THE COLLECTIVE: Alexandre Logé, an unflagging hunter

Paris, 28 November 2017

Collectors and art lovers populate the world of ancient African, Oceanic and American arts. Laurent Granier takes a look at their backgrounds, the psychological mechanisms behind their passions, their doubts, and their strategies. With them, he discusses objects, their histories, and the market.

Alexandre Logé, an unflagging hunter

Alexandre Logé gave up everything at the age of twenty-six to sail around the world: “A big romantic adventure, hitching a boat ride from Marseille to Brazil via Africa.” [The myth of French sailor Bernard Moitessier soon collapsed, but Alexandre reports a “loathing of parapraxes”.] He returned to Paris, penniless, after accomplishing his dream, “and above all with vast energy and an understanding that barriers are primarily mental.” In 2005 he set up his own business, “a micro-enterprise with a few bits of bronze and several ideas. Everything started off with three prototypes…” Today a designer and creator of acclaimed furniture, he works with galleries in New York, Paris, Brussels, and even participates in the Basel fair. A discussion in his studio, in the Paris region, on 2 April 2017.

© photo : Alexandre Logé

“I want to be a tribal-art dealer”

“I had an antique-dealer uncle who also produced Giacometti-style bronze furniture which he sold to Serpette. Over a meal, I offered to give him a hand. The following Thursday, I was in the thick of the action. My uncle was passionate about tribal art, mainly from Oceania. I accompanied him to a dealer and found myself in a shop where there was nothing but that. It was like a slap in the face. I already liked the arts from outside Europe but I’d only been in contact with poor objects. Finding myself with superior-quality objects was a revelation. After four years of paintings projected from slides at university [Alexandre has a art-history degree from the Sorbonne], this did me a world of good! And it was sculpture. Straight away, I thought: ‘That’s what I want to do, I want to be a tribal-art dealer.’” Then followed a period in which Alexandre began to purchase objects while assisting his uncle when his help was needed. “I went to Drouot every day, I made purchases outside Paris. I tried to resell objects to dealers, to collectors. I was quite happy doing this.” But it no doubt isn’t easy for beginner brokers to proclaim themselves as experts: “I did this for a year and a half while working more and more with my uncle, and I left brokering to one side. I was also a little disappointed by the mentality of people from this milieu. The financial aspect played a dominant role and the objects were quickly forgotten.”

Bioma Figure, circa 1900, Papua New Guinea, 54cm, old American collection, Arte Primitive auction, NY, 2012, Kapil Jariwala, 2015 © Collection Alexandre Logé

“I’m really a collector”

“When I got back from my boat trip, I rediscovered my four or five objects. I sold one of them – a pretty good piece – and this allowed me to start off again, to set up a head office, to get things started.” With his career as a designer taking off, Alexandre also had more financial clout. He returned to Drouot from time to time, before daring “to push open the doors of the Christie's and Sotheby's sales.” With experience, and a bit more maturity, his gaze also became surer. “I’m really a collector,” he realised – but alas, his wallet couldn’t always follow his eyes: “We run after objects. We get them from time to time. And then we learn to let go, or else to fight to acquire some of them, as I did for my Dan mask. There are cases when you come across something special, when your heart makes an instinctive choice.”

Among the people who have influenced his approach as a collector, Alexandre Logé cites his uncle, his first contact with this world, and Alain Lecomte, who invited him, after he returned from his voyage, to decorate his gallery without a commission, for the sake of pleasure. They would then exchange several objects. It was through this contact that his true collection, based on quality, began. “Then came my encounter with a Bakota, which I was lucky enough to pick up. I understood that it was a 19th century object that cried out authenticity. At the same time, it was unnerving because something like that pulls you upwards and your gaze on the objects around you changes. Still, I managed not to lose hold of the others [laughter].”

Alexandre defines himself as a passionate collector who is tending increasingly towards knowledge. In his home, objects are organised according to a personal logic: a few “punchy” objects (including the Kota reliquary that seems to be his key piece) in the bedroom, on a shelf perpendicular to his primitive-arts library. In the lounge preside less important objects, “where they risk being more easily knocked over by a guest”, alongside his prototypes for “disabled” furniture and paintings that he buys for pleasure, without any real knowledge. “Then in my study, there are my latest acquisitions. This is the spot where I spend the most time.” Every evening, before going to sleep, Alexandre makes a small tour of his objects. “I look at each of them. Sometimes, I pick some of them up. It’s a constantly renewed pleasure.” Alexandre’s relationship to his objects is private: “If people are interested in my objects, I’m happy to show them. But I’d never post them on Facebook or something like that.”

Dan Mask, Côte d'Ivoire, 23cm, Provenance: W. Kaiser, Stuttgart, Kurt Schindler, Germany, Pace primitive, NY, 1989, Robert Benton, Moreau&Montagut Gallery, NY, 2012 © Collection Alexandre Logé

The object as a sculpture

“I’m curious. There’s a very childlike aspect to collecting, these objects in particular. The relationship to the object, to the doll, to the figurine.” His tastes continually evolve: “At the moment I’m fond of crusty patinas. It’s funny but there are objects like those from Nigeria or the Cameroon – Keaka, Mambila – which I once found absurd, and which attract me today.”

