Mikael Kraemer, a fifth generation art expert, has been in Asia for only a few years but already made a name for himself as well as introduced his family business to Asia. Kraemer Gallery from Paris is well known in the world of antiques with a history dating back to 1875. The Gallery specializes in the best 18th century French furniture and decorative art. Besides dealing with private collectors, Kraemer Gallery has also been the source of rare antiques that are currently displayed at some of world’s biggest museums, including Musée du Louvre of Paris and Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York.
Since 2012, Mikael has been connecting France and Asia with exhibitions set up in Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Macau as well as sponsoring Bastille Day celebrations in Macau. We caught Mikael in Hong Kong before his flight to Europe (he is based between Hong Kong, Macau, France and wherever his current projects are taking him) to ask about his Asian story, art trends and close relationship with Macau.
French culture is now on the rise in China, especially in Macau and Hong Kong–is this the golden time of France in Asia?
I would say that French people are very lucky now in 2019 to live in Hong Kong, Macau and China in general, with regards to what’s going on in our own culture. We’ve been very well integrated here, and very welcomed by every community and I have to say that when I’m here around Hong Kong, Macau and China, for me it feels like home. I believe that now, I share both cultures and feel happy every time I am in one city or another, because of the locals.
There are over 20,000 French citizens living in Hong Kong, making it the biggest expat community. In Macau, there are about 200 people. Shanghai and Beijing also have large French communities. So French culture was always well appreciated by Asian people in general, starting back in the time of King Louis XIV and Emperor Kangxi where there was a lot of respect and admiration between both civilisations. Unfortunately the King and the Emperor couldn’t meet in person because of the distance–it was a one year boat trip back then! Now, it’s only 12 hours and you can make the trip any day which is truly wonderful.
When people think about French culture it is usually about culture, art, fashion, gastronomy and wine which paints a very positive image. In France, the highest number of tourists come from Asia so of course, like my first exhibition in Hong Kong (2014) was called The Golden Time of the Kings, I agree that now is the golden time of France.
With all things French being in popular demand, what are you particularly proud of about your culture?
French tradition is much more than what you’d expect. It is based on education, caring for each other, and human rights. I’ve been in partnership for the last three years with Alliance Française de Macao, sponsoring Bastille Day in 2017 and 2018, and I will continue to do so this year in 2019. Alliance Française has the responsibility of not only teaching the French language, but also promoting French culture and connecting people with each other. Of course together we promote French values and traditions and also look forward to the future. Because we believe that the world now is all-encompassing and everyone can help each other to make the world better.
There are also a lot of Asians supporting French culture, for example with the annual Le French May. In fact, Le French May now happens during May and June–two months–as one month is too short! The Chief Executive of Hong Kong is always a guest of honor, which shows that every authority is helping promote the cross culture exchange, just as it was in the 18th century.
President Emmanuel Macron and President Xi Jinping said that they will meet once or twice a year in France and in China and I think it’s very important to develop this friendship. There was always a lot of respect between the two countries and this is very important for us French expats, to feel part of the community.
You are well known and respected in Macau, having collaborated with MGM Macau, Russian artist Konstantin Bessmertny, as well as being one of the sponsors of Bastille Day in Hong Kong and Macau. How did your relationship with Macau become so close?
It’s a very interesting question! My first exhibition in Asia was in 2012 in Singapore at the Marina Bay Sands, called “The Final 100 Days of the Year of the Dragon”. It was an open exhibition, open 24/7, free of charge, where everyone could come and see works of art made in France, featuring dragons.
After president Tony Tan, president of Singapore at the time came to visit the exhibition, we had lunch together–my parents and him–just the four of us and he asked us to extend the exhibition to one year and I was extremely proud and honored to accept this invitation. I met incredible people, made fantastic friends and also met collectors from around the world. I was 32 years old and it was the first time I was living abroad, so it was a very special and magical year that I will always remember. That is why Singapore has a special place in my heart. After that year ended, it was impossible for me to go back to Paris. My family understood and asked where they should visit me next. So the next destination became Hong Kong, 1881 Heritage where we had an exhibition, “The Golden Time of the Kings”. It was a wonderful exhibition in this fantastic classified mansion, the Old Marine Police Headquarters, on Kowloon side facing Hong Kong Cultural Centre. It was eight months of magic!
