This is an excerpt of an interview with Alain Dominique Perrin, the President and founder of the Fondation Cartier, that appears in the Fondation Cartier pour l'art contemporain, a book published in 2004 on the occasion of its 20th anniversary.
“Fabrice Bousteau: Where did you get the idea for the Fondation? How did it all start?
Alain Dominique Perrin: It’s a story made up of a thousand stories. Encounters, ideas that take root and grow, rage, battles… […] I spoke at length about it to (sculptor and famous french artist) César […] (who) told me that what artists wanted was to experiment, to be able to work on unconventional projects; what was needed was an exhibition space that would be “different” and give them freedom.
How was the Fondation first conceived?
It has, from the very beginning, been a center for contemporary art that presents thematic or monographic exhibitions of renowned artists, offers young artists a chance to debut, and incorporates the works of these artists into a contemporary art collection. Talented young artists from foreign―especially emerging―countries were also invited to participate in the residence program. I called it the “Fondation Cartier pour l´art contemporain” (Cartier Foundation for contemporary art) because, contrary to what everyone thought, I wasn´t trying to create a new way to sell watches or jewelry to the elite. In fact, I expressly forbid any link between Cartier products or advertising and the Fondation. The only reference to the brand is the logo in the Fondation’s name.
The Foundation was inaugurated on October 20, 1984. What was that like?
We opened with César’s Fers exhibition, which was Marie-Claude Beaud’s idea, the first director of Cartier. It was a fabulous exhibition which Jack Lang, who was then Minister of Culture, inaugurated with great enthusiasm. I made an annoucement to the media that this foundation was a sponsorship operation. In June 1986, right after he was named Minister of Culture, François Léotard appointed me to work on a sponsorship law. The bill was passed on July 21, 1987. It became the “Léotard Law”. So that’s how we were able to legalize the status of the Fondation Cartier, and at the same time, I’m proud to say that we contributed to getting things off the ground for corporate sponsorship in France.
Did you ever impose any artists or exhibitions?
No […] We are clearly, in the contemporary art microcosm in France, initiators of a different exhibition type, in terms of design in 1985 with Starck, who hadn’t yet become a star, with Ferrari, as well as in fashion with Issey Miyake and with the current “bakery-fashion” show created by Jean Paul Gaultier. We don’t only exhibit artworks; Paul Virillio’s exhibition Unknown Quantity and the exhibition Yanomami, Spirit of the Forest exhibited ideas, political positions. I think the Fondation should be a place of invention, of decompartmentalization.
An important turning point for the Fondation came when you left Jouy-en-Josas and moved into the building designed by Jean Nouvel on Boulevard Raspail. […] When the Fondation moved to Boulevard Raspail you no longer had a place for the resident artist program, so you had to abandon it…
Yes, but to “make up” for it, we’ve increased the number of works we commission from artists.
How do Cartier employees all around the world perceive the Fondation?
The vast majority of Cartier’s employees, at all levels, take great pride in the Foundation. […] In addition to the staff, we also ask Cartier’s suppliers to contribute and they provide donations that are used to purchase works for the collection. So they are very involved. Many people who have worked with us have become collectors. It´s very contagious, a natural symbiosis happens.
Retrospectively, how would you define the Fondation´s collection? What is its future?
It’s a special collection, it reflects our history, the artists we have encountered, the personalities of the people involved. […] prominent or outstanding figures […] I didn’t want a committee of experts. And the result is a collection of major pieces by world-renowned artists such as Artschwager, Matthew Barney and Panamarenko, some almost unacceptable absences, some surprising choices that have nothing to do with the market.
Will the Fondation´s collection eventually turn into a museum?
In my work I’ve built up two giant collections: the Fondation Cartier collection and the Cartier collection. I started the Cartier collection in 1972 with Robert Hocq (Cartier’s owner at that time) and over the last 30 years we’ve regularly bought historical items at auctions and from individuals. It’s an exceptional, unique collection. It’s the most beautiful collection of antique jewelry in the world. However, I’ve never founded a museum, I don’t like that idea. The works travel around, I don’t want to establish a permanent facility. I don’t like museums, they immobilize works.
How do you see the relationship between luxury goods and contemporary art?
I make a connection between all the different sorts of arts, and luxury goods are a kind of art. Luxury goods are the handicrafts of art, applied art.
Has the Fondation Cartier been inventive in any way?
It has opened up a window of freedom for art and artists. We have voluntarily presented and exhibited - in original ways - all kinds of different people, from the very beginning until the present day. For example, Araki, Marc Newson, Philippe Starck, Murakami and Matthew Barney, worked with us first in France. In the same way, we were the first―notably with the Nomadic Nights―to bring performers like Les Deschiens into an art space. We have been and we still are innovators which means we’re free, there is no higher power. As a result, we’re productive, creative. And we’ve shown artists that they can find a sort of freedom here that may not exist anywhere else. I´m proud of that, and I´m convinced―for our aims are indeed very high―that the Fondation Cartier has improved the quality of contemporary French art, or in any case, of the contemporary art exhibited in France. Moreover, the Fondation has given Cartier a positive image in the eyes of people who are not interested in jewelry or who would never in a thousand years wear a Cartier bijou. But now they look at Cartier more positively, with respect, and that’s exactly what I wanted. […] The Fondation has also, I believe, inspired others to follow our footsteps, it introduced companies to contemporary art. However, one question remains: why has contemporary art not been able to cross the border?
Fabrice Bousteau, directing and editor of Beaux Arts magazine