“My dream is to acquire a Nurse painting by Richard Prince”
Valentino talks to us about his art collection
By The Art Newspaper. Features, Issue 193, July-August 2008
Published online: 01 July 2008
For 45 years, the Italian designer Valentino (full name Valentino Garavani) has dressed some of the world’s most famous women from Jackie Kennedy, Elizabeth Taylor, and Audrey Hepburn to Marella Agnelli, the Princess of Wales and Gwyneth Paltrow. His announcement that his January 2008 collection would be his last was greeted in the fashion world with dismay. Over the past decade many of his collections have shown the influence of modern and contemporary art: Warhol’s flowers, Basquiat’s colours, the abstract shapes of De Kooning and Twombly’s neutral tones. “If I was inspired by great artists, it is because I own works by them. I used to draw at night, with my mind full of what I had been contemplating during the day,” says Valentino when we meet him in the café of the Museum of Decorative Arts, Paris, which is hosting a retrospective of his work (until 21 September).
The 75-year-old and his business partner of many years, Giancarlo Giammetti, are familiar faces at Christie’s and Sotheby’s, as well as at major galleries and art fairs around the world. Valentino recently sold a Hirst spot painting for a record $1.6m. “Now my dream,” he says, “is to acquire a Nurse painting by Richard Prince. It would be perfect in Paris [at the Château de Wideville, his residence 30km west of the French capital].”
Valentino also owns a London house; a New York apartment near the Frick Collection; a 16th-century château outside Paris; a Roman palazzo; and Chalet Gifferhorn in Gstaad as well as a 152ft yacht. To decorate these palatial houses, he and Giammetti have built up a substantial art collection with works by Miró, Balthus, Basquiat, De Kooning, Botero, Warhol, Twombly, Rothko, Hirst and Fontana.“First I became a collector of houses, then an art collector,” says Valentino. He says he only started buying art seriously in the past decade. “Late in the 1960s I started to buy little things, partly because I didn’t have much money,” he remembers. “I bought Fontanas, Dorazios…my greatest acquisitions at the time were a Picasso, a Miró and a Chagall. But then I stopped and concentrated on furnishing the houses.”
Giammetti remembers the early purchases well: “Michele Sapone, Picasso’s tailor, who was often paid in works of art, was living in Milan then, and was willing to sell at reasonable prices. We bought two Picassos, one each, from him. After this, I admit we passed up many chances to buy works, mainly because we did not have the nose for it… Later on it was Thomas Ammann [the late owner of Thomas Ammann Fine Arts in Zurich], who taught us to love art.”
In the 1970s Giammetti bought a work by Balthus from the gallery, Chat au Miroir II, 1986-89; most recently he bought a Cy Twombly, dating from 2000. “We always buy for love. It must be a coup de foudre,” Giammetti reveals. “But I concentrate on my favourites: Warhol, Twombly and Balthus.” Giammetti says he has a major Twombly from the 1960s in his Paris penthouse, as well as works by Francis Bacon and Warhol.
Throughout the 1970s Valentino and Giammetti were regular visitors to Warhol’s Factory and nightclub Studio 54 and now they own one of the best collections of the artist’s work in the world. “There were paintings everywhere, if I had bought them I would now have a colossal fortune,” says Valentino. In 1974, Warhol made four portraits of the designer. “I only purchased two of them years later, in the 1990s and paid 30 times more,” he says. “Recently I tried to bid for Warhol’s 1986 Self-Portrait (Green Camouflage), which sold for $12.3m. I become very emotional in the art market but I also have clear limits of what I want to pay. I am very choosy,” he adds.
Valentino also missed out on some of the earliest works by Basquiat to whom he paid homage in his autumn/winter 06/07 collection. “He used to loiter outside my fashion house because he was flirting with one of the English girls who worked for me,” says Valentino. “I never bought at the right moment: it was at the end of the 1990s that I bought his Eternity collages. Two are in my house in Holland Park [in London].” The same home features five late Picassos, more Basquiats and paintings by Hirst, De Kooning and Warhol.
At the Château de Wideville, once the home of Louise de la Vallière, Louis XIV’s mistress, he has work by Picasso, Basquiat, Botero, Rothko, Warhol and Bacon plus antique vases from China, 18th-century French glass and Meissen porcelain. In recognition of his restoration of this property, the French government awarded him the Légion d’Honneur in 2006.
In 1989 he set up the Accademia Valentino in a space near the Spanish steps, designed by architect Tommaso Ziffer. The space shows exhibitions devoted to artists such as Warhol and Balthus. He is also planning a permanent museum of his own in Rome’s historic centre. “This will host permanent exhibitions drawn from my collection…but it will also hold study facilities for young talents,” he says. “The time to detox from fashion and make important decisions has finally come.”
“Valentino, Themes and Variations” is at the Museum of Decorative Arts, 107 rue de Rivoli, Paris, www.lesartsdecoratifs.fr
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