The office of Mr. Pierre Pradié does not give you any indication of where you are, and even less of a law firm. At the centre of the spacious office in Avenue Montaigne, one of Paris’ prime sites, sits a huge but minimalist director’s bureau in a perfect blending of wood and metal, signed by the famous French designer Pierre Guariche. On the wall, two small paintings, whose distance in-between marks the missing of a third painting, and a big one, “a Marc Desgrandchamp”, confirms Mr. Pradié. The painting was then lent to the Musée d’art moderne de la ville de Paris, where a retrospective of the artist was in view.

Mr. Pierre Pradié started collecting contemporary art, principally paintings, in 1995. His first acquisition: a Marc Desgrandchamp. It was the need of a meditative object that impelled him to go back home with nothing but a Desgrandchamp painting which has “marvellously accomplished its mission”. Such need later took shape as an irresistible passion for art, and the meditative object on the wall kicked off the gathering of one of Paris’ most beautiful collections on contemporary painting. In 2006, Mr. Pradié showed his collection in the Cultural Centre of Cesson- Sévigné. A documentary film on his collection was made by Joel Cano under the title “Figures & Co.”. Some the abstracts are included in the interview.  

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In the interview, Pierre Pradié talks with us about his ideas of collecting and his becoming of a collector.

The Notion of Time

Selina Ting [ST]: We are right now in a law firm where the notion of time is very different from that in the art world. Here, time is calculated with precision for its productive and exchange values. In art, the notion of time becomes abstract; it exists in the spirit and in the flânerie. As a lawyer – collector, are you trapped in the paradox?

Pierre Pradié [PP]: The world of art resembles a vast forest where one can easily get lost. Time is important because even though art is a passion for me, I am the keeper of my time and I cannot afford as much time as I would have wished in the search of art. There was a moment when I spent a lot of time visiting artists’ studios and galleries. Today, I am paying fewer visits because I already knew some of the artists and I prefer to follow the development of the artists that I know. I visit some major art events, fairs and biennales. I am also a member of the “Friends of Museums” of Palais de Tokyo and Centre Pompidou. However, it’s true that time is an obstacle.
Then, of course, there is also the effect of time on the ways we look at an artwork and on our perception of art. In other words, it’s the effect of time spent on art that institutionalized our understanding of art. That’s why today some collectors seek assistance of art advisers. I sometimes listen to their opinions as well and it’s true that they save us some time.

ST: A collector told me that the first ten to twelve years of a collector’s life constitute the most dynamic period. Afterwards one might start to feel saturated. What are your observations on this regard? Do you feel the same rhythm in your collecting activity?

PP: Let me read you a sentence from the speech I gave at my daughter’s wedding, “Don’t be afraid, because the youthful impulsions are fundamental”. The beginning stage is extremely fundamental for a collection. A collector can be young in his forties or sixties. The so-called “youthfulness” of this beginning stage is precisely the energy that drives an individual to enter the universe of an artist, to understand the artist’s vocabularies and expressions. Then, a collector appropriates the relics and makes his own choices. So we have three key words or three key steps – Enter, Appropriate and Choose – they are important for a collector. After that, there is an aim behind all these actions, which is to build his collection! To build a collection is perhaps the most difficult step because to build a high quality collection requires one not to get lost in the forest. It’s not about accumulating layers and layers of objects, which has absolutely no interest. It’s perhaps about finding certain coherence and putting together objects that witness the collector’s observations and feelings. Therefore, a collector sets off with this intuition to gather together a selection of artwork. He becomes very active during a given period; he searches, builds and consolidates his collection.

ST: In your opinion, what is the impulsion that motivates an individual to start the investigation?

PP: Very often the impulsion comes from an intellectual quest of his time. Therefore, there is a question of generation, i.e., a collector looks for something in the artists that corresponds to an issue of his time, but it doesn’t necessarily mean a trend or the desire to look for another inspiration. There is no such thing as “ideal age” to start collecting art, because there is no age limit for the personality of an individual to manifest. It’s only from the moment when the desire to express oneself emerges that a propitious period would follow. It’s the moment when the energy radiates in an individual, and such impulsion is assumed by the individual, then a dynamic period starts. 

ST: At what age did this energy and impulsion explode in you?

PP: I started collecting in 1995 when I was 40. Is it relatively late? I think I have always been a collector. When I was very young, I collected key rings, stamps, etc. Well, all these were finished at the age of 20. It’s true that at certain age, we have different priorities, set up a family, educate our children, etc. Evidently, it was not the moment to visit artists’ studios. At the age of 40, one is more or less established – less financial difficulties, etc. It can be a propitious moment to start collecting, like a second stage of existence. It is also true that perhaps at 45, one does not fall so easily into traps in the art world, in the seductions of colours, beauty, intellectuality, etc. At 45, one knows what one wants.

ST: Especially in art, 45 is considered a mature age in terms of development. In general, an artist becomes more certain and solid in his artistic expression after 45.

