THE COLLECTOR

‘so intoxicating is Nahmad’s stand. that with one nostalgic, bohemian gust it blows away the precious, pristine, smartly labelled art fair piety of everything else at Regent’s Park. The gallery-booth itself as a piece of performance art’ Jackie Wullschlager FT Perhaps the most ardently discussed, most visited, and photographed stand of London’s Frieze Masters 2014 ‘The Collector’ installation challenged the idea of displaying singular pieces of art on white walls placing them instead within an

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Frieze 2014  ‘The Collector’

‘so intoxicating is Nahmad’s stand. that with one nostalgic, bohemian gust it blows away the precious, pristine, smartly labelled art fair piety of everything else at Regent’s Park. The gallery-booth itself as a piece of performance art’  Jackie Wullschlager FT

Perhaps the most ardently discussed, most visited, and photographed stand of London’s Frieze Masters 2014 ‘The Collector’ installation challenged the idea of displaying singular pieces of art on white walls placing them instead within and amongst the life long collection, detritus, clutter, and familiarity of a real home. In this context the passionate collection of objects and artworks developed a new set of meanings and together created ‘an everyday yet extraordinary record’, a three dimensional portrait of a real life lived.

Designed by Robin Brown and produced by Anna Pank as part of a series of collaborations Brown and Pank. http://www.brownandpank.com/Commissioned By Helly Nahmad of Helly Nahmad Gallery for Frieze Masters 2014.

A forensically accurate reimagining and recreation, an immersive installation and an artwork in its own right, the apartment of an art collector exactly as it was in Montparnasse, Paris in 1968 filled to the brim with the found collected objects and artworks of one mans lifetime. Inside this musty lived-in top floor home there lived an extraordinary, impeccable and extensive art collection: Lucio Fontana’s slashed canvas’s, paintings by Morandi, Miro, Fautrier, Burri, Dubuffet, Ernst, a sculpture piece by Arman, a Picasso self-portrait, and Giacometti's ‘Trois hommes qui marchent’ casually placed next to the bed, amongst hoarder like piles of books, stacks of Paris Match magazines and pinned up student revolutionary posters.

The Installation was designed as a modernist apartment with stepped floors and ceilings, a central curving wall with corner built in bookcase dividing a living room and bedroom, and a plywood kitchen and hallway, the architecture and detailing referenced from Corbusier, Erno Goldfinger, Lubetkin and Perriand. The cluttered internal hallway visible to the audience on approach, and behind it doorways and cutaway walls giving views through and across the spaces that changed as you walked around, revealing people studying the detail from all sides and encouraging you to do the same. 

I was Introduced to Helly Nahmad having just completed ‘Northern Soul’ - Universal pictures story of the underground music subculture set in the early 1970’s. Helly was keen to work with a film designer on an idea he had of creating the apartment of an elderly art collector living around the middle of the century to display works from Picasso, Miro, Fontana, and Buri, and in some sense based on the home of a member of his own family who was an avid collector and hoarder. Having met and discussed the concept  I went away and researched widely photographic imagery of collectors and hoarders homes such as Herb and Dorothy Vogel, and Homer Lusk and Langley Wakeman Collyer, and also the architecture and interiors of the time and style of apartment that an art collector with a modernist aesthetic might have lived in, along with the events of that era to find a point in time that would be captivating.

I settled on and suggested placing the time as 1968, a momentous year and a memorable one for the world and for France, with the May 1968 Paris student riots, the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, the French winter Olympics, and the first French nuclear test. The installation reflects this eventful and tempestuous period in Europe and it can be felt in the collector's works found in the 1950's and 1960's. The Revolutionary socialist posters calling for "Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite" torn from the streets of Paris during the riots of ’68’ and pinned up alongside exhibition posters and framed paintings remind us that art used to be at the centre of the political and intellectual life of its times.

I designed the apartment alongside a visual artist, Joana Pratt, to show the views around and through the installation, and proposed a placement of the artworks that the Gallery had shortlisted to be displayed, an unusual hanging with many works placed very close together amongst the clutter of the apartment.

As in Hitchcock’s ‘Rear Window’ the viewer is looking into and observing someone’s most personal and private space, except here it is not through a zoom lens but up close and on show in one of the most public environments in the art world.

‘With every wall covered with postcards, invoices of art purchases, notes, photographs and political posters you almost struggle to focus on the works of art hanging on the wall,’ and yet each object is celebrated for its singularity. The installation turns on it’s head ‘the usual objective and clinical method of art display that can transform familiar objects into artefacts removed from any real, lived experience’.’ It reminds us how people would live with art at a time when such works were not trophies, and when their monetary value was not the first thing a visitor thought of.’

We all collect and curate; objects, music, books, magazines , photographs and memorabilia, which make up the landscape of passions we surround ourselves with, and at any point in time that landscape can describe and define us more clearly than a portrait or photograph.

