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Anisabelle Berès-Montanari: First Woman President of the SNA

Published on , by Anne Doridou-Heim et Sylvain Alliod

Anisabelle Berès-Montanari has just been unanimously elected head of the Syndicat national des antiquaires, a first in France in more than one respect. We interviewed this great lady of the market and specialist in 19th and 20th-century French painting.

© David Marmier Anisabelle Berès-Montanari: First Woman President of the SNA
© David Marmier

Faithful among the faithful, present at the Biennale Paris since 1988, Anisabelle Berès-Montanari was elected president of the SNA without running for office. When we interviewed her last March, she didn't even imagine it. The daughter of two great Parisian experts on Japanese books and prints, Ms Berès-Montanari knew what she was getting into when she accepted the position. She is aware of what she owes her name—and that it is urgent to restore the trust of antique dealers. The election represents change in continuity.

How do you feel about being chosen by your peers?
What I’m most proud of is being the first woman president of the Syndicat national des antiquaires, which is no mean feat in an environment like ours. Then, I’m delighted to have been elected unanimously, another first, at least for the last few terms. I’ll have an all-male board, including Mathias Ary-Jan (editor's note: the former incumbent), who has kindly and gladly agreed to stay on and serve as vice-president. I’d like to thank him here, especially for the tremendous work he’s done over the past three years (...) The SNA has gone through some tough times and it was a challenge to keep the bar high as he has.

Appointing a president of the Biennale is a great novelty.
Yes, and it was necessary because it’s urgent to work on burnishing the Biennale’s lustre. Paris deserves it. To do that, foreigners and dealers in old masters must be brought back. Georges de Jonckheere, the recently appointed president, will work on that with all his energy and notoriety. I’ll also rely on Marianne Rosenberg, one of the most important names in our community. Based in New York, she’ll help us try to convince our American colleagues. We must look ahead. the Biennale des antiquaires is a bygone era. I knew the event, I exhibited there, but it belongs to the past. And although the Biennale Paris is our organisation’s visible manifestation, it’s not our only project.

L’installation de Carlos Cruz-Díez présentée au Grand Palais par la galerie Valérie Bach à la Biennale Paris 2019.© Julio Piatti

The installation by Carlos Cruz-Díez presented in the Grand Palais at the Biennale Paris by the Valérie Bach gallery in 2019.
© Julio Patti

What are the priorities?
We have to move because we’ve sold our headquarters on Boulevard Malesherbes (editor's note: 18th arr.), in excellent conditions. Now we need to find a new, more suitable space, with a meeting room that can double as a conference room. We have a year for that. Moreover, from a more political perspective, we must continue talks with government agencies to make them realise that the constraints imposed on us are becoming increasingly severe. Ivory, for example, is a major international issue. It’s getting to the point of madness. The idea that 17th-century German ivories, pieces of immense beauty, can be banned for sale is revolting to me. Many issues are specific to our profession and at the heart of our mission: discussions with Tracfin (a ministerial department that fights money laundering and terrorist financing), problems with export certificates, especially for archaeological objects, for which they are mandatory from the first euro, and questions of restitution and provenance. There are many diverse issues requiring our deep involvement.

Do you have any wishes for closer relations with other trade organisations?
I’d very much like us to get closer to the Professional Committee of Art Galleries, which is quite serious and includes highly qualified people. We must act in a collegial manner. You know, too many of the successive failures in the last few years are due to enmity between dealers. Biennale "bashing" leads to nothing and harms everyone (...). We mustn’t forget that Paris and this magical place, the Grand Palais, are extraordinary, which neither Maastricht nor the Brafa will ever be, despite all their qualities.

"Ivory, for example, is a major international issue. It’s reaching the point of madness. The idea that 17th-century German ivories, pieces of immense beauty, can be banned for sale is revolting to me."

How do you feel about Brexit?
Nobody knows how it will turn out. The problem won’t be English galleries arriving in France, but all the issues relating to customs duties. We have no information on the details and have to wait. We dealers are worried. So are the auction houses. In any case, Brexit isn’t an advantage and whether or not it gets done, Britain will have wasted a lot of time. The market is complicated and changing quickly. People are uncertain. There’s a lot of money going around but they’re worried. The political, economic and ecological context is particularly alarming. In France, the yellow vests have had a considerable effect. We no longer work on Saturdays. Many foreign customers are frightened. Le Fouquet's was burnt out. The Arch of Triumph was ransacked. These are powerful symbols.

How do you see this first year of your term of office?
It’s essential. We have another major challenge to meet: the closure of the Grand Palais. But I think this change will help to give us a more modern image. Visitors will realise that we’re not preserved in aspic. The project’s model is magnificent. It was thought out intelligently and well in advance. Similarly, another question will arise. Should we keep the name "Biennale" (editor's note: it now takes place every year)? After all, the Paris-Dakar doesn’t go through Dakar. The Biennale is a signature, our trademark, our DNA. The issue will soon be discussed in a collegial manner and democratically decided by a majority vote.

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