Objet d’Art – Nathalie Vranken

Art lover and head of the Pommery Champagne empire, Nathalie Vranken talks to Urban Life about the upcoming Frieze Art fair.

Art, fashion and film have always been entwined, one creative field inspiring the other, but nowhere is this more evident than at Frieze, the UK’s largest contemporary art fair. Following hot on the heels of London Fashion Week, it’s the most eagerly awaited event on the end of summer calendar. And who better to explore this symbiotic relationship with than the Champagne house which champions contemporary art as one of its most ardent supporters? So, just as LFW finished, I jumped on the first train to Paris for a one-to-one with the ambassadress of Domaine Pommery, Madame Nathalie Vranken; philanthropist and matriarch of the Vranken household.

Sitting in her third floor office tucked away in a courtyard nestled between Avenue Montaigne and the Champs Elysées, Nathalie Vranken greets me with a warm smile upon my arrival. She catches me glancing around her office. “We’re re-decorating”, she assures me with her charming Parisian accent, “which is why the walls are a bit bare so you’ll have to excuse us. It’s a busy time of year with the start of Experience Pommery and the Frieze Art fair coming up and, you know, I’m also a full time mother and wife, so things take a little time” she chuckles. Indeed they do, but I couldn’t spot anything out of place or a speck of dust anywhere to suggest there was any work going on. Sure the walls were a little bare, but there was order everywhere I looked.
We sat down to begin the interview. It was as if we had been talking for hours. A natural conversationalist, she has a charm and effortless elegance that belies the steely business mind in charge of an empire. It was re-assuring to hear her speak with such jovial candour because, given her international status as a major supporter of the arts, she, along with her husband Paul-François Vranken, certainly could have afforded to engage in a different manner. It was this earnest, down to earth nature that I found most intriguing.

The Vranken family have just embarked on their annual six-month long exhibition, the aforementioned Experience Pommery, which is now in its 8th year, and this time they will be celebrating a rich past full of memories. Curated by Régis Durand, a former Director of Jeu de Paume, the event has nostalgically been titled, Nos Meilleurs Souvenirs, and will bring together a stellar line up of artists to honour the many collaborations between Durand and Madame Vranken which started with Printemps de Septembre in Cahors. Pommery have been sponsoring the event for the past 20 years, which has led to a number of other key fairs, such as the FIAC, the Armory Show and, of course, Frieze.
As the conversation flowed I wondered what prompted her involvement in contemporary art. “Well, we are not engaged in contemporary art simply because it’s fashionable. Madame Pommery was a great supporter of art during the late nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth centuries, so we have a great tradition in the field. We even have some very important pieces stored in the cellar. What we want to do is to continue with her [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. This is the view of the Domaine Pommery”.

This philosophy of continuing with the traditions of Madame Pommery is clearly important to Madame Vranken and every year Experience Pommery attracts tens of thousands of visitors over its six months duration. “The opening day is always a spectacle to behold. We commission a special train for Pommery at the Gare de l’Est (Paris East Train Station) and we have artists, families of artists, curators, museum directors and clients – a lot of people all arriving at the Domaine on the same train at the same time. It’s a lot of fun!”
Over the past seven years Experience Pommery has hosted well over two hundred artists, a clear indication of its success. I ask Nathalie how she chooses which artists to invite to showcase their work during the event. “I always find a curator! I am not interested in the choice of artists by the curator. I mean, I have an idea and it starts from there, so I choose a curator who I know will pull in the right group of artists of the right calibre and we go from there. 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”.

As we talk about the evolution of the shows our discussion steers back to Pommery’s involvement with Frieze. “We were partners with the Armory Show in New York and the FIAC in Paris. So we thought it would be interesting for us to partner with Frieze as then we would have two of the most important fairs in Europe, in my opinion – FIAC for the French part of the world and Frieze for the English. When you are a Champagne brand it is very easy to make friends and find partnerships”, she says with a smile, “But you need to have a purpose and have an exchange of ideas. You can imagine what can be produced at these shows; it’s out of this world”.

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