The Whimsical World of Les Lalanne

Oct 11, 2013 7:03PM

By Bridget Moriarity

NEW YORK - Over tea and berries at Manhattan’s Carlyle Hotel, the French artist Claude Lalanne cuts an unassuming figure. Clad in a denim pant suit with Chinese frog buttons, her hair pulled back and wearing no makeup or jewellery, she is flanked by her New York dealer, Paul Kasmin, and one of her most avid patrons of late, the real estate mogul, Michael Shvo.

At 89, Lalanne is visiting from her home outside of Paris upon the invitation of Shvo and Kasmin, who conspired recently to bring a taste of the French countryside to the wilds of Chelsea. The pair placed 25 sheep sculptures by Claude’s late husband, François-Xavier, along the suddenly-grassy surface of a former gas station at the corner of West 24th Street and 10th Avenue, a site now owned by Shvo and slated to become luxury housing.

The installation was very much in the spirit of Les Lalanne, as the husband-and-wife pair who has exhibited together since the 1960s is known. François-Xavier had a fondness for oversized animals, which often bear secret compartments or double as pieces of furniture. Claude Lalanne is noted for her preference for flora over fauna – one of her most famous works is L’Homme à Tête de Chou (as its title suggests, a man with the head of a cabbage), which graced Serge Gainsbourg’s 1976 album of the same title. While Claude has tackled the intricacies of tableware and jewelry, François-Xavier favored the outsized – creating, in 1964, his famous Rhinocrétaire, a life-sized rhinoceros with a built-in writing desk. 

On the horizon Shvo and Kasmin are planning a selling exhibition of works by Les Lalanne at Sotheby’s S|2 from 31 October until 22 November. The gallery space will be transformed into a garden with moss flooring and ivy-covered walls. Highlights include François-Xavier’s monumental bronze bear, La Grande Ourse, several of his iconic sheep, and Claude’s elegant bronze rabbit, Nouveau Lapin de Victoire (Grand). Continue reading

1. Claude Lalanne photographed in September with a herd of sheep designed by her late husband François-Xavier. photograph by Mathias Braschler & Monika Fischer. © Courtesy the Artists and Paul Kasmin Gallery.
2. The Sheep Station, François-Xavier Lalanne.
3. Claude Lalanne’s Nouveau Lapin De Victoire (Grand) from 2010.
4. François-Xavier Lalanne’s La Grande Ourse from 1994 will be exhibited at Les Lalanne: The Poetry of Sculpture, a selling exhibition at Sotheby’s S|2 in November.

Les Lalanne: The Poetry of Sculpture
New York, S|2 Gallery | 31 October to 22 November 2013