Sculpting a tripartite career: Artist Laurence Bonnel on creating and curating at the forefront of the Parisian design scene

Anya Cooklin-Lofting | 04 Jan 2022


From her new gallery space on Rue Mazarine, Laurence Bonnel, the founder of Galerie Scene Ouverte, celebrates and protects the fresh talent blossoming in Paris, a design capital of the world

In this life, if you are lucky enough to encounter just one individual in possession of a true professional calling, I urge you to speak with them. They are intelligent, happy people with skills lovingly refined, from bricklayers to poets. They understand and perform their daily tasks with the authenticity and natural urge of respiration. If, on understandably rare occasions, you fall into step with someone who is so professionally enriched as to commit themselves to the engagement of multiple métiers, I urge you to buy them a coffee.

How I wish I could have fallen into step with Laurence Bonnel; bought her a coffee in some charming Parisian café with the mise-en-scene of original Gatti bistro chairs, menus scrawled in showy, scrolling fonts on high, framed mirrors and a canopy of opaline milk glass ceiling lamps, a short walk from her new gallery space on Rue Mazarine. We could have very contentedly whiled away an afternoon discussing her triality as a sculptor, collector and gallerist for Galerie Scene Ouverte, Bonnel’s 2016 venture that saw her take her skills of curation and collaboration to a professional level. Instead, we spoke on the phone in a rare gap in her impenetrable schedule of artist appointments and meetings. As an artist, she has exhibited all over the world, from her home country of France to further-flung design hubs like Hong Kong, Singapore and New York. Next for Bonnel is the opening of the new gallery space in Paris which launched on 14th September 2021 with a joint exhibition of emerging artists and recent graduates entitled, Différent Mais S’emblable (Different but the Same).

Céline Salomon, Atelier Van Asseldonk, Rino Claessens

Galerie Scene Ouverte represents both lesser-known and established artists who create unique works of art and design items at Bonnel’s commission and under her wing. Currently, there are 27 artists in the gallery’s stable, despite Bonnel’s bursting inbox of speculative applications and enquiries. “As much as I’d like to, I can’t say ‘yes’ to everyone,” she says. The gallery’s portfolio currently includes names like Celia Bertrand, William Coggin, Sarai Delfendahl and of course, Bonnel herself.

“At the beginning,” Bonnel tells me, “I just wanted to find a different way of working. I wanted to connect artists that work in different mediums with similar intentions.” Now, Galerie Scene Ouverte is home to artists across mediums and subject matter, specialising broadly in ceramics and sculpture. The intention of each artist welcomed into the fold is that of boundary-pushing; a sense of subversiveness and limitlessness that Bonnel can detect in the tiles of an Instagram grid.

Julien Cedolin, Pilliers, stools, side tables and sculptures, ceramics - 2021

“Most often these days, I find artists that I’d like to work with on Instagram,” she says. Why should the act of scouring through the world’s largest, most democratic and diverse galleries feel confessional, simply because it’s still a relatively new, digital tool? I quash this thought and offer a few words on Instagram’s value to the design community, which are met with enthusiasm. As a visual medium, Instagram allows artists to truly express themselves and adapt the platform to best show their work, be it the final product or behind-the-scenes action. Bonnel ensures me she takes the time to actively search for artists using the platform, advising, “it’s such a huge part of the job, and there is no better place to find new voices.”

Gemma Barr, stainless steel and roughcast - 2021

“When artists join my collective,” Bonnel says, “I ask these naturally boundary-pushing artists to go even further with their work by making material or stylistic suggestions in the spirit of collaboration. When you take risks, make mistakes and find new ways of working, you find the best of yourself.” Prospective artists should show an understanding of the value of innovation in design, never stopping where the buck would naturally do so. “It’s important to know that the artists I’m working with are bending the rules already, and that they are prepared to go further,” Bonnel tells me. “With Galerie Scene Ouverte, they benefit from a collective, editorial eye that helps them to take the next step. I work very closely with each of my artists, offering guidance and reassurance along the way,” she explains. “As a sculptor myself, I have an intrinsic understanding of artistic materials and techniques, so I can offer an alternative perspective or direction for the artists who are usually very happy to work collaboratively.”

Assi Joseph Meidan -2021

However, not always are prospective Scene Ouverte artists happy to play by the rules. “The nature of our work is that we produce rare and often unique items that prioritise artistic integrity over commercial value,” says Bonnel, who divulges that the gallery will never commission more than 12 editions on average of each artwork or piece of furniture. “I once worked with an incredible artist on a travertine table, of which they wanted to offer unlimited production for the more mainstream market. Here is where I draw the line.” Bonnel tells me that her marketplace depends on rarity and exclusivity, that mass production is unsustainable in her industry. “Of course, we couldn’t work with this designer,” she says irreverently, offering as a rebuttal to the request that artists, in the traditional sense, would only produce one painting or a very limited number of prints, so “why should art furniture go further than this?” For Bonnel, it’s about making sure her clients walk away from Galerie Scene Ouverte with something special and rare - something their friends won’t also have purchased. “This is a conscious step away from the mainstream,” she says

Rino Claessens, Carine Delalande, Maarten Vrolijk

There is certainly something to be said for the value of uniqueness when it comes to furniture and artwork. For Bonnel, this quality is supernatural. “Objects such as these at the gallery have souls,” she says. “They have personalities that ignite a room. They have humour, they’re precious, and you can feel the presence of the artist or craftsperson who made them in the room.”

Han Chiao, Vases, ceramics - 2021

With the new gallery space on Mazarine, Bonnel hopes to forge a deeper connection between her clients and the artists she works with. “I believe we are all designing for the sake of beauty,” she tells me, “not commercial goals.” For the Bonnel gallerist and curator, it’s about the way the works on display make visitors feel, not how much they spend: “I like surprising people,” she says, adding, “often, there is so much money involved that it can displace the atmosphere.” For Bonnel the artist, it’s about allowing guests to discover the processes behind the pieces at the gallery. “My work and the work of my artists have to do with time, skill and material. I want to share with the public our loyalty to working with our hands, bringing new ideas into the world.”