The interview with Frédéric de Goldschmidt lasted almost 4 hours in his loft in Brussels, and we did not even manage to re-visit his private art spaces where he shelters part of a handsome collection of contemporary art that he started in late 2008. When we hopped on a tram heading to the WIELS for Jimmie Durham’s conference, Frédéric reassured me that he’s the only collector who takes public transport! Born into a wealthy family (Goldschmidt-Rothschild) in Paris, Frédéric takes on the slightest Parisian snobbism. He prefers to drop half of his family name and to “flee” the Paris crowd for a more casual setting in Brussels. It was his openness in spirit and his “freshness” in the art world that allowed us to pose some of the “annoying” questions that most collectors wanted to avoid in an interview.
The interview continued on the tram where Frédéric told me the story of his grandmother, her collection of impressionist paintings and antique furniture, and the rituals of a museum visit with her. “Art had long since become an important big thing for me. My grandmother planted in me the idea that Art merits a full-day attention and energy when she took me all the way to London just to see an exhibit!” Today, 40 years later, Frédéric is doing what his grandmother liked to do – “going to London just to see an exhibit”.
07 February, 2012
The Young Collector
Selina Ting [ST] : It’s really amazing to know that everything started three years ago, especially given the size of the collection and the space that you set up…
Frédéric de Goldschmidt [FG]: I am an old young collector [Laughs]. I started collecting in late 2008, but of course, I had been exposed to art previously. My grandmother, who collected Impressionists, was the first person to initiate me into art by taking me to museums and galleries when I was a child. Though I wasn’t aware that I had already developed a specific taste for contemporary art, once I started collecting, I realized that things that I had seen before came naturally to my mind. I was quick enough to distinguish what I would appreciate and what I was less convinced of. So it didn’t take me too long to make a purchase. I try to buy art with my instinct without spending too much time on research.
ST: Why suddenly the desire to collect art exploded in you in 2008?
FG: My grandmother was an art lover, an amateur painter and a collector and my father also collected in the 1970s. So I guess there is a family background. I actually made my first “considered” acquisition in 2007. It was a piece made with crumpled magazine pages in ice cube trays by the French artist Benjamin Sabatier. I had discovered Benjamin’s work at FIAC 2006 but his works were already sold out the weekend I attended. I asked the gallery owner, Jérôme de Noirmont, if similar pieces would become available and he gave me the date of the upcoming show, I was there at 5:00 pm on the day of the opening and got a piece. But before 2008, I didn’t really have the time and money. It all became possible in that year as I could step back from my work and had some money that I could use. So I decided to spend a year going to fairs, shows, galleries, etc. It went pretty fast and, even though my walls were full, I couldn’t stop. From that moment on, I guess I had the collector’s virus and now it has been three years.
ST: When you started collecting in late 2008, do you think it was a good moment for a new comer collector?
FG: Yes! It wasn’t a motivating factor for me but it gave me some objective reasons to justify my act to my family and friends. Prices for art went down after the financial crisis and people started to believe that art was a good protection for money against depreciation. Now, prices are going up again. For example, the price of some pieces from the Group ZERO artists, such as Mack or Schoonhoven that I bought in 2008, almost doubled since then. It’s motivating to know even though I haven’t sold anything yet. I prefer to own art than gold! I am much happier to have pieces on my walls than to have stocks in the bank. Of course, every collector will have to face the fact that probably one day part of his/her collection will be worth much less because most of the artists in vogue today will probably be forgotten in history. If part of my collection is worth more in fifty years than it is today and if my grandchildren would say “hey, granddaddy had an eye for the art of his time”, I will smile in my tomb –or in my nursing home [laughs].
ST: [Laughs] Was it also a moment when some big name artists’ works became available in the market? As a young collector, you don’t need to wait for too long to get the pieces that you want…
FG: Yes, the works were more accessible in a way. For example, I remember in 2008 in the Paris’ FIAC, I wanted very much to buy a piece from a series by Christopher Wool. I went to the stand several times but the pieces were all reserved –and eventually sold. A few months later, I got an email from the gallery saying that one of the pieces wasn’t sold and asking if I was still interested. So finally I got a piece. Of course, you have to wait, but the galleries welcome fresh comers with fresh wallets!
ST: This question is going to be a bit sensitive. Given the facts that contemporary art is so much dominated by the art market today, and that collecting art is no longer simply a leisure matter but involves a lot of social status and personal ego… For someone like you, who had a successful career in another field, but coming to a new social circle and confronted by different obstacles as a young collector, would that pose a question or even an identity crisis to you on the personal level?
