François Pinault, the world’s number one art collector.

François Pinault Foundation Collection
Michel François, “Bureau Augmenté”

The Exhibition of the Francois Pinault Collection was held in France where it seemed that everyone have a slight disdain for the man. Francois Pinault is a billionaire French businessman and owns the PPR Group, which has Gucci under its umbrella, as well as Christie’s, which is the most dominant auction house along with Sotheby’s, Pinault is said to be the number one private art collector in the world today and in fact, he has been selected as “the most influential figure in the contemporary art” two years in a row, in 2006 and in 2007.

I mentioned above that everyone had a slight despair for Pinault in France, and the reason why was that Pinault famously turned down an architectural project on an old Renault factory site on Île Seguin, an island near Paris, in 2005 for Pinault’s Foundation designed by Tadao Ando to exhibit and store his more-than-2000-piece art collection. This was due to the delay in administrative procedures by the French Government which pushed back the initial completion date of 2007 to 2010. Pinault just could not wait any longer. Several months after the cancellation of the project, Pinault bought Palazzo Grassi in Venice, Italy, and re-opened it as an art museum. France had to face the fact that it had just lost one of its most important art foundations along with one of the world’s most famous art collections from its soil.

After all this, the city of Lille managed to invite the Pinault collection back to France. Since it was elected the European Capital of Culture in 2004, Lille has been especially putting energy towards lille 3000, a contemporary art exhibition while trying to discard its image as an industrial city .

This exhibition of the collection, “Passage du Temps“, was curated by Caroline Bourgeois, one of the curators for the The Ile-de-France region FRAC-PLATEAU (Fond regional d’art Contemporain), who is also an art consultant for Pinault. The plan was to select the best works in photography and film media out of the up to 2000 works that Pinault owns, as well as to showcase them in a chronological order from the 70s until today in the art history.

One of the aspects that amazed us in this exhibition was that it was aiming to show “the art history” out of one private collection. And further, the standard of all the selected 96 works by the 39 artists was very high.

In the exhibition of collective photography and video works, some works simply could not have been ignored.

François Pinault Foundation Collection
Dan Flavin, “Untitled (to Saskia, Sixtina, Thordis.)” ©Adagp, Paris 2007

The work by Dan Flavin, in which 304 fluorescent light fixtures were laid over 50 meters, served as a tunnel going into the womb of the Francois Pinault collection. Walking through the blue space, which was lit up in pink, green and yellow neon lights, made it feel like we, the audience, were somehow becoming the subject of photography or video works. This installation created an atmosphere where we felt as if actually going into a former Post Office depot in a cloudy, rainy industrial city typical of Northern France. With our excitement level up, it was like entering a wonder world of contemporary art in the 6000 square meter space.

François Pinault Foundation Collection
Rosemarie Trockel, “Untitled”

This excitement was only to be raised more, as if it were challenging us, as we walked from one work next to the other.

Dan Flavin’s work mentioned above opened as what was known as the first chapter of “Dizziness,” and was then followed by 5 chapters over 3 floors of the exhibition space altogether.

The second chapter started with artists from the 70s, Cindy Sherman, Vito Acconci, Bruce Nauman and Dan Graham, who questioned what it was to be an artist. I’d never seen such a beautiful work as Une seconde d’eternite by Marcel Broodthaers.
The exhibition then moved to the works by artists who inherited the ideas of the above artists but incorporated more humour into their work such as Pierre & Gilles and Fischli & Weiss. In the photography works by Gilbert and George, the viewers could see the naked bodies, the blood, the tears, the semen and the urine, which were often portrayed in Gilbert and George’s work; and it was probably a rare opportunity to see those elements all in one work.

François Pinault Foundation Collection
Gilbert & George, “Blood Tears Spunk Piss”

Feature films can often be associated as one of the most influential aspects in the medium of video art, and some or the works exhibited in this section incorporated some scenes from feature films. Douglas Gordon’s Through a Looking Glass featured the scene from the Taxi Driver where Robert de Niro talked to himself, which was projected on two screens next to each other but there was a slight time lag on one screen to the other. Paul Pfeiffer’s Self-Portrait as a Fountain brought back to life the fear and excitement of the famous shower scene from Psycho by setting up the video installation with so many cameras and with the sound of water from the shower and the bathroom. Works by Rodney Graham and Pierre Huyghe were also included. Generally, most works were selected not only by the fact that they integrate feature films in the works, but also time lag effects such as repetition and fowarding, that would leave the viewer anxious.

The next section showed a series of art works by non-Western artists from Europe and America, which perceived the difference of cultural identities in this modern world rather violently. The exhibition had most of the major works by Adel Abdessemed.

François Pinault Foundation Collection
Hiroshi Sugimoto, “The Last Supper”

The works by photographers such as Hiroshi Sugimoto, Andres Serrano and Thomas Struth amazed the audience until the last moment of the exhibition. Many works seemed to have religious themes, especially The Last Supper.

François Pinault Foundation Collection
Bill Viola, “Going Forth By Day” © Adagp, Paris 2007

The 5 Video works by Bill Viola were just admirable.

This exhibition of the Francois Pinault Collection received so much praise from the French contemporary art world which served to remind us how influential Francois Pinault with the many familiar works owned by Pinault. Unlike other recent major exhibitions loaded with entertainment and hype, I thought this exhibition would attract only the ones in relation to contemporary art, but in fact, it recorded 93,000 visitors during the 3 opening months.

This was the first exhibition of his collection in France and having had this show in Lille rather than Paris, Pinault also contributed in decentralizing authority from the art-heavy capital city. In addition, this exhibition proved Pinault’s talent as a businessman in a sense that his choice of city was Lille, which would attract several tourists from Britain and Belgium, while only taking an hour by train from Paris.

Passage du Temps: François Pinault Foundation Collection
Dates: 16th October 2007 – 6th January 2008
Place: Lille, Tri Postal

Text and photos: Kana Sunayama
Translation: Kyoko Tachibana

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