x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 18 December 2017

Arnaud Fontani's Dubai pop-up store of usable art

French architect Arnaud Fontani has brought a curated collection of covetable, collectible, usable works of art to a pop-up store in Dubai Design District

Arnaud Fontani at the Territorie(s) pop up store VIP party in D3. Antonie Robertson / The National
Arnaud Fontani at the Territorie(s) pop up store VIP party in D3. Antonie Robertson / The National

French architect Arnaud Fontani is unable to sit still when he talks about the newest addition to his curated collection of creations. “Look at this light, it is amazing,” he says. “This type of product, this is what I love. It is rare, it is a surprise. It is art, like a futuristic sculpture, then look, you open it from here, you pull this part out, and there is light. It brings beauty to your life.”

Arnaud Fontani's collection at the Territorie(s) pop-up store in D3: Flying Chair, Plated Nickel structure, Cristal LED. Antonie Robertson/The National
Flying Chair, Plated Nickel structure, Cristal LED. Antonie Robertson / The National

The item he is exhibiting is as unique as he makes it out to be; a contemporary, brass-enclosed lamp by French brand DCW Editions. It looks like a giant, pill-shaped cylinder, and when the edge is opened, you pull on a knob to unveil an inner cylinder that glows in a bright light as it is pulled out of the tube. The lights are brand new in the design world – they were launched only three weeks ago at Maison & Objet, the Paris trade fair dedicated to lifestyle fashions and trends.

DCW Editions is just one of the many luxurious art and design brands represented by Territoire(s), Fontani’s design house. And bringing Territoire(s), and subsequently some of France’s most exclusive luxury design goods for the home – pieces of rare, unique art – to Dubai, made absolute sense to Fontani.

His decision is a badge of honour for a city with a burgeoning art and design scene, and an uncontested interest in becoming the launch pad for up-and-coming designers. “Dubai is the city of happiness, innovation and beauty,” says Fontani. “But, of course, I want to bring my own items of beauty and innovation to this city. It is the right time.”

Fontani, a designer and artist in his own right, as well as an established architect, created Territoire(s) as a manifestation of his own passion for design that can be presented as art. The brands he represents are all responsible for making incredible, delicate, contemporary and luxurious creations that combine innovative techniques with refined materials, and blur the line between art and design.

And it’s as much an exhibition as a pop-up store – the items, which are both artworks and home accessories of a different, far more luxurious calibre, are all for sale. There’s a magnificent desk by 25-year-old furniture artist Pierre Renart, who believes in highlighting style without losing functionality. The desk, made of carbon fibre and enclosed in a rosewood veneer, is called The Wave, because it looks exactly like a giant wave frozen in time.

“You are not buying furniture. You are buying art,” explains Fontani. But this is art with purpose. Unlike a painting that will hang on your wall purely for aesthetic purposes, this is art that can be used.

That is the underlying essence of Territoire(s): it is a platform for artists and designers whose pieces will become statements within a home. The sculptures are also lamps, the ceramic pieces are also jewellery, the engraved screens are also room dividers; everything does double duty. “I seek creativity and inno-vation,” says Fontani. “I look for the beauty in objects, and exceptional design. These artists I represent are an embodiment of that – they are sensitive, delicate, pure – everything that I am passionate about.”

Trends play no role in Fontani’s decisions when it comes to choosing whom to exhibit, or whom to bring under the Territoire(s) umbrella. Instead, it’s the design he gravitates towards, especially when it comes to skilled craftsmanship using unique materials. Think brass, copperware, goldsmithing, wood turning, ­embroidery, lace on glass, stone marquetry, ceramics and porcelain, all presented in unconventional ways.

Arnaud Fontani Collection. Antonie Robertson / The National
Arnaud Fontani Collection. Antonie Robertson / The National

With Territoire(s), I am no longer an architect; it is not work. Here in Dubai, I become a curator, a collector, bringing together designers and artists to expose their unique, limited-edition work. I find that in Dubai there is interest for this. It is a small market, not yet fully mature, but it is a growing one.

“The art scene here is developing. And what I represent is the haute couture of design, so collectors must understand that when they consider what to purchase.” The Wave, for instance, is valued at Dh122,800.

Over the next few months, Fontani is planning to launch a competition for young designers in the UAE. “There is so much talent, and so many young designers here, just waiting for the right platform, waiting for exposure,” he says. “Maybe now I am in Dubai, I can work with them also.”

Ceramic Butterflies, LED. Antonie Robertson / The National
Ceramic Butterflies, LED. Antonie Robertson / The National

The Territoire(s) pop-up store and exhibition is located in the Dubai Design District, Building 5, until October 19, and is open daily from 11.30am until 7pm. Private viewings can be organised by appointment

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