FG: Yes and no! When you are new to a gallery, you don’t get the same level of interest from the gallery as their old customers do. In that sense, yes, it’s a bit frustrating. You don’t immediately get invited to the most exclusive events, but it is good to be patient. When you reflect later on how people’s attitude towards you changes when they realize that you are a potential client, then, you have to take it with a lot of humor… On a more philosophical level, if that’s where you are trying to get me to [laughs], one thing that I learnt from the art world is that one should be clever enough not to feel important when people start speaking to you or inviting you to events. One should also be careful enough not to change just because others are looking at you with different interests and attention.
When you grow old,
you realise that pure love is rare
that most of the time you love and are loved for a reason.
It doesn’t mean that you or the other is not sincere,
it only means that there are reasons.
ST: Being a collector, does it imply any thing to you in terms of social status? Does it change your life?
FG: I must admit that it’s enjoyable to be invited to the previews of art fairs instead of queuing for hours to get in. It’s pleasurable to attend events as a VIP. So I enjoy the invitations fully aware that I wouldn’t have been invited four years ago. I know I am invited because I am a collector, but I don’t mind. When you grow old, you realize that pure love is rare and that most of the time you love and are loved for a reason. It doesn’t mean that you or the other is not sincere, it only means that there are reasons. Why do beautiful women fall in love with rich and sometimes not very attractive men? Not for mercantile reasons, but just because they are attracted by the power surrounding the successful man that a young pretty kid doesn’t have. There is a certain status attached to being a collector. But if you step back a little bit, look at it with a bit of humor, you can reflect on all these things and take them less seriously. Yes, it has become a way of living, and yes, I enjoy it. It keeps me going on even though I decided to reduce my art-related activities!
ST: How was your life before collecting? Did you have another hobby or passion that was occupying your time?
FG: I didn’t have a particular hobby. I was kind of a serious person: I used to spend most of my time working and taking care of my family, raising my two children. When I got my first job in Brussels when I was in my mid-20’s, my routine after work was going to gym and to the cinema. Now, my children are 18 and 15, they are more independent and I still go to gym, to the cinema and still eat late snacks from a take-away, but now two or three times a month instead of two or three times a week. My free time became more “professional”, i.e. visiting galleries and museums in a more organized manner than before. Becoming a collector is an engagement, a half-time job. A lot of experienced collectors know art history very well. But I don’t have an art history background, so I also spend some time to get that knowledge as well, looking at books and catalogues and researching from internet, etc., even though I get bored quickly… It’s too time-consuming if you want to do it in a comprehensive way. I don’t work with art advisers even though that could save me some time. I was very disappointed with a person I briefly worked with and who took advantage of my lack of knowledge about the practices. So I prefer to trust my instinct when I make choices. After all, this is the only way collectors can be creative themselves. The personal assemblage of works is the collector’s creation.
ST: Just now you mentioned that sometimes you want to reduce your activities. Most of the collectors I met said that it’s a hard life to be a jetsetter. [Laughs] Do you feel the same?
FG: Yes, but many locations can only be reached by local trains – not private jets. Since I was back to Brussels from the summer holiday, for example, I have been to the Biennale of Video Art in Mechelen in Belgium, a show in public spaces in Rotterdam called Melanchotopia, the ABC fair in Berlin, the Brussels Art Days and the Lyon Biennale. I have attended 5 events in addition to art shows and openings. The same night between ABC in Berlin and Biennale in Lyon, I was invited by the Gagosian Gallery for a dinner with Mike Kelley in London but I chose the opening of Alina Szapocznikow’s show at the WIELS, my “local” art institution. The day when I came back to Brussels from Lyon, I went straight from the station to an opening at Botanique, an art center in Brussels, but I was exhausted and I asked myself why I was doing this… I avoided the jet-setters crowd in London but still I covered six cities in less than two weeks.
There is also a “serious” explanation: I was recently working on the inventory of the works in my collection for the insurance company, and I realized I had reached a significant amount and that I should not add any more works. The annual premium is already high enough. [Laughs] That’s why I said I wanted to reduce my activities. But the fact that I am going to an artist’s conference this evening before catching the train to Paris is already not a good sign! [Laughs]
ST: What are your professional interests?
FG: I work between Brussels and Paris. I have real estate interests in Brussels that I am scaling down. I am also involved in two other initiatives, one in knowledge management software and the other one in seed capital and mentoring for young entrepreneurs. I have also taken over my father’s film production business in Paris last year. All these are very time-consuming business, although with long cycles enabling times of break.
