Fantasy of the unknown at Edward Klejman’s booth

Much more than a renowned antique dealer, Edward Klejman is an open book, which tells us the fascinating story of the Paul Bert Serpette’s beginnings. An invitation to dream, to hunt for treasure, to smell elsewhere ... These are not simple memories of his countless trips that this antique dealer presents on his booth, but indeed pieces of museum scope, masterpieces of art from outside Europe.

Tell us about your background

At the end of the 1950s, at the age of about 18, I had friends who owned a booth at Paul Bert, in which they presented objects of primitive art. For me, it was a whole new world, which attracted me enormously.

Some members of my wife's family were also antique dealers in Saint Ouen for a long time so I joined them to sell second-hand clothes. In the early 1960s, I associated with someone I had known in the army and who became a bit like my big brother. Together, we took a booth at Paul Bert to make flea. Since I had acquired some knowledge in primitive art and that I had some relationships, I was given objects to sell them.

Very soon after, a happy episode marked a turning point in my career. A little by chance, an American antique dealer came to my booth and bought everything from me. He then asked me if I wanted to go to Africa. And I said : “yes one day! ", As if it was not really essential to my knowledge and my profession, it seemed distant. He replied "no, not one day, next week!" He wanted me to bring him things, that's how this person funded my first trip.

At the time, it was very unexpected because the most important African art dealers had never set foot in Africa, it was not necessary for them, there were enough objects in France and going directly on the spot looking for them was almost weird.

So I left for 2 months in Mali, which was very long for the first time, especially since I was only 21 years old! I even had my 2 CV shipped, it took a long time to arrive…

From 1964, I regularly went back to Africa I was traveling almost every other month and I went to the villages, often in the bush to buy pieces. I went out to explore, sometimes I draw a blank.

So you are a real travel lover?

Not at all ! The very notion of travel doesn't please me, I don't like to go. What I like is being in a place I know, it's not the unknown that attracts me. I don't like to be perceived as a stranger, I like to blend into a landscape, it reassures me.

What touches you in extra European objects? If your heart were to speak, what would it say?

What attracts me is the sculpture itself. At 20 years old, thanks to African art, I discovered a new way of understanding sculpture that I never imagined and I then saw the connections existing between modern painting and African sculpture. Artists like Picasso or Max Ernst were also struck by the fact that this sculpture opens up new horizons, new perspectives. What I liked at the start was also the possibility to own extraordinary items with so little money. I also like Oceanian art objects, because of my trips to New Guinea.

You are one of the first antique dealers to set up in Serpette, what did the market look like?

I knew Mr. Serpette very well, he was a colleague who had a booth at Paul Bert. When he launched his booth project in this former SIMCA garage in the 1970s; he offered me to take one and I accepted. For a very long time, there were only about twenty booths on one alley. Now there are 160 on 6 alleys.

What does Paul Bert Serpette represent for you?

Since I took my first booth in 1962, my presence at Paul Bert Serpette represents ¾ of my life! This is what this market represents for me, it is not negligible! I met exceptional people there and it's a place where you learn a lot. I always wanted to stay here and I never wanted to settle in town. I really enjoyed spending time here, even if it gets more complicated for me to come there.

How do you experience the current context?

Personally, it is difficult to answer that. By the force of things, I could not come much to the market before this episode This confinement does not affect me because I have been living like this for some time. I still hope to come back quickly!

Photo ©Lucie Sassiat