‘A cheap newspaper on a chair tells us that there is a “scandale enorme au coeur de l’Angleterre”, and every surface is stacked high with magazines including the famous art magazines L’Oiel’, Cimaise, and Paris Match celebrating the arrival of a man in space and the beauty of Bardot. Artists monographs and catalogue raisonné are lined up on the shelves. Packets of Gauloises are waiting to be lit and smoked, dirty dishes in the kitchen sink to be rinsed.’ The familiarity of it all recalls memories and give the viewer a sense of belonging, ‘a brief encounter with themselves both past and possible.’ and an uncanny sense of longing.’

As one commentator said ‘we all rather fell in love with him.’

‘the crowds of slow moving onlookers reinforced my belief in how much we love to read a person’s story through the ephemera they’ve collected throughout their lives. It’s like a living narrative.’

‘The installation resonates with how art ought to be lived with: fully, within reach, and very personally’. ‘It shows the intimate relationship we have with everything that we collect and surround ourselves with.’ 

‘for a real collector, a collector as he ought to be - ownership is the most intimate relationship that one can have to objects. Not that they come alive in him; it is he who lives in them.” Walter Benjamin

The installation was the result of months of work sourcing, collecting, and curating everything from the furniture to the authentic art magazines and books that the collector would have bought at the time, down to 1968 Paris cinema and metro tickets, authentic art gallery letterheads and business cards for the galleries he would have been visiting and dealing with, and curating and editing the television and audio soundtrack

I personally searched London Antique dealers such as De Parma for furniture, researched the vintage televisions and period detail, found the authentic Exhibition Catalogues and went to France on repeated trips to Flea Markets and bookshops to source and curate objects, possessions, magazines, and photographs to build up a story of a fictional but entirely believable man.

I worked alongside a team consisting of set decorator, Rebecca Gillies, who searched the London dealers, and also took trips to France to the markets, and prop houses to find the furniture and put together more of his collection. Nathalie Croquet, a long standing friend and Stylist living in Paris, worked with French Dealers, Booksellers and prophouses, and on Le Bon Coin the French Ebay site, to find the original copies of Art Posters, original revolutionary student posters, the vintage telephones, television and radios, and further key props. 

It felt right that an elderly collector with a love of the modern would pursue the same aesthetic at home and the apartment was filled with furniture with the distinctive handwriting of Modernism : a Giovanni Garibaldi 30’s credenza and 50’s armchairs from Milan, desks by Willy Van der Meeren and George Nelson, an original Marcel Breuer canvas sling chair, Hans Wegner console, Walter Gropius plywood stool tables, Peter Nelson FA2 and Louis Kalfe desk lights, and Jacobsen AJ Royal and Floris Fiedeldij floor lamps

A colleague of Anna's stylist Suzanne Beirne specialising in the 60’s made a collection of art pottery and other small pieces, and the Art book collection was sourced from Marcus Campbell the fine art bookseller by Anna Pank, curated to be all of the key works published around that period that a collector of modernist art would have owned.  We commissioned and made up letterheads and business cards of the galleries that the collector’s works would have been bought from, and sourced original letters.  The detail went down to the level of Paris Metro and Cinema tickets and ashtrays full of Gaulloise cigarette ends. Additional pieces and books were sourced by Anna Pank, and I borrowed some key pieces from my friends and my own home.

The props were curated and dressed onto the installation along with Anna, and a team of set dressers: Jemima Hawkins, Marko Waschke, and Olivia Mckewan, at Frieze Masters, with the hang of the paintings led and supervised by Helly and the Gallery team along with Martin Speed.

The lighting was by Owen Pritchard Smith of Spirit Design.

As part of the installation I wanted to integrate the physical design along with a music, spoken word, and audio visual elements together to create a live theatre piece, a living memory, moving source from room to room, from hidden speakers, intercut with radio interference and spoken word.

We created a film piece with two televisions playing curated film made from 1968 broadcast of the Paris May ’68 Student riots, the French winter Olympics, the Tour de France, Avignon festival, the first French Nuclear test, and Brigitte Bardot in Godard’s 1966 film ‘Masculin et Feminin’.  I found the majority of the footage on the French National Media site INA, and it was supplemented, clearances sought, and edited together by Martin Jaanguard of Hubbub Media and music added by Simon Bidduplh of System Sound.

I also curated a soundtrack of music from the period of Miles Davies ‘L’ascenseur du Scaffold’, Nino Rota’s theme for Fellini’s ‘La Dolce Vita’, Giovanni Fusco’s music for Antonioni’s ‘L’avventura’, George Delarue’s haunting theme for Truffaut’s ‘Jules et Jim’, Jeanne Moreau singing ‘Le Tourbillon’ and Charles Trenet singing Godard’s ‘A Bout de Souffle’, as well as Francoise Hardy and Charles Aznavour. There is something captivating about the music of this era.

