This June, the private collection of Edouard Carmignac will find its new home in a floating forest on an island in the Mediterranean Sea.
After keeping the collection for the eyes of the employee’s of Eduouard’s offices only, the Carmignac Collection, which celebrates American art from the 1960s to the 1980s with works by Ed Ruscha, Willem de Koonig, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol to name a few, has now opened its doors to the public for the very first time. Founded in 2000, the Foundation Carmignac not only hosts the private collection of Edouard Carmignac, but also organises and funds the annual Carmignac Photojournalism Award.
Once on the Porquerolles Island, the collection will be situated in a national park and located in a provençal farmhouse that boasts 2 000 square meters of exhibition space. Natural light, filtered through a ceiling filled with water, illuminates the spaces that are hidden beneath the surface.
We caught up with Charles Carmignac, son of Edouard and director of the Foundation, to speak about the opening of the special space, why art is meant to be seen and not stored, and what exactly does Lou Reed have to do with the collection.
When did your father first start collecting? Was there a particular goal?CHARLES CARMIGNAC
Well I’m forty years old now but from a very young age I remember there always being artworks in the house. My father has been collecting artworks since he had an apartment! Whenever he had a wall – he filled it with artworks. The collection itself started off with drawings made by my mother, and then towards the end of the 1980s he started to buy artworks at art fairs and galleries. That’s when the collection really started.
His first goal was to show the artworks to his employees in the offices, and then year after year the collection grew and grew, and now we have 300 artworks that range from contemporary works to Sandro Botticelli. The other focal point of the collection is photojournalism, and because of the Carmignac Photojournalism Award that is financed by the Foundation Carmignac, it is only natural that some of these artworks come to the collection every year.
The first role of Foundation Carmignac was to handle, to manage, to conserve, and to value the collection of my father. The second role is to support photojournalism and the third aspect is now the new site on the Porquerolles Island, which has the aim to share the collection with the public.
What was the reaction like from your father’s employees who had to interact with the artworks everyday? Did any of the artworks ever challenge the working environment?CHARLES CARMIGNAC
It was very different. Sometimes we had some employees who really didn’t feel at ease with some artworks, and then there were some employees that felt really comfortable and inspired by the artworks that surrounded them. I remember some of the employees telling my father ‘I cannot work with this artwork in front me of me! You have to change it!’ but then as time went on, and even when they moved to another space they often said ‘Oh, I’m okay to move to another spot in the office but I want to take the artwork with me!’ The reactions constantly changed.
How does your father find and select the artists that will be included in the collection?CHARLES CARMIGNAC
It depends on which part of the collection you are referring to. Sometimes my father has friendships with the artists, like he had with Jean-Michel Basquiat who made his portrait during the time he was in New York in the 70s and 80s, and sometimes its a decision based purely on an artwork, not on the artist.
There have been times when I’ve walked with him through art fairs and galleries, and I’ve seen him just stop in front of an artwork. At that point he doesn’t know who the artist is but he knows he has just been shocked or touched by what he has seen, and he doesn’t care if the artist is famous or not. So it really depends. But I would say that overall it is based more on the energy and emotion that he gets from an artwork.
From a very young age you have been raised surrounded by art. How did this impact your life, both then and now?CHARLES CARMIGNAC
My first contact with art was in my crib because it was placed at the foot of my dad’s speakers and he used to play different music to me, like rock, classic, jazz etc. So that was my first contact with art actually. He also took me to a lot of concerts, and of course now music has a large connection to the collection.
How does the influence of music play a role in the collection and the Foundation Carmignac?CHARLES CARMIGNAC
The Foundation by its very nature is really musical, even before I joined. You can see the influence of music in the book about the collection, and in addition to that my father has a very musical approach. The way we organize and curate the exhibition is taking into account the rhythm of the tour – you have a melody that comes back again and again. In a way the whole experience of being on this island is a bit like a song.
You mention the book about the collection, “Walk on the Wild Side – At the Heart of the Collection Carmignac”, could you tell us about this connection to Lou Reed?CHARLES CARMIGNAC
Every year the company invites a band that my father likes a lot, for all of the employees and clients to attend and enjoy, and one time my father invited Lou to play at one of these “Carmignac Concerts” Also the book “Walk on the Wild Side – At the heart of the Collection Carmignac”, which of course now relates to the collection being located on an island and in a national park. It really is a wild forest in the middle of the sea – you have to go on the wild side to get there.
Let’s talk about the new space – why was the Porquerolles Island chosen to be the one to house the collection? Is there a particular family connection to the island?CHARLES CARMIGNAC
The family tie is one of love. My father first saw the island when he attended a wedding of a friend here, and he just fell in love with the house and its surroundings. He later said to his friend ‘If you ever sell the house please, please call me’, and five years later, here we are.
Why was the decision made to open the collection up to the public now?CHARLES CARMIGNAC
My father always wanted to share the art – he hates the idea of having an artwork inside a protected bank, or storage. He wants to share and show the collection. For me, as a musician, it’s really strange to have an artwork that just stays in one room in someone’s office or in someone’s living room. In music when you create a song, you can copy it infinitely and it is able to go everywhere. We wanted to show and share the artworks with everyone.
Was incorporating this unique space into the experience of visiting the collection something that was important for you and your father?CHARLES CARMIGNAC
My father insists that the visitors should be in contact with the ground, and so we ask each visitor to take off their shoes at the beginning of the visit, so that you experience the tour barefoot. We will also propose a little drink at the beginning of the visit that is made with the plants that are grown on the island, as well as a glass of wine that is made on the island. In addition to these two special drinks, we also recommend that you walk into the sea barefoot right after the visit.
Discovery is obviously something that is vital to the artworks within the collection, but how does it relate to the location of the Foundation?CHARLES CARMIGNAC
Yes, the artworks always come out of a journey, often from a trip when my father travels to Asia or South America, but the entire idea of the project is a journey in itself – you have to take a boat, you have to walk, you go deep into the forest. My father’s goal was not to create a white cube in the center of a city, but rather to create a kind of radical and pure condition to re-appreciate the artworks. It’s really a natural space where you can clear your mind and be penetrated by the artworks.
The opening exhibition “Sea of Desire” also centers on the idea of discovery and journey, can you tell us more about this?CHARLES CARMIGNAC
It’s more like a voyage through the collection. It’s about the fear of desire. The curator is Dr. Dieter Buchhart, who is a specialist in Basquiat and Keith Haring, and whom my father met him at a Basquiat exhibition eight years ago. The title is drawn from the collection and is inspired by the last artwork the visitors will encounter on the island; a giant painting by Ed Ruscha. You really need to follow this rope of desire and lose yourself in the topics that the curator wanted to identify.
What can we expect to see at the Foundation Carmignac in the future?CHARLES CARMIGNAC
Right now there are no concrete plans – it’s more of an organic project depending on the ideas that will come and from the people we will meet along the way. We just want to show the collection, so perhaps the next few exhibitions will be really based around that, but then saying that anything is possible! As I am coming from the sector of live art and performance on stage, I really want to integrate this live dimension into the project. The Foundation will not only be an exhibition space but it will also be a space for live art, meetings, conferences and performances.