Particularly inspired by Africa and Melanesia – “I’ve made a console table inspired by a Hawaiian pestle and a Fijian neck-rest” –, Alexandre remains conservative in his selections: “I’m more drawn by statuettes, masks and objects in line with an interior-decoration approach. Through my work I have a culture of curiosity cabinets, of decoration. The object as a sculpture.” Like African or Oceanic sculptors, Alexandre considers himself a craftsman. “They came across the same issues: balance, the arrangement of forms in space, how to make an object dynamic… When you’re a craftsman working with bronze and brass, and you look at a Bakota, you can’t help thinking about the creative process, the stripwork, the position of nails. My work influences how I see the primitive arts from an artistic viewpoint. And the influence goes the other way as well – undoubtedly even more so. A bulk of my creations are inspired by tribal-art forms. I draw inspiration from Miró, Calder, and when you know where they themselves got their inspiration…”

Alexandre defines great objects in terms of the love given to them, the value accorded to them, the time spent on them, the work put into them: “The love of the individual who brings it into being is crystallised in the materials.” His wife often tells him that the love that he places into objects is transmitted, whether it’s a matter of a dish that he cooks or a console that he produces. “And you also have that with an ethnographic object. Mastery of its subject, its gesture, the materials, the destination. And then there’s the object’s background. This famous Kota was discovered by the owner’s grandmother in a dustbin in Burgundy!”

Senufo Figure, Côte d'Ivoire, 24cm, IvoireReims, Feb 2017 © Collection Alexandre Logé

Complete addict

Alexandre can’t go to sleep without first opening up a tribal-art book. He confides that if he travels to see his cousin in the south of France, then he’ll take along with him “a catalogue, something… I’m a complete addict!” Could Monsieur Logé be said to be possessed by art? “Probably, yes. There’s even something a little worrying about it, because I really feel as if I’m under a spell. At times, it’s giddying. Sometimes, I almost feel like getting rid of it, to be a bit freer.”

Regarding the work-family-collection balance, he comments that “it’s not easy. The time I spend on it, I say to myself that it’d be better spent with my son. But I manage to find time for my work and for tribal art. When I start the day, I don’t think about it straight off unless there’s a sale. But I’m also capable of crossing the whole of France in quest of an object.”

Alexandre willingly acknowledges that his wife’s opinion is important: “I can be sure about an object and then she might come and look over my shoulder and say: ‘Nothing special.’ The disinterested view of someone who sees the object as a non-erudite, can be fresher.”

© photo : Alexandre Logé

The fun is in the search

Unmoved by any real purchase and resale strategy, Alexandre Logé is a consummate treasure hunter. He remains the boy-at-heart who marvels at cultures from other places. “There’s a phrase I love from the work by Brigitte Derlon and Monique Jeudy-Ballini (La Passion de l'art primitif : enquête sur les collectionneurs, Gallimard, 2008): the tribal-art lover makes collection into a passion that can ‘save him from the ordinariness of the world’.” To make this child’s gaze endure, to perpetuate this fundamentally inquisitive way of considering things, which makes everything look new, fodder for astonishment, Alexandre does not wish to place upon himself the stress of resale. “The fun is in the search. Once you have the object… what’s the next one? [laughter] This is almost what matters most.”

Regarding his modes of acquisition, he says that he is buying less and less from dealers, and more and more from auctions. “Dealers sometimes annoy me. At some point, when you’re aware of how they source objects, you no longer feel like going to galleries. The only interest I see in dealers is that they have keen eyes because they look at objects all day long. But I frequent them very little.” He nonetheless acknowledges one sure advantage of dealers: with them, you can stagger your payments! Alexandre keeps up with sales as far as possible. If there are a number of sales on with different objects that interest him, then he’s forced to make a choice: “When you go underwater fishing opposite a school of fish, if you try to catch the lot you don’t have any chance of success, but if you aim at a single one…” His advice to young collectors tempted by auctions is “not to go because already [I’ll be there] [laughter]! More seriously, it’s very dangerous to make a purchase on the basis of a photo. Photos can be deceptive.”

Alexandre goes to the Parcours des Mondes fair every year, and has been to BRUNEAF on several occasions. “The last time I went, I bought a Bioma from Serge Schoffel. I really like thematic exhibitions. It’s a fine challenge for dealers. [Yann] Ferrandin’s exhibition on Bakotas was really impressive. I also like the fair because it’s a meeting for enthusiasts. It’s nice to see addicts like yourself. What I appreciate less are the prices, which are marked up in exaggerated fashion. But this is also because I’ve seen what happens behind the scenes… Still, I understand that there are people who have the means to go to galleries only.”

Alexandre confides that he is not present on forums and is not in contact with other collectors. However, he makes ample use of databases to compare objects. “It’s absolutely essential. The Artkhade database is well made to boot.”

Finally, he concludes with a word on what makes a good collection: “For me, it’s a collection built thanks to unflagging fighting. Before, things were easier, we could go to flea-markets. Today, it takes a lot of time to find interesting pieces and build a collection that resembles you. A choice of the heart often stems from hours and hours of research.”