I am in the crocodile room at the Paul Kasmin Gallery, 293 Tenth Avenue, New York City, working hard to resist sitting down on the Crocodile (Banquette sans Coussin), an inviting work from 2006 made by Claude Lalanne (b. 1924), who with her husband Francois-Xavier Lalanne (1927-2008), created art from the 1960s onward as a husband and wife team known as Les Lalanne from their studio and foundry in Ury, on the outskirts of Paris.
Made of bronze and brass, the bench is outfitted with a crocodile skin covered cushion. Around me are other sculptural works spawned by Claude’s artistic vision – her whimsical and witty pieces, displaying a deep love of nature and a delicate sculptural style – two choupattes or cabbages, cast in bronze with chicken feet, a chandelier, sporting two monkeys swinging from its branches, a crocodile bureau and crocodile consoles and seats, and, the most recent work, La Femme du Crocodiles, a 2012 sculpture that is truly surreal, part crocodile and part mythical monster. Sculpted of bronze, the monster conveniently has a built-in copper seat.
In the adjacent monkey room, recent and historical works by Claude’s husband Francois-Xavier Lalanne include a cast iron baboon that is also a working fireplace, a bronze gorilla that houses a safe, small silver monkey lamps, and a gorilla console, where a bronze gorilla serves as the base for a glass table top. Visiting the gallery, art collector and artist Christian Manoury is drawn to the head of a gorilla, a bronze sculpture that is not functional. "This piece is more architectural,” he said, admiring the way Francois Lalanne used the geometry of the square on the gorilla’s head.
The subject of a major retrospective at the Musee Des Arts Decoratifs in Paris in 2010, their work was also featured on New York’s Park Avenue in 2009. Owned by Yves St. Laurent and other private art collectors and the Cities of Paris, Santa Monica, and Jerusalem, Les Lalanne sculpture can also be found in major collections including The Cooper Hewitt Museum in New York, the Musee Nationale d’Art Moderne/Centre Georges Pompidou, and the Musee d’Histoire Naturelle in Paris.
For the current exhibit, up at both of the gallery’s locations on Tenth Avenue and on 515 West 27th Street, “Ninety to ninety-five percent of the pieces came from France,” said Hayden Dunbar, one of the gallery directors. “It’s been months in the process, a constant dialogue between Claude Lalanne and Paul Kasmin, whose Claude & Francois-Xavier Lalanne: Art/Work/Life,” a book of photographs taken in the home and studio of Les Lalanne will be released by Rizzoli in May 2012.
Visitors to Les Lalanne’s home and studio in the village of Ury enter a magical world, where the entire property is “alive with work.” At least five or six people are busy welding and doing metalwork in the workshop and nothing ever remains the same, with the house and gardens (Claude’s passion) changing from visit to visit. Sculptures live everywhere.
Juliette Premmereur, a sales assistant at the Kasmin Gallery, who works specifically with Les Lalanne, described their work as walking the “line between fine art and design.” She explained that “their art was truly inspired by nature--by animal or vegetable life: Francois loved monkeys and Claude’s inspirations included gingko leaves, cabbages, and crocodiles.” The decision to exhibit their work into themed spaces, a monkey and crocodile room in the Tenth Avenue Gallery, naturally fell into place. In the continuation of the show at 27th Street, however, their work is mixed together and there is no special theme.
While there may not be a single focus to the 27th Street exhibit, the pieces there are on a grand scale: there’s a very large, bright blue hippopotamus that functions as a sink and bathtub, a huge cabbage, three sheep, and a very tall rabbit who seems to have captured the fancy of Jenni Wu, who works there. “I love the rabbit because its face is so intelligent,” she said.
The Paul Kasmin Gallery will be running 'Les Lalanne' From May 4th - June 16th 2012