‘I could never find the right place in Paris’: Jean Pigozzi explains why he is opening a museum for his African art collection in Cannes
Jean Pigozzi’s vast collection of contemporary African art will get a dedicated museum in Cannes in the south of France.
Although the opening of the museum is not scheduled before the fall, a precursor exhibition of works from the collection is presented at the Cannes Maritime Station until August 21 and presents more than 100 paintings, sculptures and photographs created at from the 1960s.
“Cannes is a small city but it has three million visitors a year because of the Cannes Film Festival and tourism,” Pigozzi, who owns a villa near Antibes, told Artnet News.
Pigozzi will donate several thousand contemporary African works to the municipality of Cannes. In return, the deconsecrated Saint-Roch chapel, which has approximately 64,000 square feet of space, will be renovated to accommodate its collection.
“David Lisnard, the mayor, showed me a few places and I liked the challenge of this charming church in old Cannes,” he said. “I didn’t want a place that was too big. It won’t be static, every year there will be a different exhibition and I told the mayor that for the first five years I will be artistic director.
Pigozzi wants the as-yet-unnamed museum to be flexible beyond exhibiting contemporary African art.
“I don’t want to be handcuffed,” he said. “I also collect [the American street photographer of crime scenes] Weegee, and one day I might do an exhibition of African photos alongside some of Weegee.
Pigozzi originally planned to find space in Paris and met with several French politicians a decade ago to discuss the possibility. “I could never find the right place in Paris,” he said. “I didn’t need something pompous or amazing, but near a subway station so it was easily accessible to the public.” The idea of Cannes came to him after meeting its mayor.
Born in Paris in 1972, Pigozzi, the son of automaker Henri Pigozzi, is a photographer and entrepreneur worth 350 million euros, according to the French financial publication. Challenges.
What sparked Pigozzi’s interest in contemporary African art was the “Magiciens de la Terre” exhibition, which brought together artists from all over the world at the Center Pompidou in 1989. A section on African artists was was organized by André Magnin, who had traveled to the Center Pompidou. continent several times.
“I had a thunderbolt [love at first sight] when I visited the exhibition,” recalls Pigozzi. “If you asked someone back then what African art was, they would say masks and wood carvings. Thirty years ago, nobody knew that there was a contemporary art scene in Africa. The pieces on display looked like they could have been made in Brooklyn or Paris and that’s why I was very excited.
Pigozzi asked the Center Pompidou for Magnin’s contact details the day after the exhibition.
“A woman called me and asked me to meet someone but she didn’t tell me who it was,” said Magnin, now the owner of the Magnin-A gallery. “I saw a big guy in front of me who said, ‘Congratulations, what are you going to do next?’ I said I wanted to continue what I was doing [discovering African artists] and he asked me to build up a collection of African art for him. I built up his collection from 1989 to 2009 by exploring the continent and meeting many artists, making extraordinary discoveries everywhere. In the beginning, there was no Internet or Instagram. I have organized more than 30 exhibitions with works from his collection around the world.
For two decades, Pigozzi prolifically collected works by African artists long before they hit the market. “I said to André, ‘Let’s create a very important collection of contemporary African art,'” Pigozzi said. “For 20 years, we have criss-crossed sub-Saharan Africa and chosen pieces together. Now my collection has hundreds of artists, more than 10,000 pieces, of which about 2,000 pieces are excellent. I hope it will be recognized as the best collection of African art.
Renowned artists in Pigozzi’s Collection of Contemporary African Art (CAAC) include Chéri Samba, Frédéric Bruly Bouabré (whose work is currently the subject of a solo show at the Museum of Modern Art in New York), Bodys Isek Kingelez, Moké, Romuald Hazoumè, and photographers Seydou Keïta, Malick Sidibé, and JD’ Okhai Ojeikere, as well as emerging talents such as Aboudia.
Pigozzi donated 45 works from the collection to MoMA in 2019 in a gift the museum described as “transformer.”
Alluding to the low cost of some works before the market for contemporary African art developed, Magnin said: “When I met Romuald Hazoumè 30 years ago, he offered me to sell his masks for the equivalent of €150. I said “No” and raised the price. And we kissed like brothers.
While Pigozzi is best known for collecting contemporary African art, he also collects contemporary Japanese art. “I started collecting contemporary Japanese art 15 years ago after meeting Takashi Murakami and going to Geisai,” Pigozzi said, referring to the fair Murakami organizes in Tokyo for young artists who are growing up. expose.
“It’s a completely different sensibility. More people will eventually find out [my Japanese contemporary art collection] and I’ll look for a different place [to exhibit it]. I keep my eyes and ears open.
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