PP: I have a collector friend who started very early with kinetic art, and he told me that he sold everything. Kinetic art is really a very different art form. Personally, I don’t see any interest in it, just like the figurative narration, which I am not interested at all. That’s exactly where one can fall into traps, because, I come back to the idea that for a very young collector, he might have the impression of finally find his Holy Grail whereas the Grail does not exist.

Extrait of Chapter “Marc Desgrandchamp” from FIGURES & CO., Un film de Joel Cano, 60 mn., Production MYFILMS, 2006.

Uniqueness and Surpass

ST: Is a collector looking for his uniqueness through art? As we mentioned earlier that there is a generational element in contemporary art.

PP: When one collects, there is always a desire to be unique. But look for uniqueness in order to be unique… for me, contemporary art is more about the desire to surpass. It’s a research to develop one’s intellect. Well, truly enough, there is the trap of artistic form. But the form or the media is not a character and even less a sign of contemporariness. That’s for sure.
When I started collecting in 1995, I was interested in painting, an art form that was just reborn. Before 1995, contemporary painting almost didn’t exist in France, because it was certified in the 1960s. Contemporary French painting however was reborn with artists such as Marc Desgrandchamps, Vincent Corpet, Pierre Moignard, Djamel Tatah, etc. At that time, there were only a few artists painters that were represented in galleries. Artists such as Robert Combas belong to another epoch with another style and way of working. Their figures, for example, seemed to be very different from the research of Desgrandchamps. Photography could be very interesting because its contemporariness lies on the fact that everybody can take photos… It’s the same for video. Today, you can easily make a film with an iPhone. The spontaneity and immediacy characterize the contemporariness of photography, video and digital art.

ST: But you stay faithful to painting?

PP: I have a very multiple and intense experience with painting, whereas my experience in video is far more limited. I produced a documentary on my collection with Joel Cano in 2006. During the production, I participated in the construction of images, sound, etc. I think that, by its extreme simplicity and relative discretion, painting allows one’s spirit to dive into it and to express itself. On the other hand, video is tiring for me. Of course, it depends on which video, bad videos are tiring and boring. Painting gives a sort of fundamental depth and temporality. Well, why not video, just that it’s very difficult. I would say that 95% of videos that I have seen are unbearable. But 95% of paintings as well! [Laughs]

ST: What about cinema? Do you like cinema?

PP: I like cinema but with a preference for images and films with little dialogue. It’s the scene that tells, suggests and provokes the sentiments. I don’t like films that talk too much.

ST: Because when it is overly interpreted, too fixed, there is no space for appropriation?

PP: Exactly! I believe a lot in appropriation to enter the universe of an artist.

ST: There is also the power of drawing in the spectators…

PP: There is a triangle: artist – work – onlooker. The artist has his own idea. If he leaves you the freedom to interpret, you would then project an image of you on the work. That’s how the spirit of the artist and that of the onlooker echoes each other, something that the artist isn’t particularly aiming at. Not too conceptual, not too figurative neither, but nevertheless, it’s the concept that holds the work. To make a good piece of art, an artist must master his tools, be cultivated, possesses an in-depth knowledge of art history, apprehends his concepts and seizes the magic of creation. One can’t stick to formalism.

FIGURES & CO, collection Pierre Pradié, Centre culturel de Cesson-Sévigné, 2006. Still image from FIGURES & CO., Un film de Joel Cano, 60 mn., Production MYFILMS, 2006.

On Becoming Collector

ST: You are trained in law and by profession a lawyer. What has prepared you to receive the ideas of the artists throughout the years?

PP: I think the nature prepared me. As a kid, I spent my summer holidays at the middle of splendid landscape in Aveyron, north of Rodez where the Soulages Museum locates today. There are lots of roman churches surrounding Aveyron. There is a kind of sobriety, stringency, balance and spirituality in the environment. The beauty of the nature is very present to which one links the creation of man. I have had the chance to discover all these in my childhood, like a seed planted in my life.

My grandparents were very interested in architecture and their home was full of beautiful furniture. I got the habit of observing the high quality of human creation. My visual attention and capacity were trained through these contacts in family. This was the starting impulsion.

My sister and her ex-husband are both museum curators. I have had the chance to meet some contemporary artists through them. I tried to link my childhood sensations with my adult artistic encounters. And I understood that beauty doesn’t belong exclusively to the past, what is happening right now is equally important. So, this was the second impulsion.

After becoming conscious of contemporary creation and realizing that I had the desire to purchase art, it happened to me that I got a chance to visit the studio of artists, such as Vincent Bioulès. I had never been to an artist’s studio at that time. For me, it was like entering a worship place without knowing the religion, i.e. entering a domain that doesn’t belong to me, and therefore the question of culture: What am I going to do? What interests me? The solution: I started reading 20th century Art History before the studio visit. It’s true that understanding the past is a necessity.

There were some exhibitions that were important for me. For example, the Chardin exhibition in Grand Palais in 1999 was extremely essential for me. There exists a sort of intensity in Chardin’s still life, even in the hunting scenes, there is always a door open, a message coming through, that one can identify in the figuration of Chardin. When one enters the canvas, into the images, one has the impression of watching a film or reading a novel. Chardin is very important for me because I have in front of me an immense artist par excellence who was an innovator of his time.

