Hunt for Treasure: Le Cabinet de Curiosités

by Virginia Tupker

Cultural Adventures for 2012: Vogue’s look at where theater, music, film, art, and more will take you in 2012.

“To feel as if they’ve entered a dream world, to be challenged visually and see things unseen,” is how architect, designer, and artist Thierry W. Despont hopes people will respond to his latest project, a life-size “Le Cabinet de Curiosités.” The “Cabinet,” inspired in part by Despont’s early memories of the Parisian taxidermy store, Deyrolle, is tucked away at the top of a wrought-iron staircase in the old New York Mercantile Exchange in Tribeca. Among the treasures are Napoleon’s coronation chair, as well as his nineteenth-century map table (what battles might he have planned there?), Despont’s own insect-like creatures made entirely out of discarded tools and objects, several of the late Claudio Bravo’s hyperrealist paintings, and contemporary Spanish artist Manolo Valdés’s imposing sculptural heads (one, a fantastic explosion of golden butterflies). Old and new, modern and timeworn pieces are set against a backdrop of elaborate eighteenth-century boiseries, which form the walls of the exhibition’s five-room suite and were shipped (along with other antiques) from the famed Steinitz Gallery in Paris. Everywhere one looks there is a sense of wonder. Upon closer inspection, the antique tomes in a pair of groaning bookcases by Valdés are revealed to be hand-carved out of raw, exotic wood; a work by Bravo that appears to be hung backwards is in fact a painting of a canvas back. As Despont puts it, “All are suddenly connected by a trompe l’oeil philosophy: to challenge the eye and soul of the viewer.”

“Le Cabinet de Curiosités,” a collaboration between the Marlborough Art Gallery and the Steinitz Gallery, is on view though January 31, 2012 at the old New York Mercantile Exchange. 6 Harrison Street, New York City, 212.541.4900;

December 22, 2011 8:00 a.m.