This soundtrack was put together by Simon Bidduplh of System Sound, who added French spoken voice from period broadcast and created a spatial soundscape.

Many French visitors to the show who had lived in Paris at that time commented on how it felt and was exactly as it had been at that time, and some had known or participated in the riots whose posters we had pinned to the walls. Many also commented on the emotional pull of the installation, some drawn to tears, another woman noting that her husband was in one of the black and white photographs that had been sourced at a flea market in France.

The concept challenged the tradition of display of modern art, showing it amongst a vast collection of a persons life, and the immersive quality of the exhibit made it a totally memorable experience. It was noted in the European press that displaying Art ‘at home’ was becoming a new trend in exhibition.

One early visitor, a Gallerist from Switzerland, commented that the entire installation was a work of art, and others followed asking when it would be re shown in another country. The installation was designed and approached to have as much of a real persons life as possible, as a study in explaining character through environment, not intentionally to be a work of art. The intensity of effort from myself and from the extended team did create a believable environment and a story that resonated and touched many visitors, fulfilling what some would consider the function of a work of art. 

Helly and the Gallery’s intention was that it should have a theatrical short life, as an exhibit and as a moment to be experienced, but not to be repeated.

The Installation was produced by Anna Pank, a long term friend, in our first collaboration, and she worked intensely on the realisation of the project always going the extra mile to facilitate my designs and ideas, and reaching out to the teams of people she had built up including the sound designer Simon Biddolph, the AV team Martin Jaanguard, the lighting designer Owen Pritchard Smith, and the set dressing team. She participated from the early meetings on the project, budgeting the installation, discussing the choice artworks, working with Marcus Campbell on the Art book curation and commissioning the graphics and reproductions. She worked alongside the Frieze and Gallery teams on the logistics and also with Martin Speed on the transport of the set, props and the Gallery Art. The set was built by my long term collaborators O+A construction, now Cineco, as a kit assembled in a workshop in South London and then transported and re installed at Frieze Masters in Regents park over a 2 day period.

‘When every other gallery was doing the same old same old, they created a buzz and and got people talking and more importantly, Instagramming.’ 

‘brilliantly and wittily hits the nerve centre of this year’s fair: the gallery-booth itself as a piece of performance art, selling as seductive installation. the guardian

‘The most atmospheric, instructive and exciting stand at Frieze Masters 2014 like the best fiction, heightened a perception of reality.’ The Economist 

‘the buzz at this year's show is around an immersive, narrative installation created by production designer Robin Brown. ‘It's the dream collection.., the buzz at this year's show is well-deserved.’  Vanity Fair

‘impressively detailed and absorbing.’ Creative Review  

‘the most elaborate booth that I have ever seen at an art fair stand.’ Vogue.com 

‘The star of the show. The detail was astonishing.’ Elle Decoration 

‘One visiting dealer called “The Collector” ‘a poem in three dimensions.’ Economist 

“That installation touched so many nerves in people,” You were looking at art 

in a living environment.’ New York Times 

Visitors were entranced by creation of the 1968 Paris apartment of the imaginary collector crammed with pitch-perfect period details — and millions of pounds of 1950s and ’60s art for sale. - new york times

‘worth visiting just for this booth..This is probably the best booth you will ever  see at an art fair in your life.’ DAZED 

the soundtrack 2014

1 ‘ Amacord’ Nino Rota from ‘Amacord’ dir. Fellini
2  ‘Catherine et Jim’ George Delarue from ‘Jules et Jim’  dir. Truffaut  
3  ‘Cinema Paradiso’ Ennio Morricone from ‘Cinema Paradiso’ dir. Tornatore
4  ‘On s’aimera’ Catherine Sauvage  
5  ‘Le Tourbillon’ George Delarue from ‘Jules et Jim’ dir. Truffaut
6 ‘Que Reste-t-il’ Charles Trenet from ‘A Bout de Souffle’ dir. Godard.
7 ‘Valzer’ Giovanni Fusco from ‘L’Avventura’ dir Antonioni
8 ‘Bistro Fada’  Stephane Wrembel from ‘Midnight in Paris’ dir. Woody Allen
9 Cinema Paradiso  Ennio Morricone
10 ‘The Woman Next Door’ George Delarue ‘ from Jules et Jim’ dir. Truffaut
11 La Dolce Vita  Nino Rota from ‘La Dolce Vita’ dir. Fellini
12 ‘Le Premiere Bonheur Du Jour’ Francoise Hardy
13 ‘Tu T'Laisses aller’ Charles Aznavour.
14 Final Take 3 ‘ Miles Davies from ’L’ascenseur pour L’echafaud’ dir. Louis Malle
15  ‘Mouvements Perpetuels, Alerte’, Hallandsensemblen  Poulanc

link to this playlist on spotify  - http://collector/

 

PHOTOGRAPHS BY CHRIS TUBBS . ROBIN BROWN . ANNA PANK . 

 

Robin Brown