Bernard Chappard, a French Venezuelan hard-working bon vivant, whose favorite motto was “There is no greatness without madness,” moved to New York in 1979 to promote the champagne Veuve Clicquot. He also started to collect art avidly, and when he discovered Joaquín Torres-García and the artists of his Atelier, their works became the core of his collection. Bernard’s taste was eclectic, and he liked to point to parallels between European and Latin American masters: in Reverón and Bonnard for example, he detected their common pursuit to capture light.
Through Philippe Briet, a French dealer in New York, he learned of Jean-Michel Basquiat, who was interested in Torres-García. A year before Basquiat died, Bernard purchased a drawing in which words and schematic, symbolic representations of what lays below the surface of conscious thought demonstrated clear affinities with Torres-García’s aesthetic language. At his Downtown apartment in the Police Building he displayed his growing collection. Bernard was a good dancer and loved to throw great parties flowing with champagne, gathering an unlikely international mix of artists, chefs and beautiful people.
Bernard Chappard was born in Paris in 1930, the younger of two sons. The war left indelible memories of his family’s dangerous exodus to the countryside under German occupation. As a teenager, he studied Spanish with a teacher who encouraged him to leave depressed post-war France and look for new horizons. In 1950, not yet twenty, Bernard emigrated to Venezuela, where he met his future wife Graciela Laserre, who introduced Bernard to Venezuelan art. Daniela, their talented and beautiful daughter was born in 1959; following in her mother's footsteps, she studied art, and became an accomplished photographer.
In 1982, Bernard purchased a 17th century restored hacienda in Guanajuato, Mexico. When Daniela was diagnosed with HIV in the early 1980s, little was known in those days about the terrible disease. Daniela told her father: "Papa, I didn't know." Bernard then vowed: "Never again do I want to hear ‘I didn't know’ from a young person!" When Daniela died of AIDS in 1996, he channeled his sorrow by declaring war on the disease. Bernard went to schools to teach teenagers the danger of unprotected sex and the importance of being tested for HIV. His down to earth and lighthearted style was very effective. Joining efforts with Roberto Eliashev, an advertising executive, they created smart slogans and trailers that were shown in movie theaters before the main feature. "When you sleep with somebody, you sleep with his/her whole past," won an award in Venezuela.
With failing health, Bernard chose to retire to the old house in Guanajuato, where the sunny weather and beautiful garden were a welcome refuge. He died there in December 2016 at eighty-six, but his fight will not end: Bernard left the proceeds of his entire art collection to the Daniela Chappard Foundation, which he created in New York, to continue his advocacy for sex education and HIV prevention.
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