Interview with Florence Guerlain: a passion for drawing that restores its respectability

Paris, 4 January 2013, Art Media Agency (AMA).

On 18 December 2012, the Daniel & Florence Guerlain contemporary art foundation announced the results of its three nominated artists for the 6th edition of its “Prix de dessin” (drawing competition) – Susan Hefuna, Hans Op De Beeck and Ulla Van Brandenburg. The collectors couple made a substantial donation to the Centre Pompidou, Paris, in early 2012. Art Media Agency met with Florence Guerlain to learn more about her foundation and be acquainted with her overlook on the contemporary drawing art market.

Art Media Agency (AMA): You have just announced the nominated artists for the 2013 prize. Could you tell us more about what lead you to such a passion for drawing?

Florence Guerlain (FG): Our foundation was created in 1996 in the Guerlain family estate, in Mesnuls, in the Yvelines region, about 40km away from Paris. We used to have a lithography and etching workshop, to organise exhibitions and conferences… But because of our being relatively far from Paris – and even though our vernissage nights were always very successful –, a limited amount of visitors would frequent the exhibitions. We then decided to close the foundation to the public in 2004 and chose to focus on the art of drawing. We soon decided to create a prize to reward contemporary drawing. We have been collectors for over 30 years. Daniel is an architect and landscaper and his grandfather on his mother’s side was also an architect. The family has always cultivated a taste for drawing. We would buy drawings very spontaneously, as well as other mediums.

AMA: In early 2012, you donated a substantial grant to the Centre Pompidou. Why is that?

FG: We donated out collection comprising 1,200 drawings, and only kept 350 of them. We insisted that the collection remained complete and that all the drawings be gathered in one ensemble. My husband’s grandfather possessed an Impressionistic collection, for which he left no instructions whatsoever. When he deceased, the collection was scattered among his heirs and ended up being totally dismembered.

AMA: Why choose the Centre Pompidou ?
FG: We have been strongly related for a long time. We know each other well, specifically through François Trèves, who is well aware of the importance of collectors to enrich stocks. I’m actually a member of the board of directors at the Centre Pompidou.

AMA: Will your collection be on show anywhere else apart from at the Centre Pompidou?

FG: It is to be displayed at the Centre Pompidou from the fall of 2013. Our donation to the Paris Museum of Modern Art was made under the condition that it will be subject to usufruct. But we might lift the usufruct condition sooner. We shall continue loaning artworks for exhibitions.

AMA: What are the distinctive features of your collections of contemporary drawings?

FG: A drawing isn’t solely a piece of paper or a reduced-sized composition. It  is very fragile and one must be very cautious when it comes to preserving it in good conditions. For example, I once exhibited a drawing made with flower pigments near a window, and the colour faded within a few years without me noticing it… Until one day, it had fully disappeared! I showed it to a specialist, but nothing could be done about it…  

AMA: What do you make of cultural patronage and the relationship between institutions and private collectors?

FG: The relationship between them has changed completely! At first, collectors would be dismissed by curators, who would grant themselves the exclusive right to have a scientific and analytical take on the collections. Actually, drawings issued from private collections were usually not displayed, and collectors almost hid away. Since then, curators have fathomed the ability of collectors to have an interesting point of view on things as well, and the relationship has softened immensely.

AMA: How would you define the profile of these collectors?

FG: Some collectors aren’t truly passionate about this medium and are solely interested in investment, while others are acquainted with the art of drawing and develop a passion for it. The argument for selling or buying drawings used to be that they were cheaper than paintings. It was a means of collecting by default, if one couldn’t afford to buy anything else. Since then, the global mindset has changed, thankfully. Drawings have acquired true worth, including value for the art market.

AMA: What is characteristic of the contemporary drawing art market?

FG: One cannot deny that the drawings market is different from the paintings market. But galleries have struck a gold mine. It is a parallel market that enables galleries to make true money.

AMA: What type of relationship do collectors of ancient drawings have with those of contemporary drawings?

FG: They belong to two different worlds. But they still have some things in common; actually, the prize is to be awarded on 11 April 2013 as part of the Salon du dessin (Drawing art fair) at the Palais Brogniart, Paris Stock Exchange, but ancient drawings prevail there. A few galleries have acquired some of these contemporary works, but only very few of them, it remains a rare phenomenon.

AMA: What are your plans for after 2013?

FG: We are already working on the 2014 edition. We have ideas for our group of collector friends, but we are focusing on the Foundation prize. Our aim is to pursue the raising of awareness we have started long ago, to broaden the perspectives of potential collectors and of our friends. We have succeeding in bringing drawings back to former glory and in convincing people that the art of drawing was neither minor nor secondary. It has finally achieved a true form of recognition.