THE BEAU­TI­FUL SELL

Cham­pagne house Ruinart has no need of tra­di­tional ad­ver­tis­ing

The Australian - Wish Magazine - - News - STORY MI­LANDA ROUT

IN 1896, the French cham­pagne house Ruinart pro­cured some work from an artist ahead of his time, whose style would be­come known as Art Nou­veau. To­day the house’s arts pa­tron­age con­tin­ues in a mod­ern guise, on the floor of one of the world’s largest con­tem­po­rary art fairs, in the hec­tic cul­tural meet­ing place that is Hong Kong, com­plete with Twit­ter hash­tag #arey­ouinart.

“From the very be­gin­ning, Ruinart has been very close to the art world,” ex­plains in­ter­na­tional com­mu­ni­ca­tions direc­tor Jean-Christophe Laizeau, at a rare quiet spot at Art Basel Hong Kong in mid-March. “The Ruinart fam­ily has had a long dy­nasty of art col­lec­tors and a few mem­bers of the fam­ily were ac­tu­ally artists them­selves. They made the first com­mis­sion in 1896 with Alphonse Mucha who was a young artist from Cze­choslo­vakia. He was not fa­mous at this time, but well known by the happy few of the art crowd who started to col­lect Art Nou­veau. Since then, the fam­ily Ruinart asked artists to ded­i­cate work or in or­der to pro­mote [the cham­pagne] all around the world.”

Mucha’s first im­age for Ruinart was among France’s first ad­ver­tis­ing posters and caused a frenzy in fin-de-siecle Paris. Tall and nar­row, it fea­tured a beau­ti­ful, young, near-life-size woman with coil­ing hair and a pro­fu­sion of stars from a cham­pagne glass. Mucha’s posters (in­clud­ing pro­mo­tional art for French theatre pro­duc­tions and perfumes) were so popular with the Parisian public — street art at the time was more gar­ish — that en­thu­si­as­tic fans cut them down with ra­zors to take home.

Ever since then, Ruinart has used con­tem­po­rary art to pro­mote its cham­pagne. The old­est pro­ducer in the world — es­tab­lished by Ni­co­las Ruinart in 1729, and now owned by French luxury em­pire LVMH — shuns tra­di­tional ad­ver­tis­ing out­side France and in­stead com­mis­sions artists to cre­ate orig­i­nal pieces in­spired by the cham­pagne that go on tour across the globe.

Some no­table re­cent works in the pro­gram have in­cluded a 2008 sculp­ture by Dutch artist Maarten Bass of a chan­de­lier that has spec­tac­u­larly fallen and melted on to a ta­ble; last year’s pa­per sculp­ture by Scot­tish artist Ge­or­gia Rus­sell, us­ing a copy of Ruinart’s first records; and a se­ries of face­less por­traits of the Ruinart fam­ily by Is­raeli artist Gideon Ru­bin in 2013. The house also spon­sors art fairs.

“We have a part­ner­ship of 35 art fairs around the world, in Europe, in Australia, here in Hong Kong, in Mex­ico, in the USA — it’s huge,” says Laizeau. “Some­times they fo­cus on dec­o­ra­tive arts, oth­ers are very con­tem­po­rary arts or mas­ter­pieces in Lon­don.”

Laizeau, who trav­els the world with the com­mis­sioned art each year, scours fairs look­ing for the next artist to col­lab­o­rate with. De­spite Mucha’s poster hav­ing a glass of Ruinart cham­pagne front and cen­tre, Laizeau stresses to artists to pro­duce orig­i­nal work, not sim­ply an ad­ver­tise­ment. “What we want is real pieces of art,’’ he says, “It is not like I asked you to do some­thing with a bot­tle of cham­pagne in the mid­dle of some­thing. I am ask­ing you to do what you al­ways do.”

A ben­e­fit of hav­ing a pres­ence at the top in­ter­na­tional arts shows — of­ten in hal­lowed VIP ar­eas like the Col­lec­tors Lounge at Art Basel in Hong Kong — is that Ruinart is sur­rounded by its ideal cus­tomers. “We are mak­ing a high­qual­ity cham­pagne,” Laizeau says. “It’s a very ex­pen­sive cham­pagne and so what we are do­ing is tar­get­ing our clients and our clients are def­i­nitely in the art world.”

With the global art mar­ket worth more than $72 bil­lion last year (ac­cord­ing to the TEFAF Art Mar­ket Re­port) and $3.9bn worth of art alone on dis­play at Art Basel Hong Kong, it is easy to see the at­trac­tion of such an event for luxury brands and cor­po­ra­tions, es­pe­cially given the

grow­ing pop­u­lar­ity of Art Basel it­self. The con­tem­po­rary art fair orig­i­nated in Basel in Switzer­land in the 1970s and is now in Miami as well as Hong Kong. Col­lec­tors from around the world flock to see work by Pi­casso and Andy Warhol as well as emerg­ing artists from Asia.