After this, I was invited by Liang Yi Museum on Hollywood Road to do “Great Minds Think Alike”. It was the first time when French and Chinese furniture from the 17th and 18th century was presented in a museum at the same time. Sometimes people couldn’t tell which one was French or Chinese, because sometimes they look alike but subtly different. In fact, the Director of the Louvre Museum wrote the preface of the exhibition book and it was a great show.
I met Konstantin Bessmertny and we had a very interesting conversation about doing something together in Macau in 2016 at the Macao Museum of Art. Konstantin is a free thinker, free philosopher, and had a very interesting life, leaving the USSR and coming to Macau 30 years ago. In any opinion, Konstantin is one of the most intelligent artists I’ve met in Asia–he is a restless book reader and has so many references to writers and history. He is the kind of artist that doesn’t do something to become fashionable, he will do art his own way and this is what I respect very much.
So Konstantin had asked me if he can use some of my antiques to present in the museum and I said “yes”, giving him carte de blanche. Without asking, I trusted that he will do something incredible and he did! He created this pyramid and I loved it. I am sure we will do many more interesting projects together.
At the same time I was invited to MGM’s Art Space to participate in “A Golden Way of Life – Très’Ors”, which was a stunning exhibition where we presented a lot of antiques from the 17th century. The exhibition attracted top audiences and I saw many visitors coming more than one time! It was a wonderful presentation with great scenography. We also had a workshop where people could play with gold leaf. Plus, we had so many visitors–from children to celebrities, consuls to socialites and even members of the Macau government.
When I arrived in Macau, I used this opportunity to invite all my friends and international VIP guests from all around Asia to come and celebrate right here to visit our exhibitions and to discover Macau. We had more than 100 guests with a very nice program and it was magical! We had a cocktail in Macao Museum of Art, visited MGM’s Art Space, then dinner in the French Brasserie. Afterwards, we went to China Rouge and Cubic. On the next day we had a Portuguese lunch at Vic’s Restaurante Português at Fisherman’s Wharf and then Max Bessmertny took us on a private tour in a bus around Macau telling us all the behind the scenes stories. There were also Macau Tower jumps, recovery massage and karaoke. We created a very special image of Macau, which my guests were not expecting. It was important for me to contribute to Macau in the way of promotion as it’s a very special place in the world. Macau has so much beautiful architecture and fascinating history and a lot of behind the scenes tales.
Macau also has amazing shows and I had a chance to have a partnership with La Parisienne produced by Agosta Artists with Abraham Kostanian at The Parisian Macao, which featured more than 40 performers in a 1200 seat theater. It was a dream of mine to partner with a dancing show cabaret with acts like French cancan, ice skating, basketball players, magicians, clowns, pole dance, 4D animation, and five motorbikes in the Globe of Death. It was not only a dream come true but also a great success.
You are a fifth generation art dealer from the acclaimed Kraemer Gallery in Paris. What comes with each generation- stronger reputation, deeper knowledge, wealth?
Every time we do an exhibition we don’t do it for the money; we do it to share, make new friends and develop our branding to bring new customers to Paris. So I’ve decided from the beginning that every exhibition should be free of charge for the public and we should not sell tickets, we should make ourselves available with maximum kindness and I can tell you that every time you give something, Asia will give you something back in one way or another.
I feel extremely lucky that I could make that one step in Asia, because just a few years ago, no one knew about Kraemer Gallery in Asia, except some VVIPs that were coming to Paris, tycoons and godfathers of Hong Kong and Macau. I’ve build our brand in Asia the same way my family did in America during the 20th century. Of course, fame is something important in terms of reputation. We are known to be partners and selling to museums and top private collectors.
We are now also expending to contemporary art, focusing not only on antiques. We’ve recently done an exhibition with Anish Kapoor, Lee Ufan, Daniel Buren and Claude Léveque who are our major artists represented by Kamel Mennour and have been shown at Palace of Versailles and the Louvre Museum. We did the presentation in our gallery in Paris and recently, Christie’s did the same in Paris inviting the same artists and showcasing them with French antiques which proves that we had a great idea.
I am also in admiration of the work that Francois Curiel is doing here in Asia. He became such an important ambassador of French culture. We are also very happy to exhibit Krista Kim, who is my artist. I own the rights as the world’s exclusive agent for the next 10 years of her career through my company, Artist Agency. I am very proud to represent her as she is the founder of the Techism art movement and we’ve already been selling to top collectors around the world as well.
