By James Massoud
Paul-Francois and Nathalie Vranken, Pommery’s owners, have a renowned passion for modern art, which grew after a chance meeting in 1987 with Alain Dominique, the CEO of Cartier who has a major collection. It was through this fateful encounter at the Printemps art festival that a lightbulb moment lit up the Vrankens imaginations: to support the arts by using their acres of space as a gallery for selected artists to promote their work. Thus Expérience Pommery was born.
“Expérience Pommery has since grown to become one of the largest annual art exhibitions in France, with the event attracting over 100,000 visitors to the Pommery domaine in Reims every year,” explains Sara Hicks who is the UK Director for Champagne Pommery. Sara herself got involved with Pommery through a chance meeting with the brand’s Export Director at the London Wine Trade Fair 10 years ago.
No such fortuitousness takes place when it comes to the organisation of each Expérience Pommery exhibition however. “The organisation of each Expérience Pommery exhibition is a big operation and a real labour of love for the Vrankens, in particular for Nathalie Vranken, who oversees the exhibition from start to finish,” says Hicks. “The project kicks-off when Nathalie begins her search for the right curator, then it’s a matter of pulling together the carefully chosen artists, having the art shipped in from all over the world and installing the pieces in the optimum locations around the domaine, with perfect lighting etc.”
When it comes to choosing the theme for the year, the Vrankens tend to focus on their inspirations. If nothing in particular jumps out at them then they will turn to the curator for a brainstorming session. On these occasions the curator’s inspiration often comes from the Pommery grounds, as Hicks explains: “More often than not, it’s a particular vision that the curator has for the space – the cellars are a very magical place to be for anyone, but especially for an artistic mind.”
From the chosen theme comes the decision on which artists fall into that category. The Vranken’s and the curator take an in-depth look into emerging modern artists whose work can inspire others as much as it does them.
Nos meilleurs souvenirs
This year’s exhibition will be Pommery’s eighth and will be extra special as it is a celebration of the 20 years the Vrankens have been involved with the Printemps creative arts festival. It was at Printemps, of course, where the couple first fell in love with the contemporary art scene. It’s no wonder then, that this year’s exhibition is fittingly called ‘Nos meilleurs souvenirs’, which translates to ‘Our best memories.’
“This year all the artists selected to exhibit had previously had their work shown in the Printemps de Septembre festival,” says Hicks. “With Printemps having had such a big impact on their lives, the Vrankens wanted to honour the festival by dedicating this year’s exhibition to the memories they formed through visiting the festival over the years.
“Together with Regis Durand, the former Artistic Director of the Printemps de Cahors festival and curator of the current Expérience Pommery exhibition, the Vrankens called upon past Printemps artists, whose art had particularly inspired them, to exhibit at the domaine. Among the artists exhibiting this year are celebrated photographers Anna Fox, Rhona Bitner and Valerie Belin.”
As well as showcasing the works of artists that have inspired them the Vrankens try to inspire the younger generations by installing their passion via schemes they organise primarily for young people and children. They have set up a partnership with the French Ministry of Education, specifically with the aim of heightening the awareness of contemporary art.
Sophie Andrade, an educational consultant who works closely with Pommery and teachers, visits classes helping promote modern art and encourage pupils to express themselves through their artwork.
“At the end of the term, the children’s works of art are exhibited in the domaine for one month,” enthuses Hicks. “The course culminates with the children being taken on a guided tour of the Expérience Pommery exhibition.”
Work has also been carried out with the Royal Academy and London School of Art in the UK where competitions have been run. A panel judges the submissions of said competitions and winning designs will find themselves printed on to Pommery POP bottles.
On top of this the Vrankens’ big love of art has led them to sponsor the Frieze Art Fair. In fact, there is more to Pommery’s sponsorship of the Frieze than simply supplying the bubbles,” explains Hicks. “We also sponsor the fair’s stand prize. Along with a panel of expert judges, each year Nathalie Vranken awards the Frieze Art Fair Stand Prize to the gallery with the most innovative display, with the director of the winning gallery being presented with a cheque for £10,000.”
Being in alliance with the Frieze Art Fair is a dream partnership for Pommery because the Vrankens have the opportunity to share their adoration of contemporary art with the world’s most recognised contemporary art fair. “Frieze brings together the very best in contemporary art from galleries around the world,” says Hicks, “and is undoubtedly one of the most important dates in the arts calendar, so it’s something we’re very proud to be part of.”