In my opinion, it’s very important to go to Florence to see the Italian Renaissance. You would understand that they have invented everything there! [laughs]  And you would see that we have lots of false prophets today who pretended to have invented the wheel and hot water! You might just need to go to see the major exhibitions or museums to be able to discern immediately the false prophets.

ST: And New York?

PP: New York is very important for me, Chicago as well. There was a moment in my career that I have had to travel a lot to Chicago and New York. It was in the early 1990s, before I started collecting. The American architecture and museums influenced me a lot. They actually opened my spirit towards 20th century.

Extrait of Chapter “Philippe Perrot” from FIGURES & CO., Un film de Joel Cano, 60 mn., Production MYFILMS, 2006.

ST: There exist an affinity between architecture and art in terms of aesthetics and ideology. Are you also interested in design?

PP: Yes, I’ve just started and I am particularly interested in 1950s design, first in Scandinavian and American design, then lately in French design. At the beginning of 1950s, there was a great desire for novelty which came along with industrialization and new materials. We see such tendency first in the Bauhaus minimalist furniture, a strong idea to get rid of obsolete décor. It seems to me that the 1950s design is almost the precursor of minimalist art in the simplicity and confrontation of different materials.

ST: How would you comment on today’s design?

PP: Often we see a terribly baroque style in today’s design. I am a bit sick with it. Design today is unnecessarily decorative and the baroque is often too strong, too impulsive. I don’t like it when people impose an image, an idea or a concept on me, and I think that baroque is exactly in the idea of pushing an individual towards one direction. Personally, that irritates me. For example, the profusion of gold in a Spanish baroque church became so imposing to the people of that epoch. We see how the baroque style was created to reinforce the power of the church when religion was on the way towards bankruptcy. Today, the contemporary baroque irritates me because it makes one feels the end of individual freedom. I don’t like baroque design ! I need simplicity !

ST: When a collector creates a space or an environment in his life to accommodate art, which is your case, what do you expect from this profusion of art?

PP: Precisely, let’s go back to the question what attracted me to contemporary art… I think it also came from a certain rebellion against my family, because, growing up, I was surrounded by antique furniture, old prints and many other ordinary objects hanging on the walls. This, I don’t want it anymore. I need to feel my energy carried towards a certain kind of sobriety, a kind of sobriety that unfortunately disappeared for many people. In the interior of a collector’s home, I search for an image to hold my attention. And there, as I turn my eyes to the image, my vision is captured, my spirit is relaxed, and I forget what is around me. A strong image allows you to forget the rest! At the beginning of my collecting activity, I wanted a painting at home. It was a desire to have a pure image, like when you worship, sometimes you need to be in a natural surrounding or a particular environment to be able to concentrate on your meditation. I sometimes feel that a work of art welcomes and accommodates my spirit. By its energy, it captures my attention and my intellect. That was why I bought the first big canvas of Marc Desgrandchamps in 1995. It has fabulously accomplished its mission.

ST: Facing your colleagues, do you have any difficulty in explaining to them your passion?

PP: Certainly I have felt a certain gap between my intimate desire for art and the experience the people around me lived. Such gap can be simply concerning the definition of contemporary art, for example. For certain people, contemporary art means art of the 20th century and now 21st century. But for me, contemporary art is Chardin in his time, or the renaissance in Italy in its time, or Desgrandchamps today. We are all contemporary to our time. It’s the contemporary spirit that interests me, no matter which period it comes from. I have felt a huge gap but at the same time, such gap is becoming less troubling as I always chose works with sincerity, and people understood that I don’t have the need to prove or to impose whatever on them. Therefore, such discrepancy is very well accepted. It can be a bit difficult with paintings, because sometimes I buy works that are very powerful, with certain images that might be troubling for the others. There is a distance between what one thinks of himself as a collector and what the others perceive of him. To collect and to show the collection to the public is like waving a red rag, that’s why most collectors are ready to take the challenge.

ST: In your collection, do you principally collect French paintings?

PP: 90% is French. I have some American artists, such as Peter Saul and Jim Shaw, and some German and Spanish artists as well. 

ST: Does an artist’s nationality matter for you?

PP: Nationality doesn’t matter in my opinion. What’s important is where the work is made, because what happened in Paris, Berlin, Brussels or any other cities, has its own reason. The environment influents the creation. Certain encounters that happened in a place, in city or even a certain atmosphere, will affect the work of an artist. A lot of French artists work in Berlin and they probably create their work in a Berlin spirit. 

ST: One last question, what is collecting contemporary art for you?

PP: When one collects, one realizes his self-portrait and the works express his personality. Even between couples, there are things that stay intimate and personal. At the same time, it’s also like a sowing process, i.e., I guess I have transmitted in my family the desire for artistic research, the curiosity to know art, etc. Afterwards, I hope my children would leave the family cocoon to go for something personal to them.

ST: Thank you very much!

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