“It’s a kind of communion,” says Hugues Magen, surveying the contents of his Tribeca living room – the largest existing dining table (nearly 12 feet long) by French designer Charlotte Perriand, an original Kangourou armchair by Jean Proven, a carved wooden armchair Masque Punu, a trash design by American artist Mike Kelley. “To communicate with each other, they have to have some degree of what I call vibrational aesthetics.”
But vibes are only part of the equation for the man behind New York design supplier Magen H Gallery, who says, “I’ve always tried to buy the best pieces I could find. When looking at furniture or art, he considers form, technique and context, as well as his intuition. “I think it’s an instinct,” he explains. “You have just gravitated towards the right object.”
Such a precise yet subjective system of measuring beauty suits the Paris-born merchant, who moved to New York in 1980 to pursue dancing. He performed with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and the Dance Theater of Harlem, where he was director for more than a decade before retiring in 1999. “To me, that’s just a extension of the dance,” he says of the design. “It’s poetry, movement, beauty, form.”
Magen came to his second career somewhat by accident in the late 1990s, when a friend in Paris asked him to find American furniture in New York. Magen scored a pair of Eames LCW chairs in SoHo which he deconstructed, packed into a suitcase and brought back to France. When they quickly sold (for a sizable profit), its wheels started turning. Soon he began to do the same with already collectible mid-century French designs such as Perriand, Le Corbusier and Prouvé, regularly mixing in works by lesser-known talents. In 2003, after several years of selling pieces to other dealers, he and his then-wife, April Magen, opened a gallery on East 11th Street, a short walk from its current location.