Also, recently we’ve hosted a street art exhibition with the biggest name of them all. We exhibited our French antiques in our Paris gallery together with Banksy, Shephard Fairey, Futura, Space Invader, Vhils, Retna, André and Zevs. We’ve been showcasing art in our gallery with a lot of spontaneity; opening the doors and always looking to expand ideas and this is why Chinese artists might be the next step for us.
Growing up surrounded by art as well as working with art your whole life, what piece(s) carry particular sentimental value?
It’s always very hard to choose between your children; you always love every piece of art for a special reason, this is why you bought them in the first place. I would say that some very special pieces to my heart were either sold to a museum or collectors that I really care for and I am happy that they take excellent care of them.
I always say that the next art piece you are going to fall in love with is going to be your next favorite piece. Because when you have an extensive stock like we have in Paris and Asia you become more and more selective. So the next piece you buy, you buy it for a very special reason; beauty, size, importance, history. There are some pieces that you remember all your life that you know there is only one time you can get them, because either you are going to sell it to a museum and it will belong to the state or you sell it to a billionaire who will never let it go.
I remember as a child, when my grandfather sold this huge barometer of King Louis XV to Palace of Versailles. It was two meter and a half high and I remember this piece very well. I also remember when my family sold Queen Marie Antoinette’s desk to Versailles, which was sponsored by LVMH and Sanofi Aventis–it was the biggest purchased donation that Versailles has ever received. There are of course many others. Every time we give artwork like my family did, for example the vase that was made for King Louis XV to the Louvre. As we also work with British and American museums and many others, it’s very hard to say which art work we love more. We love them all and every time, a new star is born.
The new trend now is to mix different specialties of art such as mixing French with Asian art; bringing antiques and contemporary art together and that gives off a really great atmosphere in the room. This was a great part of The Kraemer Gallery’s success in the last 10 years where we became trend makers. We are not only art dealers, by the way. I’ve built museum shows in Asia, worked with museums and public spaces, take care of artists’ careers, connect people to each other, and bring people together; I am now multi-faceted in my business operation.
With the inauguration of Art Macao, the mega art festival, Macau is becoming a very exciting arts destination–what do you see coming? Will Macau become the art capital of Asia?
I totally agree that Macau has great heritage in terms of history and culture, back in the day, it was the only place in Asia where they could trade gold. When you look at the architecture, you can really see the Chinese, Portuguese, and European influences. There was an antique market in Macau, that existed for a long time, but disappeared about 10–15 years ago, and there were a lot of dealers near the Ruins of St. Paul’s. I believe it will come back though, like the Old House Gallery; more galleries will reopen and have good business.
Art Macao will impart a lot of energy and budget to the industry. Artists have been struggling for a long time–to get space, achieve fame, obtain exposure, survive and exist. So I believe Art Macao will not only continue to support art initiatives but also give a new impulsion and much bigger budget to artists. Art Macao is going to change the image of Macau and with time, Macau will become a new art capital of Asia.
Art Macao is not a commercial exhibition but a cultural exhibition for the public. It is about giving back to the population, free of charge and this is why it will be of a very different nature compared to Hong Kong, Shanghai and other cities. Art Macao will bring curators, art influencers, art historians, and market makers in the later stage. It will give to society a lot of confidence, pride and there will be so much more material to promote Macau. Via Art Macao, the city will appear in international press, TV, internet and this is wonderful news.
What are some current art trends happening in Asia and which ones are here to stay?
I have found that Chinese tycoons of a certain age are very connected to antiques. They don’t necessarily buy into the marketing of contemporary art as they know that Chinese culture has a long tradition of antiques and this is why they respect Chinese treasures. Chinese tycoons understand Chinese antiques and as they are well-travelled, they also understand European and French antiques. They might not be into contemporary art, but their grandchildren love both Chinese and international artists. The two worlds mix together where the parents and grandparents are mostly buying antiques where they can feel the heritage, history as well as good, secure investment, while the grandchildren feel more speculative and prefer the contemporary. But at the end of the day, the grandchildren will inherit everything and will have everything in one place, Chinese antiques together with contemporary art making this an interesting juxtaposition!
Kraemer Gallery 43 rue de Monceau, 75008 Paris, France, +331 4563 3123, www.kraemer.fr