ST: Does the film production business change your collecting direction? We don’t really see so many videos or video installations in your collection…
FG: You are right. It’s true that I have a problem with video as a collectible art form. I appreciate video work and I enjoyed it as an art form. But, as a collector, I find it a bit difficult because video takes more time to enjoy and even if you have video pieces in your collection, you don’t bother to turn on the projectors too often. Besides, I find the idea of limited edition contradictory to the purpose of video itself. I know it’s probably wrong for me to say so but I believe that video, so as film, is a medium for the widest possible audience. That’s why I believe in commercial cinema: the commercial success is the proof that the writers and the producers have achieved a result which can be translated into the size of the audience that has enjoyed the film. That being said, it doesn’t mean that I don’t like art films. But personally, I think it’s a wrong concept to keep an interesting video just for a very privileged few to enjoy. As it is easily reproducible –which is not the case of a painting, a sculpture or an installation-, I think that video artists should find another way to fund their production than just having one piece sold to a collector and another piece to a museum.
ST: Is there any production model that video artists should consider?
FG: Well, in addition to the editions already available in museum shops or online, why not put together some kind of “crowd-funding” for video art? The artist presents his project online and the project is funded by friends, collectors, institutions, galleries and all art lovers. If the funding is sufficient, the work gets done. Those who have contributed would have a copy of the video or be invited to the event hosted by an institution. Or, the video can even just be available in the internet for everybody. If the amount raised is not sufficient, then those who have contributed would be refunded or be credited with something else.
ST: There is always the question of unique value in art, even artists using easily reproducible medium want to keep the aura of scarcity…
FG: I do believe that it’s logical to pay a significant amount of money for something unique that can be kept, but I don’t think it is logical to pay a large amount of money for a disc that you can duplicate yourself on your computer with no loss of quality. I know this is old fashioned, but I am still a young collector in the development stage. [Laughs] Maybe in ten years I will change my mind.
ST: But I remember you have organized a performance in your space during the Art Brussels in 2011.
FG: Yes, my friend Laone Santos Brasil performed both in 2010 and 2011. I have nothing against immaterial art. I support artists in their ephemeral projects or performances because they deserve to be presented and seen by the public even though I don’t necessarily collect the work. Another example is a project by another Belgian artist Filip Gilissen, who showed huge letters in light bulbs in public spaces from sunset to sunrise. I supported his project which started in Brussels and then went to Rotterdam and other cities. For me this kind of event is a perfectly legitimate medium, and if public funding is not enough, I support it when I can. But this kind of event could also be funded by a larger public, each member of the audience paying a little sum of money.
ST: One of the challenges for private collectors is of course the question of conservation, especially works with fragile materials. You have pieces in your collection that are collectible but can be difficult to keep.
FG: Yes, I am personally very sensitive to poor material. I am more attracted to low-tech productions, found objects, re-appropriation of daily objects, etc. They are basically the opposite of video work which needs a lot of production. Durability and expensive materials are not the preconditions for making good art. For example, I have a piece by the French artist Joel Andrianomearisoa which is made out of 20,000 sheets of paper resting on nails. When I open the door and if it is windy outside, a couple of sheets sometimes fly away. But low tech doesn’t mean fragile… The Belgian artist Yves Lecomte used an old mirror for a piece and Olve Sande, a young Norwegian artist, used a crate he had found on the street. Nobody will notice if there is a slight mark… Another example of clever use of appropriation is a piece from the Spanish artist Elena Bajo in which she found a large envelopin a framer’s workshop’s refuse. There are lines and drops on it because the paper was used to protect floors when the framers painted frames. So she asked the framer to frame the piece of paper. It is the act of framing which gave the status of art to the piece of found paper. But it also protects it and there is a visual aesthetics that the artist appreciated and I appreciated too. It’s like the beauty that you can find in the nature or everyday life, unintended but very present.
I like something that has a material sense, a sensation that you can find in the form, colour, texture, etc. I am kind of old fashioned probably. I rarely acquire something that doesn’t have an aesthetic quality, even though the idea of beauty is no longer fashionable with curators and artists today.
ST: In terms of aesthetics, I feel that your collection is very minimalist, pure, predominantly with simple forms and lines.
