Interview Pierre Berge: Creation is there to annoy the bourgeois.
Interview made before the auction of the Berge Saint Laurent art collection: +/- $ 400M My story with Yves Saint Laurent rests on three pillars.
The first is my life with him for fifty years. I met him in 1958, and he died by my side in 2008.
The second is YSL, the contemporary fashion revolution, the fashion house we built.
And the third is the creation of this collection.
When and how did you start it?
When we started making money, since we were both very demanding, we knew what it meant to keep empty walls. We never bought anything to hang on the wall, like we never sold anything else. And we bought it slowly. The first object is a bird—a Senufo bird, which will not be on sale at Christie's. After a fairly long break, in 1966, we bought two large vases by Jean Dunand. But we had to wait until the 1970s before we could turn to "major" art, inaccessible to us before even if the prices had nothing to do with those of today. And that day, we focused on the first real thing, the first real work of art: a wooden Brancusi! I had an old passion for Brancusi. I remember being amazed by a Brancusi bird seen in the window of Helena Rubinstein's department store at 52, rue du Faubourg SaintHonoré, while I was accompanying her to Bernard Buffet gallery, with whom I lived before I knew Yves. It was a time when these kinds of wonders existed.
Did the constitution of this collection deprive you of anything else?
No, even if I was sometimes forced to control Yves, who had got into the habit of going to Kugel's because he wanted to reconstitute identically a table covered with goldsmith's objects that Marie-Laure Noailles owned.
I had to make him understand that we don't go to Kugel as to Prisunic! He often reminded me of this sentence.
Have you ever bought works before your meeting?
Yves had no money at all. Me very little, and I bought a artwork only very rarely.
How did you collect it together? Did you talk about it, did you agree on principles, on artists' names?
No, it was rather empirical. We never made a list. Art is not about shopping. We had nothing to do with collectors today who say, "I want a Jeff Koons", "Put me a Jeff Koons!
We were the opposite of the bourgeois who buy a Renoir, because it is marked Renoir at the bottom of the painting!
"We were anti-bourgeois, and we never had respect, Yves and I, except for major creation. "
I was born into an anarchist family, and I frequented them as a teenager. Yves, in a TV interview for Dim Dam Dom, shocked by saying that he hated the bourgeois with their little clip on the back of their tailor and their primed hairstyles. We were anti-bourgeois, and we never had respect, Yves and I, except for major creation. Creation is not there to please the bourgeois but to annoy them. All the artists who changed the history of art, from Cézanne to Duchamp to Picasso, have always been criticized by the established order. Even if it seems pretentious, we knew from that time that Yves was, after Coco Chanel, the biggest fashion designer in the world. Our collection could only be of this level.
A collection is like a dinner, there are those we invite and those we don't invite. It is no coincidence that no surrealist painter, no Balthus, no Magritte, appears in this collection. And, then there are those who are invited and who are absent, because they are sick or traveling. Mark Rothko, Francis Bacon, Barnett Newman, and David Hockney should have been in the collection. But the opportunity or the artwork did not reach us, and yet some like David Hockney were close friends. I would also like to say that being a collector requires so much requirement and rigor that one becomes, by dint of passion and work, an expert. Being a collector at this level is an almost professional activity.
Why are there so few contemporary artists in your collection?
Because it is neither the object nor the history of this collection, contemporary art requires significant intellectual investment, and one cannot have the same eye on a Cézanne as on a Bill Viola - whom I consider besides as an immense artist. A video installation responds to a syntax and language very different from a Cézanne. We did not look into this period of art: I regret it, but that's how it is. On the other hand, we brought in the best designers before everyone else in our stores; I still regularly help young artists. In any case, I'm sure of one thing: if you don't like the art and music of your time, it's that you don't know how to watch or listen to life. But what you are not saying is that there is no XVIII furniture century in this collection. Well there, it is an asserted choice that does not interest me at all. As much as I love the high period furniture, as I consider some furniture XIXth , as the XVIIIth century profoundly boring.
How do we live daily with such a collection? We caress the Brancusi; we meditate in front of a Degas, we cry in front of a vanity?
We forget it. Yes, we must forget it if we do not want it to kill us. Sometimes we take our time and rediscover something, but the whole thing disappears. And that's why I think I won't miss this collection: I have it in me.
Did the use of drugs have consequences on the way Yves Saint Laurent lived art?
Baudelaire, like others, have written and said: drugs have allowed some artists to surpass themselves. With alcohol and drugs, Saint Laurent has made its best collections. That said, I kept trying to stop him, and I got there in 1990. But to use Marguerite Duras' word, when he broke up with drugs and alcohol, he became an alcoholic who didn't drink.
Why sell this collection? At the press conference at Christie's, you had this very disturbing sentence: "This collection is not finished, we have to finish it." With the last hammer blow, it will be. "
As this collection is distributed in two places - my apartment and that of Yves -, the only way to see it in full was to collect it in a museum or a sale. When I learned in April 2007 that Yves had incurable brain cancer, which fortunately he would not suffer from, I had fourteen months to think about the "after". On the one hand, experts courted me by repeating to myself that if we sold, it would be the "sale of the century". It's an expression that means nothing but I admit that it marked me. On the other hand, I quickly realized that the idea of a museum was impossible because it was too complicated and too expensive. And then our collection was not presented as in a museum. In our apartments, almost 800 objects from all eras and all genres were forced to coexist, mingle and which composed I don't know what. Finally, the sale of the collection will provide the Pierre Bergé - Yves Saint Laurent foundation with the funds necessary for its operation. Half of this sum will support and support the work of Yves Saint Laurent. With the other half I will create a new foundation which will help medical research, humanitarian and probably cultural causes. You see, this sale will transform memories into projects.
What do you think of the multiplication of artists' interventions in fashion boutiques?
It's marketing, and I participated in this movement by asking Jean-Michel Othoniel and Xavier Veilhan to make a work for a store in Soho. Now the Veilhan rhino is in Beaubourg. I think that any action contributing to raising public awareness of contemporary art is good. It is the same with contemporary art as with IT. Those who get into the computer at 50 are unable to make it work while the kids are like a fish in the water. Likewise, they will not be shocked by Jeff Koons' lobster in Versailles because they are too young to have references. It is only the references that shock. This is what is strange, because it is by the references that we reject, and it is by the absence of references that we adhere to and that we like. So to love, you have to delete a lot of references. And I rather trust the youth.