NEW YORK - Alain Tarica is a man of many talents. Trained as a mathematician and well-known as a gallerist, Tarica is most celebrated for having built some of the most impressive private collections of art, including those of Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé, amongst others. As Futur! Masterworks of the Avant-Garde – one the first and most extraordinary collections that Tarica ever created – comes to auction at New York's Impressionist & Modern Art Evening sale on 6 November, Sotheby’s Thomas Bompard sat down with the visionary dealer to discover the story behind the collection.

Alain Tarica. Photograph by Christian Grund.

Each of the fourteen works in the collection was created in the early 20th century, when the world was being transformed by mass communication, the automobile, the aeroplane, photography and cinema. Artists working at this time – including Giacomo Balla, Joan Miró, Francis Picabia, Pablo Picasso and Juan Gris – raced to embrace the future. Their groundbreaking works tell not only the story of the European avant-garde, from Cubism and Futurism to Dada, Surrealism and Abstraction, but also laid the foundation for more recent movements such as Pop Art and Conceptual Art.

How would you describe futur! masterworks of the avant-garde – what is its unifying theme?

As in the Italian Renaissance, the first half of the 20th century in Europe marked a radical break with tradition that led to a major revitalisation in the arts. The collectors I was working with wanted to build a collection centred on the avant-garde of this era, when artists were genuine inventors, as they were during the Renaissance.

Was this idea preconceived?

When I first met the collectors, they were collecting School of Paris, Hartung, Vieira da Silva. The idea of uniting important works of the 20th-century avant-garde came from me, but it is not ideas that make a collection – it is works of art. I needed to go out and find them.

Giacomo Balla’s Automobile in corsa, 1913. Estimate $12,000,000–18,000,000.

Over what period of time were the pieces amassed?

Most of them between 1967 and 1975, a time when it was possible to find major works that interested us without necessarily paying enormous sums.

Could you explain the birth of this collection? You once told me that it took place in a museum.

Yes, in the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, shortly after it opened in the Palais de Tokyo in 1964. I asked the collectors to meet me there on a Sunday, when I knew that there would be no one else around. We explored the museum’s collection, which included many Cubist and Fauvist works, as well as a little Abstract art, sufficient to summarise the main directions of the European avant-garde at the beginning of the century.

What were the first acquisitions?

The [Laszlo] Moholy-Nagy, the [Jean] Arp and the 1920 [Fernand] Léger were three of the five paintings that I sold to them soon after that visit to the museum.

Were the pictures acquired with a particular narrative in mind?

What is fascinating about Europe between 1910 and 1930 is that the great heroes of the avant-garde came from nearly every country. In Spain, there were Picasso, Gris, Miró. In France, Braque, Léger and the Surrealists; in Italy there were the Futurists; Dada in Switzerland and Germany; Moholy-Nagy in Hungary; and then there were the Suprematists in Russia. So the collection needed to cover the whole continent.

Francis Picabia’s Volucelle II, 1922. Estimate $6,000,000–8,000,000.

Is there a particular work that sums up the spirit of the collection better than any other?

I would say Volucelle II by Picabia, because it is a fundamental work from a fundamental movement – Dadaism. It is an abstract work and at the same time very “constructed.” There is also a very intimate quality to this great painting.

Was there any work that got away?

Yes, one: the ready-made by Marcel Duchamp, La Belle Haleine. Madame did not like it. I ended up selling it to Pierre Bergé and Yves Saint Laurent instead. In 2009 at the Yves Saint Laurent sale, it made the world record price for the artist.

How did the experience of building this collection differ from other collections you have helped to shape?

They were my first great clients, so I naturally participated in the collection with particular zeal. We accomplished something together that was new for me.

Juan Gris’ Tabac, journal et bouteille de vin rosé, 1914. Estimate $7,000,000–10,000,000.

Today, this collection is without equal. do you feel proud?

What I feel is more like nostalgia for that time. We had a lot of fun and it was still possible to find fantastic paintings at accessible prices. We took advantage of huge inconsistencies in value – in Paris, before 1962, a Bazaine was worth more than a Mondrian and no collectors were interested in an artist such as Moholy-Nagy. I had the impression that it would last forever. I had no idea that it was a game whose time would soon be up.

What kind of collector do you think will be attracted to these pictures?

Those who have waited a long time for masterpieces by these artists and know that the opportunity will not come round again. There are hardly any left in private hands.

If you could deliver a message to the future owners of these works, what would you tell them? 

Enjoy them – and do not be annoyed by loan requests from museums, it will happen all the time.

Futur! Masterworks of the Avant-Garde will be offered in the Impressionist & Modern Art Evening sale at Sotheby’s New York on 6 November.

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