Interview with Pierre MoosBy Artkhade with Art Media Agency
Paris, 6 September 2012
From 11 to 16 September 2012, the Parcours des Mondes, the most important international salon dedicated to tribal arts, will be celebrating its 11th edition in Paris. Galleries in the quartier des Beaux-arts in the area of Saint-Germain des Prés will welcome the 64 international exhibitors of this edition. In addition to France, they will represent nine countries and three continents. This year, the event will be chaired by Lionel Zinsou of the Zinsou Foundation, the first foundation specialised in Benin culture and art, and also chairman of PAI Partners and member of the board of directors of the Société des amis du Quai Branly.
It is largely thanks to Pierre Moos, director of the Parcours des Mondes, and to his team, that the look on tribal art, seen as “primitive art” for a long time, has deeply evolved. Artkhade with Art Media Agency was delighted to have the opportunity to interview Mister Moos about this exceptional event.
- Where does your passion for tribal come from? What do you find fascinating in this art?
Pierre Moos (PM): It dates back to the sixties when, as a young executive within an important French group, I had to stay in Africa, in Gabon, and in Ivory Coast. At the time, I was only interested in Cubism and tried to buy what I could afford: drawings from less known cubist artists H. Gleizes, Metzinger, Lhote, etc. In Gabon, a village leader thanked me by offering me two masks which I preciously locked into a cupboard when I got back to France. A few months later, I began to perceive a connection between my small drawings and the pieces of wood in my cupboard. I took them out and… boom; I went crazy and wondered where such things could be acquired. I visited a few galleries such as Vérité, attended the rare sales and began to buy. Afterwards, during trips, notably in the United States or in Switzerland, I acquired works. I acquired hundreds of African works as, sadly, I tend to accumulate things. With hindsight, I think that the positive aspect is that I have seen and obtained many things. Now that I have the knowledge required to see it, the negative aspect is that the number of masterpieces is very low, most of the works being good at best. Why do I have this passion? In the Bible (Old Testament), it is written that men cannot live without bread and passions. Here is my answer. The problem is that I have several other passions: modern painting, Russian avant-garde books, bakelite, Nazca fabrics (Ancient Peru) etc., but life is made in such a way that I can take plane, cross the planet to see an exhibition, and artist and come back the following day. With time, I have cooled my ardour and focused on Oceania, especially on New Ireland and more precisely on a small island facing the Tabar Group. It means that on the entire planet, I am focusing on a microscopic part of it.
- What was your aim when you took over the Parcours des Mondes?
P. M.: French dealers approached me saying that we were the only ones able the take over the Parcours the founder wished to sell. After discussion, we bought out the Parcours, which was the extension of the in-depth work carried out by the Art Tribal magazine, to make tribal art known and especially to defend the dealers who convey this art and ensure its durability. Without them, there would be no collectors, no museums, and no books. The dealers are the soul of this art and have all a passion for it. Did you know that there are only seventy galleries in the world? You can go to Chelsea and find sixty contemporary art galleries in a single building. Do you see what is wrong?
- How did the Parcours des Mondes change or evolve since you took over it in 2008?
P. M.: Change was easy. All that was required was to invest. I learned this through my industrialist activities as 70% of our income are invested in advertisement, communication, and marketing. Becoming the world leader is not that easy. Indeed, our competitors are quite unskilled unlike those other French or foreign fairs must face. Dealers keep their most beautiful works during an entire year for the Parcours and do not want to destroy the surprise by displaying them elsewhere, either in Brussels, London, and Amsterdam. The Musée du Quai Branly’s presence has also been an asset: with such a presence, we had to be the best. We have broadened the range of our customers by attracting the important modern and contemporary art collectors while advising our participants to mix paintings and tribal art. The Trigano and Aittouares galleries went along. Others have also followed: this is illustrated by the fact that this year, we have launched a partnership with the groupe Maisons et objets which, at the same time, drew inspiration from the theme of outdoor galleries and playful walks in Paris. This went well to such an extent that the Poltrona Frau group will display in his showroom of the 6th arrondissement a mixture between his sets and tribal works. After all, they are designers and this fusion is perfectly carried out (this show is a must). Those who like design can only be moved by the tribal sculptors and vice-versa; art is universal, a Kota reliquary on a coffee table by Marc Newson is a perfect match. Let us not forget that the Parcours has organised exhibitions at the Monnaie de Paris which attracted tens of thousands of visitors. Because this marvellous establishment has been closed for renovation works, we have been able to organise concerts at the Alcazar. These concerts mainly focus on African music. They are so popular that we sadly have no choice but to refuse hundreds of people due to the limited number of seats. In brief, our work consists in investments in time and money, rigor in the selection of works and dealers, numerous events linked to the Parcours, quality of the marketing (We will start preparing the Parcours 2013 from January upwards), descriptive documents, luxury catalogues, services to dealers, translations, setting up, etc. Finally, in my knowledge, I do not know an event which manages with such a small budget to be so successful and to attract so many visitors.
