The Museum-Off between two French billionaires has only just begun

It seems that not much has happened in the upper echelons of French fashion and philanthropy over the past few decades that has not involved either Bernard Arnault, 72, or Francois Pinault, 85, the mega-collectors and billionaires patresfamilias of luxury conglomerates LVMH and Kering, respectively. The two have locked horns on the most golden arenas for years, most famously in 2001 when the PPR of Pinault (now known as Kering) boxed Arnault in the battle of acquisitions for Gucci, then crossed out by Tom ford. The jousting continued for decades, culminating in the most intellectual and excellent ego contest in human history, in which the two billionaires donated hundreds of millions of euros in kind to rebuild Our Lady. For those who matter: the Arnault family donated $ 218 million, while Pinault (with his son Francois-Henri, who took over the day-to-day business of the family business in 2003) donated $ 109 million.

But the competition between fashion houses and charitable donations has pale in comparison to the clash between their two private museums. Monsieur Arnault (everyone calls him “Monsieur Arnaultno”) Opened the Louis Vuitton Foundation in the Bois de Boulogne forest area in 2014, its structure imagined by Frank Gehry– a shimmering pile of what looks like pieces of silver eggshell delicately placed on top of each other. It was closed to the public during the pandemic and reopened just a few weeks ago with “The Morozov Collection”, an exhibition of Impressionist masterpieces from the collection of two brothers who had been dispersed by a century of war. and revolution, to be reunited by Arnaud (with a little help of Vladimir Poutine).

Then, last May, Mr. Pinault (everyone calls him “Monsieur Pee-no “) opened its own private museum, the Bourse de Commerce in the central Les Halles district, in a former hub of the Parisian grain trade, after an extraordinary $ 170 million renovation by Tadao Ando. And while M. Pinault’s museum may not currently have a treasure of Matisse and Picasso brought together for the first time in a century, it exhibits the masterpieces from its collection, including a suite of a thirty key works by David Hammons, the most comprehensive exhibition of the artist’s work ever organized in Europe.

Each institution is a game-changer of an addition to the French cultural landscape of the 21st century in its own right, but due to some quirks of the calendar and a global pandemic, they have only been open to the public simultaneously for a few weeks. The arrival in Paris this week of the International Contemporary Art Fair (otherwise known as FIAC) allowed the gallery class to welcome them together and update the mental scorecard.

“You know, it’s quite astonishing and interesting that two of the greatest collectors in the art world are both French and both care deeply about art, but also about their city, to build museums here. “, said Jennifer Flay, who has been leading FIAC since 2010. “And I think that’s a beautiful message. It is a remarkable phenomenon that brings a lot of art loving people to the city.

Flay was seated in an office carved out of the maze of rooms hidden in the bowels of the FIAC, which was staged this year not at his usual excavations in the light-strewn Grand Palais but rather in the Grand Palais Éphémère, a new space built to house exhibits while the 1897 iron and glass structure on the Champs-Élysées gets a facelift ahead of the 2024 Olympics. Flay seemed optimistic, noting that exhibitors were eminently satisfied with the new setup, which trades in the grandeur of the old space for a more typical art fair configuration with navigable alleys.

Obviously, it worked: collectors bought at the fair, stopping by the Hauser & Wirth booth to purchase new paintings from George Condo and Rachid johnson for $ 1.55 million and $ 850,000, respectively. Perhaps the biggest sale on Wednesday, the first day of the fair, was that of Robert Rauschenberg Star grass (1963), which sold for $ 2.8 million at the Thaddaeus Ropac stand.

But it was also clear that after the craziness of Frieze London and Art Basel a few weeks before, there was a bit of fatigue as proceedings began this year in Paris.

“I am a little disappointed, after the dynamism of Frieze, with the sales to FIAC. Paris is such a beautiful city for a show, but the FIAC has tended to underperform for us compared to other big shows ”, David Zwirner said in a statement released to the press mid-afternoon on the first day of the fair.

All the more reason to thank God (or the continued commitment of the luxury buying public), therefore, for private museums, even if, on the phone, the director of the Louis Vuitton Foundation Suzanne Pagé sought to distinguish its institution from the vagaries of the trade fair circuit. On the contrary, she said, it relies on copious programming based on careful collection.

“Mr. Arnault’s decision has a big impact on an artist,” said Pagé. “We are a museum, a museum in the sense that the work we buy, we never sell it. We don’t sell, so what we want is to be ambitious and moving, and only have a cultural impact.

A more cynical ear might have heard in this response a little blow to Mr. Pinault, known to sell works through this small auction house which he had bought in 1998 through the intermediary of his Artémis Group, Christie’s. In 2016, for example, Pinault was the consignee of Adrien ghenie‘s Nickelodeon (2008), who high estimates quadrupled when it sold for around $ 8.4 million.

She underlined that Mr. Arnault likes to stage historical surveys and acquire works of the greatest contemporary voices. When asked what she thought of the Stock Exchange, Pagé replied diplomatically: “I think it’s great! We just have a different take on art.


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