Collector's Edition

Lille, France

Curator Véronique Prat, curator Alison Gingeras, collector François Pinault, and curator Caroline Bourgeois. (All photos: Maxime Dufour)

As I rode the Eurostar from London to Lille, France, after the Frieze Art Fair last weekend, I tried to put aside the miniscandal involving Haunch of Venison gallery, which had been denied a booth at Frieze on the grounds that it is now owned by Christie’s—and concentrate instead on Christie’s owner François Pinault’s private collection, which was being presented for the first time in France at Tri Postal, a former post office. The checklist for “Passage du Temps”—an exhibition of time-based and video art curated by Caroline Bourgeois that includes Dan Flavin's Untitled (to Saskia, Sixtina, Thordis), 1973, a hall of lights last presented in 1973–74—promised to turn any cynic into a chronophile.

But opening the paper, I thought: What doesn't Pinault own? Immediately at hand was my copy of the daily Le Monde (shareholder) and the weekly Le Point (owner), my Puma sneakers (owner), my cherished YSL cover stick (owner)—and please don’t discontinue that Touche Éclat, or I won’t be able to do late nights anymore. When the waiter poured me a glass of Bordeaux—alas, no Château Latour (owner) in the Eurostar’s restaurant car—I wondered whether there might be a correspondence between the proprietor and his many possessions.

Arriving on the late train, I skipped the opening crush at Tri Postal and made a beeline for the opera house, where the megacollector was hosting a swanky dinner. The minute I alighted on French soil, boy, I knew it: At every corner, men appeared, ready to carry my luggage with a smile. The charming Thierry Lesueur—general coordinator for lille3000, the holdover project from Lille’s year as a European Cultural Capital, which invited Pinault to exhibit his treasures—lugged my bag up three flights of marble stairs to the grand hall, where guests were mingling to the music of popping champagne corks.

Only a handful of the participating artists came for dinner, but they included Tim Noble and Sue Webster, Pierre et Gilles, and Adel Abdessemed. It was a pleasure to meet up with Orlan, whom I had last seen in person in Montreal just after she got her temple implants. “That must have been in 1993 at the Foufounes Électriques night club!” she said, adding that some poor guest had fainted during the screening of her film, which showed in detail just how those implants—and a few others—got under her skin. “You’ve got good jowls,” she assured me, giving me a once-over. “Another ten years before surgery for you.” Running into critic Élisabeth Lebovici, we discussed her new volume Femmes Artistes, Artistes Femmes, a history of twentieth-century French women artists that she edited with Catherine Gonnard.

Left: Artist Orlan. Right: Adel Abdessemed and Élisabeth Lebovici.

Who couldn’t help but notice that Pinault entrusts the presentation of his collection exclusively to women? Along with “Passage” curator Bourgeois, there is the formidable Alison Gingeras, in charge of exhibitions at Venice’s Palazzo Grassi and the future venue at that city’s Dogana. While Pinault told me only that he found the Frieze selection committee’s decision to bar Haunch of Venison “a bit stupid," clearly he has more say in the handling of his private collection. “Women have less ego than men,” Pinault said with an almost embarrassed look on his face. “They are less vain—they have a greater sensibility without the same need to appear and exist in public.” On the one hand, I thought: I’ve got to get this guy to talk some sense into my boyfriend! But I also had the sneaking suspicion that I had just been the subject of one of those famous Pinault takeovers—a brilliant strategy: I may own much of the art world, but I let the women run it.

As if to confirm the observation, I ran into Monique Veaute, who just took the reins of Pinault’s Venice spaces from Jean-Jacques Aillagon and who will oversee the reconstruction of the Dogana, due to be completed in time for the 2009 Biennale. Once an analyst from the Strasbourg school, Veaute reminisced about a trip with the psychoanalyst Jacques Hassoun to Samarncande in Central Asia during the USSR years. The old days became a topic again in my exchange with the Germaine de Liencourt, the president of the FRAC Ile de France, who talked about André Malraux’s musing over the 1937 reunion of writers in Russia. Talk about memory! I could hardly recall the way to my hotel.

At around 10 PM, people began to depart for the train to Paris. The tireless Rubells exited without even sitting down—a trick that only they can pull off with style. Hooking up with artist Michel François and his dealer Marie-Blanche Carlier, the better half of Carlier Gebauer, I repaired to the Tri Postal for a very French dance party with DJ Laurent. (They actually played “Lady Marmalade,” aka “Voulez-vous Coucher Avec Moi.”) There, the architects for the show—the charming duo Thomas Dubuisson and Dorothée Knech—offered a surprising tidbit: The most difficult work to install was not Aernout Mik’s moving Organic Escalator, but Dara Birnbaum's video. “She is really precise!”

The next day (enfin!), I got to see the exhibition properly—with Bourgeois herself as my docent. There couldn’t have been a better guide for such an intense selection: Bourgeois has the gift of making everything—both the visitors and the artworks—move at a slower and richer pace. It was as though the world had been brought down to the tempo of Douglas Gordon’s 24 Hour Psycho, and it occurred to me that Birnbaum’s super-slo-mo version of Laverne and Shirley taking a cruise must have been an inspiration for much of Gordon’s work (here represented by Through a Looking Glass). Let me tell you, the femmes did it all before.

Downstairs at the Tri Postal café, I met up with Valie Export, and together we caught the TGV to Paris for FIAC—as if we needed another art fair after Berlin and London. Bumping along, I was granted another tour as Export showed me images of many of her works about gender and power. I asked whether she would ever consider reenacting the performance where she leads ZKM Karlsruhe director Peter Weibel around on a dog leash. “Oh yes,” she said with a hearty laugh. “But perhaps this time with a whip!”

Jennifer Allen