- Your catalogue announces that the Parcours will broaden, strengthen and enrich itself this year. Could you provide a few examples to be more specific?
P. M.: Each new edition of the Parcours des mondes is lived as a challenge by the entire team all the more following the anniversary edition for the Parcours’ ten years which was an unanimous success. We always try to pay attention to the way the market for tribal art is evolving and notably to the background of international dealers so as to offer audiences a new supply. Consequently, we are welcoming seven new handpicked participants this year. We give a chance to new generation dealers such as Renaud Riley and Michel Thieme, for whom the Parcours des mondes is a form of recognition in their career. We also welcome the return, as it was the case for the Tambaran gallery (one of the most important tribal art firms which became rarer on the international scene these last years), or the arrival of important players in the trade. For example, we can take Stéphane Mangin who had taken over the Pierre Vérité Gallery on the boulevard Raspail, less than a kilometre away from t he parcours’ neighbourhood. He finally tried the experience and is even renting a gallery on rue des BeauxArts for the occasion. Each new dealer brings his experience, his look, and also a challenge for his colleagues who know that they have to permanently take a new look at themselves and maintain an excellent level on the Parcours.
- What will be the best elements this year?
P. M.: Once again, the programme for thematic exhibitions is particularly attractive. We can mention the exhibition “Des Cuillères et des Hommes” Serge Le Guennan has been preparing for numerous years by storing new works from every continent. Jean-Edouard Carlier, from the Voyageurs et Curieux gallery has announced a thematic presentation of the Bismarck archipelago, a difficult region as there are few works available on the market and as finding new works requires a real knowledge of the old collections and requires a remarkable in-depth work. Now, what can one say about Alain Bovis who has announced an exhibition about African “primitivism”, at the root of Western interest for tribal arts. It is also necessary to add that most of these exhibitions are accompanied with publications being often more real books than mere catalogues.
- This year, the participating dealers will put Nigeria in pride of place. Why did they choose this country?
P. M.: Yes, a few dealers are organising presentations echoing the programmation carried out by important tribal art museums and notably by the quai Branly. Nigeria is a region dealers and collectors often like as it is still relatively “unspoiled”. Few studies have been led, works had recently been taken out, and everything remained to be discovered… a challenge African art dealers often enjoy taking up.
- What will be Lionel Zinsou’s role during the Parcours des Mondes’ 11th edition?
P. M.: Since we have taken over the Parcours, we have invited each year personalities of the tribal arts world to act as patrons for the event. Jean-Paul Barbier-Mueller, President Jacques Chirac, sheikh Saoud Al-Thani, James J. Ross and Lionel Zinsou this year were for us symbolic figures in the field of tribal arts, for their work as collectors or fulfilment of knowledge about tribal arts. For us, it is a way of paying tribute to them and reminding the extent to which their commitment is important in our field.
- How is tribal art recognised by the general public and by dealers today?
P. M.: Work remains to be done to have tribal arts receiving their rightful worth but the progress is obvious. Audiences no longer turn away from “fetishes” like they did a few years ago. Now they take an interest in them and allow themselves to become fascinated and surprised. They begin to make out styles, eras, allow themselves to prefer one region or another. It is obvious audiences are beginning to appreciate objects for their shape, their strength, their history, like they would do for artworks. As for dealers, we can notice a professionalization of the new generations. This is not time for mercenaries but for learned and patient dealers. The dealers have understood the role they were supposed to play with the future collectors who are more and more demanding regarding history, origin, and style study.
- What are your projects for the salon’s next edition in 2013?
P. M.: Our entire attention is directed towards the edition starting in a few days but our gaze is turned towards the Monnaie de Paris which should reopen soon. I will be able to say about it in a few months.