The Finest Bar Cart in the World
Francois-Xavier Lalanne's patinated creatures are altars to the supreme art of living.
Photo illustration by Ben Park.
Nowadays, nothing says, "I have my life together!" quite like the ownership of a bar cart. This was perhaps less true back in the 1960s, when a designated piece of furniture for showcasing one's vast liquor collection and its requisite accouterments was as de rigueur as a meticulously curated spread of esoteric coffee table books is today. It was during this decade that French Surrealist Francois-Xavier Lalanne first came to wide attention, along with his "co-creator" (they disdained the term "collaborator") and wife Claude Lalanne, for designing at the behest of another iconic duo, Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé. Les Lalannes and Saint Laurent developed a lifelong creative partnership: the designer used Lalanne's molded bronze breastplates and bustiers for his Fall 1969 collection, and Lalanne made Saint Laurent and Bergé a set of fifteen galvanized copper and bronze mirrors resembling branches which took eleven years to finish.
Francois-Xavier's works often occupy a decidedly liminal space, encompassing both sculpture and furniture, art and design. It's a result of the couple's firm belief in functional art; as Francois-Xavier once phrased it, "the supreme art is the art of living." He is most famous for his sheep stools—which merely appear to be ornamental, life-size replicas of their namesake until someone plops down onto their broad woolly backs—but he expanded his species pool with this series of patinated bronze hippo, ostrich, or feline bar carts, the sides of which open up in a variety of swooping cutaways to reveal your bottles of choice. Queen Elizabeth II received a smaller wine cooler modeled after a grasshopper as a gift from Presdent Georges Pompidou following a visit to France in 1972, while Lauren Santo Domingo opted for one of the eight hippo bars Lalanne created in the early 90s, as she revealed in her apartment series on vogue.com.
How to get one of these zoological treasures? It's possible LSD acquired her piece through Paul Kasmin Gallery, which represents the Lalannes' estate in New York. They occasionally come to auction: across the pond, Christie's recently netted a sale of one of Lalanne's bars for over $3.5 million, surpassing its estimate tenfold. As The Economist wrote in 2010, "Ben Brown, [Les Lalannes'] London dealer, reports that his biggest problem now is not finding buyers, but works to sell." Francois-Xavier passed away in 2008, but Claude, now 93, has shown no signs of slowing her output, having turned to jewelry making in recent years.
One final selling point regarding the former's bar cart: at the age of 18, having just moved to Paris, Francois-Xavier happened to rent a studio adjacent to sculptor Constantin Brâncuși's, a serendipitous coincidence that resulted in some serious bonding over vodka. Francois-Xavier's new drinking partner then introduced the young artist to Surrealists who would later influence and champion his work, such as Man Ray and Max Ernst. You can see why he thought a cabinet for drinks should really be a fantastical altar.