French collectors step up buying at FIAC

Making a making a remarkable return to the contemporary art world



After decades of sitting on the sidelines, French collectors are making a remarkable return to the contemporary art world. At the Fiac art fair in Paris in October (p58), they were buying at all levels, and their presence is also being felt at other fairs, particularly at the Frieze art fair in London, held just before Fiac.

The best-known French collectors are rival luxury-goods tycoons, LVMH chairman Bernard Arnault (who has just announced plans for a Frank Gehry-designed gallery in Paris) and Christie’s owner François Pinault. He has handed over his company PPR to his son and is said to have spent over E20m ($24m) on art in the last five months alone.

Antoine de Galbert, the heir to the Carrefour supermarket fortune, opened his private gallery, La Maison Rouge, two years ago: at Fiac he bought Miri Segal’s video Autumn’s Dale, 2005, for E20,000 ($24,000), from the Tel Aviv gallery Dvir. Another retail heir, Guillaume Houzé, is a member of the family which owns the department store Galeries Lafayette. Just 25 years old, he has been collecting for 11 years. At Fiac, he bought a lightbox by Joe Scanlan at Valentin, a Davide Balula installation, 360, Transparent, 2206 (E9,000, $10,800) at Franck Elbaz and paintings by Marlene Mocquet at Alain Gutharc (p58).

Daniel and Florence Guerlain (descendants of the perfumiers) have a private museum: at Fiac, they bought Frank Scurti’s What is Public Sculpture? (Anna) & What is Public Sculpture? (Steevie), 2006, (Anne de Villepoix, Paris) from the sculpture show held in the Tuileries Gardens. Filmmaker Claude Berri moves in and out of the market but has recently bought Wim Delvoye’s stuffed, tattooed pig Rex, 2006, for about E130,000 ($156,000) at Emmanuel Perrotin gallery.

As well as these big names, there are many other collectors in France including Marcel Brient, who sits on the Pompidou Centre’s ten-member acquisition committee. For tax reasons, some French collectors have left the country, including Sylvie Winckler (she lives with her husband, an international lawyer, in Brussels) and Eric de Celle (who is on the collectors’ committee of the Artbrussels fair). Collectors Isabelle and Jean-Conrad Lemaître, whose video collection was shown at the Maison Rouge this spring (17 February-14 May), now live in London.

o For Fiac report, p58