Culture is future » Territorial attractiveness and social cohesion


DEBATES 2011 - Investing in culture - Interview of Florence and Daniel Guerlain, collectors of contemporary art


« Have some pleasure, open your eyes»


How did you become collectors of contemporary art?

« Self-taught », we have never studied art. Our passion was born from a mix of familial cultural attraction to art works and discovery of artists. David Webster was our “initiator” to contemporary art in New York. What drive us  is above all the meetings, relationships, links we are building with artists (purchasing of their works, support …).

Initially, we were just buyers, art lovers, but not necessarily collectors. The others called us “collectors”. Being collectors implies curiosity but also a sensitivity. This is a physical emotion, a kind of greed. The work serves as mediation between humans.

 How has your decision to invest in contemporary art and your collection evolved?

Over the years, we have strengthened the collection around a smaller number of artists with logic of more complete series, or a focus on artists we wanted to know better. Subsequently, we have ordered works to artists such as David Nash, Didier Marcel, Damien Cabanes… We converted a tennis court in a sculpture park. (NB: Daniel Guerlain, landscape architect, designed the space and bought the works with this perspective).  Moreover, in all places we live, we change the hanging up regularly: in fact, the coordination between the place and the works is a creation itself.

The “decision” to invest is primarily linked to a hit and opportunities. Our collection includes  paintings, sculptures, photographs and drawings. A few years ago, we chose to dedicate ourselves to drawings and that’s why we sold our photo collection. It was a moment full of emotion. It is always difficult to choose and seeing this collection in its wholeness was very moving.

How do you pass on your passion?

The foundation was established in 1996 to present exhibitions organized by a curator. After 25 exhibitions, we have decided to close the foundation to the public to dedicate ourselves to drawing and particularly for the prize of contemporary drawing. However, the collection is private and does not belong to the foundation. In fact, when a collection comes in a foundation, it escapes from the collector in some way and we would not have had the opportunity to sell it (what we do not consider but it could be a possibility). When our collection is shown to the public, the incomes finance the prize of drawing.

We have also tried with colleagues to raise awareness of young people about contemporary art.

We often hear, regarding the financing of culture, about association between private and public funding. What are the links between your initiatives and the public sector?

They are numerous! We are very involved with the ADIAF, Centre Georges Pompidou … We are very supportive of the private and public connection. The Louvre Abu Dhabi is a great example. For the prize of drawing, a work of the laureate is offered to the Centre Pompidou. Three curators work with us in the commission of the prize. However the international jury is private. The commission selects the artists and presents them to the jury, who chooses the laureate. Another structure, called PAC, Project for Contemporary Art, initiated by François Treves a few years ago when he was president of the Association of Friends of National Museum of Modern Art, includes collectors in the purchase of works for the museum. It is a constant work with curators and collectors. This enhances, with interesting works, the collections of the Georges Pompidou museum. The private collector is guided by the curators to purchase work to give to the institution. The process is very structured.

In addition, there is still a lot to do in order to involve all the actors and not to oppose amateurs and political actors. For instance, it was necessary to explain the ministerial project to include in the ISF (French tax on large fortunes) art works. The public could conceive this as a tax breaks when it is only about favoring creation and financing artists. This villain taxation has been postponed…but for how long? A great majority of collectors is passionate and want to share their emotions by exhibiting artists’ works. Again, we don’t want to oppose public and private funding, but to allow a maximum of works to be shared.

What guides you? What is your motivation?

Craziness! Unconsciousness! Those are for us the “criteria” that guide us. We don’t have any logic of reinvestment, we « accumulate » work and now we only buy what we can keep in our homes. When we get works out of storage to install them, it is always a new moment of discovery, a new world in front of us and that we like to show to our friends.

Regarding drawing, we met in New York, collectors of paper exclusively with whom we shared our feeling about the works we have in common. We want to create a circle with them to share even more this passion.  


Credits: Fondation d'art contemporain Florence et Daniel Guerlain