val­ley of Por­tu­gal and the Mediter­ranean re­gion – Vranken Pom­mery is the sec­ond big­gest cham­pagne pro­ducer in the world, and the num­ber one pro­ducer of rosés.

Two of Do­maine Pom­mery’s claims to fame in the art of cham­pagne mak­ing are the in­ven­tion of Brut cham­pagne in 1874 and the mar­ket­ing of quar­ter-litre bot­tles.

Just as English pub­lisher Allen Lane brought joy to the world in 1935 by cre­at­ing the Pen­guin pa­per­back be­cause he couldn’t find a good read for his train trip, six years ear­lier in France, Mel­chior de Polignac, son of Louise and Pom­mery chair­man, ush­ered in a sim­i­lar revo­lu­tion – and the per­fect ac­com­pa­ni­ment (when is cham­pagne not?) – when he needed a pocket-sized bot­tle of cham­pagne to take on the hunt. (It also saved the com­pany through the De­pres­sion.) Now mar­keted as the POP Range it, too, fea­tures art com­mis­sions - this time on the la­bel.

POP Art en­cour­ages in­ter­na­tional artists un­der 30 to sub­mit de­signs for a se­ries of six bot­tles and the chance to win a 15,000-Euro grant. “It’s be­com­ing re­ally big now,” Madame Vranken told the Wine Re­port. “These young artists are push­ing each other to send in their bot­tles.” Artists such as French­man Olivier Lan­naud and Aus­tralian abo­rig­i­nal artist Sar­rita King have adorned the best­selling la­bels. Pom­mery pro­duces a lim­ited col­lec­tor’s se­ries of sorts, mar­ket­ing 30,000 copies of each of the win­ner’s six works.

At Pom­mery there’s also a com­mit­ment to pre­serv­ing ar­chi­tec­tural tra­di­tions. At the foot of the Pom­mery Es­tate is the mag­nif­i­cent Villa De­moi­selle, an art nou­veau mas­ter­piece de­signed by Louis Sorel in 1904. The villa is the ar­chi­tec­tural sym­bol of Reims. A cen­tury later, in 2004, Mon­sieur Vranken ac­quired the villa and un­der­took ma­jor restora­tion work. Us­ing the very best crafts­men the restora­tion work took al­most five years to com­plete.

It’s in the Villa De­moi­selle, the Pom­mery Cel­lars and the Carno Cel­lar above the grand Pom­mery stair­case, that the Do­maine’s col­lec­tion of con­tem­po­rary art re­sides, an “es­sen­tial pil­lar” of the es­tate, for the cur­rent gen­er­a­tion and for the gen­er­a­tions to come.

Plate 01. Photo: Courtesy of Vranken-pom­mery

Plate 02. Photo: Courtesy of Vranken-pom­mery

Plate 04. Photo: Courtesy of Vranken-pom­mery WWW.VRANKENPOMMERY.COM.AU Plate 05. Photo: Courtesy of Vranken-pom­mery Plate 06. Photo: Courtesy of Vranken-pom­mery

Plate 03. Photo: Courtesy of Vranken-pom­mery

Plate 07. Photo: Courtesy of Vranken-pom­mery

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