WSJ: Scraps Transformed
The Wall Street Journal: Scraps Transformed Into Art? Mais Oui!
On the lookout for a historically significant artist whom the booming art market has somehow overlooked? Take a page from Steven Guttman, the New York-based principal owner of UOVO Fine Art Storage and chairman of the Centre Pompidou Foundation, and his wife, Kathy.
For the past few years, collectors have been paying record sums for examples of Arte Povera—that postwar we-can-make-art-from-scraps style that popped up everywhere from Italy to Germany to Japan. The Guttmans, who also have a home in Paris, said that they discovered 15 years ago that France had its own kindred version of Arte Povera, a movement that began in the late 1960s called Supports/Surfaces. At the time, though, few people in France or elsewhere were collecting the work.
Rather than shy away for fear they would wind up with duds, the Guttmans said that they researched the movement’s significance to art history and began buying pieces by its founders, including AndréPierre Arnal. Today, artists who were part of Supports/Surfaces are getting a closer look from galleries and museums (Canada Gallery in New York has a show of their work up through July 20), and the Guttmans’ collection of their work ranks among the world’s best.
The Guttmans spoke about their collection, which they keep in their home in Paris. Below, an edited transcript.
Kathy: “We don’t want to collect art by keeping a checklist: OK, we have a Hirst, a Richter, a Warhol, that status symbol. We want the antithesis of that. We’d rather have people come over and see something they’ve never seen before. We started coming to Paris about 15 to 20 years ago, and one day, a friend of ours told us that André Pierre Arnal had an amazing studio looking over the Pompidou, and so we went to check it out. Arnal had thousands of pieces, folded-up canvases, stacked floor to ceiling. We sat for hours pulling things out, talking about this movement. Who knew France had a movement similar to Arte Povera but all its own? We started asking galleries if they had pieces by these guys.”
Steven: “The whole idea behind Supports/Surfaces was to create art that didn’t need to be framed or mounted. We liked some of their paintings, but we realized we were more interested in their sculptures. Still are. It’s a movement that matters to Paris, and to Europe, but their pieces aren’t selling for millions like the Arte Povera in Italy or the Zero Group in Germany. I think the most important pieces in Supports/Surfaces sell for $100,000.
One of my favorites is this Daniel Dezeuze piece from 1974, ‘Flexible Wood Ladder.’ Dezeuze is known for these gridlike formations that he bends into different shapes—like a ladder or a fence partly folded up. His works from the 1970s often look like metal, but they’re actually really thin wood. Quite fragile. Imagine how revolutionary he must have seemed to Paris back then. I mean, Picasso was still alive and painting at the time that this guy was folding these wooden grids. Pretty amazing.
We first saw ‘Flexible Wood Ladder’ at the FIAC art fair. It didn’t sell, but I kept thinking about it. Afterward, we asked the gallery if we could live with it for a month or two. We could only do that because there was no demand.
We also love Toni Grand. What we know is that he was supposedly a nice guy who worked by bending and torquing wood into graceful abstract shapes. Alfred Pacquement, who used to run the Pompidou, said Toni may have gotten ill from the chemicals he used to bend the wood. The fumes may have killed him. The horrible thing is that before he died, he got depressed and set fire to his studio, so there is very little work left. We paid around $70,000 for a curved, C-shaped untitled piece.
We also like Claude Viallat, but he’s still alive, and he’s incredibly prolific. He probably has 10,000 pieces, and his pace of production far exceeds demand for his work. He’s known for folding canvases and painting these rows of colorful, geometric shapes on them, but the piece by him we really loved was this little strand of rope.”
Kathy: “When we saw his ‘Rope Knot’ in a gallery booth, we just thought, ‘Wow.’ He’s employing the same rhythms and bright colors he uses on his paintings, but he’s painting squares up and down the length of this thin rope instead. It’s conceptual and playful. He took the whole movement to a new extreme.”