At the Hong Kong fair, held over five days in March in the city’s con­ven­tion cen­tre, Ruinart was joined by in­vest­ment bank UBS, in­sur­ance gi­ant AXA, Davidoff cigars and watch­maker Aude­mars Piguet in pre­sent­ing art — and a great open­ing night party — in the Col­lec­tors Lounge. So sought af­ter are the in­vites to th­ese events that ar­ti­cles are writ­ten on how to get a cov­eted VIP Pass or whom to be­friend in or­der to get one. Art Basel direc­tor Marc Spiegler re­cently told The New York Times there was a very high bar for or­gan­i­sa­tions to be a part of Basel and they were only look­ing for ones with “day-to-day en­gage­ment” with the art world. “We get ap­proached by com­pa­nies each week who want to part­ner with us, and ev­ery year that num­ber in­creases,” he said.

This year Ruinart se­lected French artist and fur­ni­ture designer Hu­bert Le Gall to cre­ate a piece “ded­i­cated to Ruinart DNA” for its ex­hibit (which will tour all the Art Basels, other fairs in Paris and Lon­don as well as Syd­ney Con­tem­po­rary in Septem­ber). Le Gall will also de­sign this year’s Ruinart limited edi­tion gift box. Laizeau says he doesn’t know why he didn’t com­mis­sion a piece from Le Gall sooner; they are both based in Paris and have known each other for 15 years.

Le Gall says he was very “proud” to re­ceive the com­mis­sion but was also wary of los­ing his iden­tity as an artist in the process. “Work­ing for a brand like Ruinart was a chal­lenge,’’ he says, from the Col­lec­tors Lounge in Hong Kong. “The chal­lenge was for me work­ing on a story for some­one else, keep­ing my per­son­al­ity as well as ex­press­ing [the story] of some­one else.”

As soon as he re­ceived the phone call from Laizeau, Le Gall left Paris for Ruinart’s vine­yards in search of in­spi­ra­tion. What greeted him was very dif­fer­ent from his idea of the Cham­pagne re­gion. In freez­ing Fe­bru­ary, there were no rows of lush green vines. “The sky was blue but they all were close to the ground, just sticks,” Le Gall says. “When you go into a vine­yard in win­ter, you see the work of man … You see what they are do­ing to pre­pare [the vines], com­pared with July or Au­gust, when you see na­ture more — so it was very in­ter­est­ing.”

The dra­matic sea­sonal changes of the vine­yards left an im­pres­sion on Le Gall and be­came a key theme in his work. He also wanted to ex­press the role of time in cham­pagne mak­ing, from grow­ing the grapes to mak­ing the wine and wait­ing for it to age. His first thought was to make a “big clock” out of glass — but de­cided that would not be such a good idea for an ex­hibit trav­el­ling the world.

Le Gall says he wanted to push him­self so he de­cided to work with Mu­rano glass (made on an is­land off Venice) in­stead of his usual ma­te­rial of bronze. Af­ter spend­ing months work­ing with the mas­ter glass­mak­ers at Mu­rano and a brief so­journ in Greece, Le Gall set­tled on his idea: a se­ries of 12 ab­stract works that rep­re­sent a year in the life of the Ruinart vine­yard, from the bare sticks in win­ter to the plump grapes ready for pick­ing: “The wood is na­ture and the glass is the work of man, and the 12 months are the ex­pres­sion of time.’’

He says he rang Laizeau close to the dead­line for the project “and said I have bad news and I have good news. The good news is that I am ready. The bad news is you don’t have one sculp­ture, you have 12 sculp­tures!”

By the end of Art Basel in Hong Kong, al­most 60,000 peo­ple had been through the doors of the fair; the lucky few with VIP passes saw Le Gall’s work at the Col­lec­tors Lounge. Many thou­sands more will see it thanks to a very 2015 way of look­ing at art: through the lens of an iPhone, with a few self­ies thrown in for good mea­sure. It may be a long way from Mucha’s posters of 1896 on the streets of Paris, but it is clear Ruinart’s pas­sion for art, and its power as a pro­mo­tional medium, is still go­ing strong.

“If you see Hu­bert’s piece, you can see it is Hu­bert’s work and it’s a Ruinart piece,” Laizeau says.

“I am very proud of it be­cause it is me,” adds Le Gall. “If some­one doesn’t like it or doesn’t feel it, it is not im­por­tant to me be­cause peo­ple have dif­fer­ent sen­si­bil­i­ties. But I am happy. The work ex­pressed ex­actly what I want to ex­press.”

“WHAT WE ARE DO­ING IS TAR­GET­ING OUR CLIENTS AND OUR CLIENTS ARE DEF­I­NITELY IN THE

ART­WORLD”

French artist and designer Hu­bert Le Gall, be­low, and left with Ruinart pres­i­dent Fred­eric Du­four, at the Mu­rano glass fac­tory where Le Gall had his sculp­tures made for Ruinart

Alphonse Mucha’s first poster from 1896, the dis­tinc­tive Ruinart bot­tle, and Le Gall’s sculp­tures, which ex­press the role of time in the cre­ation of cham­pagne

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