“The collector is only a instant in the historical past of a selection!” So says the Swiss entrepreneur, philanthropist and collector par excellence, Jean-Claude Gandur. For the earlier 40 several years he has been amassing performs of artwork in 5 fields — archaeology, the decorative arts, modern portray, ethnology and African present-day art. In 2010 he place all 3,500 performs into a basis to make certain they keep on being readily available to the general public even immediately after he is no more. “I did not shell out my lifetime amassing, for the operates to be dispersed just after my death,” he explains. While a task to set up them into a Swiss museum has floundered, he is actively seeking somewhere in France for their new property.
Gandur talks to me via Zoom from his Normandy manor, a impressive residence with its individual chapel, surrounded by verdant gardens. He is simply just dressed in an open up-necked blue shirt. Powering him are tiny antiquities: a seated Egyptian determine, Middle Japanese statuettes and a pre-Columbian vase. He is affable and talkative, but incredibly precise: he normally utilizes his phone to display me shots of performs from his selection. It’s very clear he knows just about every piece very well, even speaking to them on the screen using the French casual “tu”.
French is Gandur’s first language, but he also speaks English, Italian and Arabic, the latter an inheritance from his childhood in Egypt. He was born in France, but his haute bourgeois family — Italian on his father’s aspect, Russian-Ukrainian on his mother’s — shortly moved to Alexandria. Their everyday living there, on the other hand, came to an stop just after President Nasser’s nationalisations which led to the family transferring to Switzerland in 1961. Gandur is now a Swiss national, despite the fact that at present domiciled in Malta.
He will come from a family members of collectors — “I grew up surrounded by paintings. My grandparents experienced Impressionists, works by Vlaminck, Marquet, Derain, Dufy. They also had a pronounced style for chinoiseries, Ming vases and so on — which I discovered, even youthful, wholly insignificant!”
As a boy Gandur unquestionably experienced the collecting bug himself — at just six a long time aged, he amassed Coca-Cola bottle tops. “Each time I opened a bottle I did it differently and then I labeled the tops in accordance to the way they were being bent. That was my initially assortment,” he describes. A great deal afterwards, he identified and bought a function by César, an assemblage of bottle tops — and once again, he pulls out his mobile phone to clearly show it to me.
His to start with art obtain as an adult was a group of drawings by Francis Picabia. But the most important minute was when, recently married, he and his wife observed two parts in an antiquity dealer’s window in Paris. “The operator, François Antonovich, arrived out. I mentioned I did not have more than enough revenue to obtain them. He stated, ‘Pay me back again each and every month’. It took me 7 months to do so.” They ended up Greek statuettes displaying Ganymede carried off by Zeus, and that initial step led to a 20-12 months collaboration with Antonovich which has resulted in a assortment of some 1,250 pieces covering the whole Mediterranean region, notably Greece, Rome and Egypt as very well as Eastern civilisations.
“I wanted to have a museum-top quality ensemble, and to use the assortment to reveal the non secular resources of Christianity and Judaism — how we inherited the Oriental custom of deity. This has develop into almost an idée fixe with me — the backlink amongst antiquity and the development of Europe, the recuperation of Oriental gods.” Accumulating, he explains, “is much more than just purchasing wonderful objects: my selection is also an instrument of schooling.” Certainly, he organises numerous tours for university groups and has also created a independent foundation for young children, aimed toward helping younger migrants.
Antiquities is the most fraught of gathering fields nowadays, and I inquire about this. “When I began out 40 decades back, provenance, ethics, were not even described. At the time, my best panic was getting a fake,” he states. “But in the 1990s individuals started out worrying about provenance and nations around the world started out tightening up laws. Then of class the largest modify arrived with Isis in 2013. The risk then was that you could be helping terrorism by purchasing an object.” He provides, “I have not acquired just about anything from the In close proximity to East for 10 many years.” He is a founding member and chair of the ethics, governance and remunerations committee of the Geneva-centered Intercontinental Alliance for the Safety of Heritage in Conflict Spots (ALIPH).
Gandur founded his very own oil trading company in 1987, doing work in Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East, and this led to his now significant prosperity — and the chance to prolong his amassing.
“Until about 1990 I couldn’t seriously afford the paintings I desired, then costs collapsed in about 1994 and . . . ” he pauses for spectacular result: “That was the luck of my existence. I started out getting, obtaining, shopping for like a maniac! I experienced a long time to place collectively a selection prior to charges begun heading up yet again all around 2002.”
This collection, of generally French 20th-century portray, notably the Second College of Paris, now figures around 1,000 will work, notably focusing on abstraction, CoBrA and narrative figuration. “Most of the artists worked in Paris or ended up French,” he says. “But I also have the English artists Lanyon and Heron and Italians such as Manzoni, Fontana, Burri and Afro. My instincts are a lot more in the lyrical Latin custom, I have extra difficulty judging, for case in point, German artists.” He recounts with satisfaction that Bernard Blistène, director of the Pompidou Centre, premiums his ensemble of paintings, in its field, as the greatest guiding the Pompidou and Tate.
Gandur’s aim for the basis is “museum quality”, both equally in the functions he has collected and the way they are inventoried, shown and lent. A thorough and in-depth web-site offers information of each individual work of art, and the foundation lends extensively as very well as having partnerships with the Reina Sofía in Madrid and many French museums.
I delicately inquire him about the failed attempt to create an extension to Geneva’s Musée d’Art et d’Histoire. Intended by French architect Jean Nouvel, the extension would have value CHF131m (about $146m), to which Gandur would have contributed some CHF40m (about US$44m). The settlement would have provided extensive-expression loans of some of his antiquities and paintings, but by a slim vote, the folks of Geneva turned down the system in a referendum. It has been claimed, erroneously, that as a end result he experienced provided up on the concept of obtaining a museum.
Gandur is basically happy to discuss about it. “The negative side of this is my regret that Geneva and its populace did not comprehend what I was seeking to do there was an alliance between the far still left and a particular bourgeoisie who have been against the undertaking, and I was perceived as a foreigner attempting to get into ‘their’ museum,” he states.
“But,” he continues, “The beneficial facet of this was that the product was not greatest for the museum — and it would have mutilated my collection, they would only have proven a little share of paintings and my archaeology would have been submerged in their individual beautiful assortment.”
The outcome is that he has been prospecting French municipalities, despite the fact that these initiatives have at this time been halted by the pandemic. He understands what he wishes: “The museum need to have a beautiful garden in which households can come have picnics . . . I instructed the then mayor of Bordeaux [former prime minister Alain Juppé], that if I have to sell kebabs to convey persons in, I will do so! I want to demystify artwork, I really don’t want it just to be for the elite.”
As we end — with a selection of subject areas undiscussed, these kinds of as his collection of contemporary African art — he talks about the potential of the foundation. “I am lucky to have a appreciable fortune,” he claims. “I have produced a lawful arrangement with my son and his family members, that the bulk of my fortune will go to assistance the basis and keep on its perform.” We have a remaining exchange about his 14-12 months-old grandson, who already would seem to have inherited the similar accumulating bug. “He’s just as systematic as I was at that age!” claims Gandur proudly.