Pierre and Marianne Nahon in their home, with Francis Picabia's Mélibée.

Marianne & Pierre Nahon on Building an Unrivalled Collection

By Sotheby's
Having been at the forefront of the international art scene for almost forty years, Marianne and Pierre Nahon will offer an important part of their collection for auction on 19 and 20 March in Paris, and from 15 to 25 March online . In 2004, Sotheby’s orchestrated the sale of works from their home, Jardin Secret, in Vence in the south of France. With this second opus, gathering more than 200 artworks and art objects, Sotheby’s will retrace the journey of their collecting career.

In 2004, the sale of some of your collection at the Château Notre-Dame des Fleurs de Vence certainly left an impression. How is this sale different from the first one?

The sale in March 2019 will be more eclectic than the one that took place in 2004. At the time, we had limited ourselves to pieces that furnished the living rooms and that embellished the gardens of Notre-Dame des Fleurs. We had decided to draw a line under our captivating but busy activity in Southern Europe. This sale is not limited to the works we had left in the South of France but will also include artworks we kept in Paris or in Venice. This sale reflects a little more the spirit of our collections. It brings together an important number of rare and historic pieces which we imagined as a harmonious ensemble.

Pierre and Marianne Nahon in their home, with Francis Picabia's Mélibée.

The collections of former art dealers are like collections of any other collectors; they contain treasures which have been closely guarded for years, even decades. In our collection, artworks from artists such as César, Arman, Daniel Spoerri, Daniel Buren or Segal we have previously showcased are very present but there are also artworks by artists we didn’t have the opportunity to work with that captivated us. Some artworks we even bought back several times. For example, these exceptional Studies of Jackie by Andy Warhol dated 1964, which we bought twice at Sotheby’s in New York, the first time in 1989 and then again in 1998. After having sold the artwork to one of our collectors, he, in turn, had decided to part from it.

You started off with the New Realists in the seventies. This sale puts together an important number of major artworks of this movement. Can you tell us about it?

To be exact, we inaugurated La Galerie de Beaubourg in 1973 with an exhibition dedicated to Tetsumi Kudo, who was close to certain members of the group but didn’t belong to the movement. Our second exhibition showed artworks from Jacques Villeglé. Through him, we met Raymond Hains, Daniel Spoerri, César, Jean Tinguely and eventually Arman soon followed. During those years, which were largely affected by the first oil crisis, galleries were deserted and the few remaining collectors were facing an unstructured market. It was a favourable period of time to create essential ties with important artists who needed to be supported and shown.

Anselm Kiefer, Herr und Leander, 1990. © Anselm Kiefer.

Arman and César, with whom we became very close, are typical examples. Having had access to the entire production of artworks by Arman during at least thirty-five years, we were able to keep historical pieces such as, Le massacre des Innocents. In Limbo, Les pinceaux d’Antibes, La vie dans la ville. In our opinion, he is a genius of the second half of the twentieth century. By showing an exceptional body of work from this artist, we hope to pay tribute to his visionary work and to his significant contribution to art history.

The market has forgotten what a pioneer he was and it’s time to acknowledge what he is owed. César is also one of the greatest artists of the past century. By showing his bronze, compression, expansion and iron pieces side by side in this sale, we would like to show the importance and the consistency of this great artist.

Your passion for Duchamp and Picabia goes back to your teenage years. Can you tell us more about these artists you are parting from?

We have always been fascinated with Francis Picabia and Marcel Duchamp. Can we even talk about one without mentioning the other? Picabia inspired us long before the opening of our gallery. In 1989, during a stay in New York, we fell in love with this masterpiece: Mélibée, a silkscreen featured at the Kent gallery. We cherished this artwork and lent it many times, including for the Picabia retrospective at MoMa in 2016. What a pleasure it was when Mélibée was featured in color, on the front page of the New York Times, the day after the opening. Marcel Duchamp is of course the other troublemaker of the 20th century.

Steeple Chase is Duchamp’s historical artwork. It is an oil painting from 1910 he found rolled up in an attic and bought. It is also a racecourse from a children’s horseracing game that Duchamp had played with his sister, brothers and friends, Gleizes, Metzinger and André Mare. He signed it. According to André Breton,“ the idea of elevating an ordinary object by giving it a new name and signing it, makes this a new artwork by the mere choice of the artist”. Would that then make Steeple Chase the first readymade?

Your career has been punctuated by audacious success and aesthetic choices. Do you have any regrets, an artwork that slipped through your hands?

We don’t feel nostalgic about a particular piece but rather about a group of artworks. Had it been possible, we would have loved to gather and acquire Andy Warhol’s greatest artworks: portraits of stars, advertising material, the Car Crash, the Flowers, the Dollar signs… However, the work of an art dealer is often faced with requirements and emergencies. We are delighted to still own some of Andy Warhol’s art, and to have followed some of his best pieces for a long time including the Silver Liz for example.

Andy Warhol, Studies of Jackie, 1964. © 2019 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Artists Right Society (ARS), New York and DACS, London.

It was around thirty years ago during FIAC that Marianne fell in love with the portrait of the star on a silver background. It was already worth five hundred thousands of dollars. We sold it again ten years later for two million. Today, it’s estimated worth is about forty million, maybe more. Warhol was a charming man with a mind constantly bursting with ideas. We worked with him on three exhibitions.

For the last one, Children’s Paintings, he wanted the gallery walls to be wallpapered and the paintings to be hung low in order to reach the height of the future young collectors. True to himself and his creativity, Andy had asked that anyone who was not accompanied by a child pay an entrance fee. Warhol died just before the private viewing. Filled with sadness, we inaugurated the exhibition without him and did not have the heart to charge anyone.

Arman, Apollo The Offering, 1986.

Why do this sale today?

Firstly, we are not getting any younger and as it has been a pleasure to live, for more than fifty years, surrounded by all this art. Today, we want to share it with new art lovers. Pierre Klossowski, one of the greatest artists who honored us with his friendship, was able to find the perfect words for it in one of his novels, La Révocation de l’Edit de Nantes: “What is the purpose of collecting artworks that would, legitimately, bring joy to many especially to a crowd of people just as sensitive as I am? It is such a coincidence! What is the use of accumulating, (…) What purpose would a painting serve if no one ever laid eyes on it? Does it only come to life then? Does it not die as soon as we look away from it only to be born again in the eyes of the next admirer?"

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