FG : Yes, I like lines, I like shapes. I am more sensitive to the abstract forms and how they can evoke the sensations within a person. I think that emotions come from inside, that’s how you can appreciate the different shades in a monochrome white painting. The late French filmmaker and collector Claude Berri said that he favoured spending hours contemplating the monochrome paintings in his office over other film-related activities. Even at my home, there are not so many colours. I think I am attracted to things that are a bit melancholic. I am a very optimistic and happy person, maybe that’s why I can withstand objects that look sad! [Laughs] I am not totally against figurative work, but it’s true that I don’t have so many figurative works.
I don’t need a piece that reminds me every day of something I disapprove. I don’t like to push the limit in my everyday life!
ST: You are not into political art?
FG: I am not particularly into political art. But it doesn’t mean that I can’t appreciate political or subversive art. I appreciate when there is something intelligent behind it. For example, I have a piece of Joseph Havel, Soft Target, the way he uses the American national flag is an acute reflection on America’s weakening position in the world’s politics today. But it is the way the piece looked that attracted me first. On the other hand, I bought two wooden shoes carved by the Cameroonian artist Barthélémy Toguo in protest of the expulsion of the Roms (Romanian gypsies) by the French President Nicolas Sarkozy. I was esthetically sensitive to the humbleness of the piece, but for me, they were mostly representative of year 2010. It was a way for me to show support to a good artist and to show my disagreement of the immigration policies of my government. But after my installation, I did not hang it on my walls. I don’t need a piece that reminds me every day of something I disapprove. It is the same with intellectually complex pieces. I appreciate looking at them with explanations by the artist –or the curator. But will not want them at home. I didn’t study Art History or Art and, very frankly, there are pieces that I don’t understand and I don’t feel the need to pretend that I do. Sometimes I tell the gallery owners that “sorry, this piece is too intelligent for me”.
ST: [Laughs] Absolutely no pretension!
FG: I think some pieces are made for people who are really trained in art and if I don’t get the meaning, it’s normal: I am an old young collector! [Laughs]
ST: Because art is also something that you live with, they reflect your personality and if you don’t feel comfortable with their presence, you are pushing the limit…
FG: I don’t like to push the limit in my everyday life!
On Private Art Space
ST: How did you start the art space project?
FG: When I started collecting, I hung the works in my apartments. Then I stopped for a few months when the walls were full. But I continued to visit fairs and galleries and I wanted to continue to buy art, so I had to find a solution. I started hanging works in apartments I was renting furnished to tenants. Then I realized parts of my building had to undergo some construction work in order to facilitate access to the underground garage. As they could not be rented, I used the space for a first “accrochage” [“hanging”] in 2010. I didn’t intend it to be a serious show but just to put some works from the collection. The title of the show is Shapes, Shades and Shadows, and the works shown were predominantly in simple geometric forms, monochrome shades, and the shadows came from the lights, etc. For the second show, entitled Red Floors, White Walls, Black Corners, I used another vacant space as well as the basement of the building. I also took over another space across the street that I was using as a garage before the completion of the construction.
ST: What would happen to some of the site-specific works, like the work by Harold Ancart, if you decided not to continue to run the space? Would it become an ephemeral art project?
FG: It’s an interesting question because with Harold, there is a special arrangement. Harold told me that it’s a work that he made for me, and if I need to change the space, he can redo the work only at the cost of the materials and the travelling expenses. Now that I have the piece from Harold, and a very heavy piece of Jannis Kounellis which is very difficult to install, I will not turn the space back to a normal garage. So, there is a big chance that the space would stay. The other spaces are probably not going to be permanent, but I would like to turn this temporary garage into a permanent exhibition space once the underground garage becomes functional.
ST: Talking about the context and the environment of showing a piece of art. Have you showed the same piece in your apartment and then in the garage, or vice versa?
How do you perceive them in different spaces, comfortably domestic and a very raw garage?
FG: I think when an artist makes a piece of work, he has an idea of the context of showing it, either a work is made for a museum space, a collector’s private home or many other possible environments, even virtual space, etc., but he doesn’t know what will happen after. I don’t think any artist could object to the idea of somebody else possessing the work, be it a collector or an institution. That’s why it is quite tricky for an artist or a gallery to forbid sales on the secondary market. Owning a piece of art is not a sin as far as the owner lends the piece to museums or different public exhibitions. The duty of a collector is to keep the piece in good condition for the next generation. For example, the gold wall dish by Anish Kapoor that I have right now in my salon was in the exhibition space in 2010. It was very nice to see kids and people from the neighborhood came to see the piece and play with their own reflection without knowing who the artist is. I live in a very mixed neighborhood and will be very happy if I can succeed in interesting some of the local inhabitants in art and if art can play a role in social integration.
ST: Thank you very much!