LGR… Three initials standing for three names: Laurence, Gaétane and Roland. Since the collection got off to a start in 1987 with the first acquisitions made by Gaétane and Roland Botrel – joined officially by Laurence Climbeau in 2006 –, the trio from the French Riviera has continued to fill it out through artistic their encounters and promenades.
With a keen understanding of history, these erudite and passionate art enthusiasts collect works – often major ones in the processes followed by artists – to bring them together and offer unique, coherent and timeless readings of them. For them, art is a form of social engagement. These atypical collectors agreed to discuss with AMA their artistic choices and their view of the art market.
Gaétane and Roland, how did your collection get started?
Gaétane and Roland Botrel: In 1987, we bought a Velickovic drawing in Monaco. Before this, we’d look at contemporary art by following the work of a few artists, including Velickovic, who’s since become a friend.
But you sharpened your gaze by looking at old art?
Roland Botrel: Yes, from the Renaissance to Picasso. We had a stroke of luck when we met Italian artists originating from Piacenza, grouped around Foppiani, Berté and Armodio, who showed work between 1976 and 1980 at L’Œuf de Beaubourg gallery. They’d blend into their work both the legacy of the past and the poetic and surrealistic intelligence of modernity. This was really helpful for us…
Gaétane Botrel: We’d also come to Paris every month for our work, and the opening of the Centre Georges Pompidou enabled us to develop our curiosity in contemporary art. We’d go to all the exhibitions and this helped us to discover many artists and the diversity of aesthetic movements.
You’ve collected, over 30 years, around a hundred pieces… Can we say that you caught the virus?
Roland Botrel: You need to understand that we’re not interested in owning objects. Our stance is very clear, and it’s anchored in a desire to participate, at a given moment, in supporting creation. To do so, it’s necessary to buy art so that artists, but also galleries, can continue to work. While acquiring isn’t an aim in itself, it should be noted that living with works has become indispensable for us today. They bring a real presence to our lives. But we consider that the works continue to belong to the artists. They can ask us for them for exhibitions, like Nicolas Daubanes’ three iron-filing drawings, produced after Piranese’s engravings. The artist has multiplied the number of exhibitions in which they’ve been presented in the last two years. We’ve never unwrapped them in our home… They’re seen elsewhere, and that’s great.
You always buy a piece where you see it …
Gaétane et Roland Botrel: This is our way of paying homage to the work that’s been done; even among people we don’t know. Incidentally, we don’t buy to speculate or resell. Artists and gallerists understand this and our relationships with them are always good. But acquiring a work is not a trivial act. It represents taking a stranger into our home, almost an adoption.
Laurence, how did you get involved in Gaétane and Roland’s artistic adventure in 2006?
Laurence Climbeau: By happening to get into discussion with them! I hadn’t shown any great interest in art till then, and I didn’t even dare to go into galleries. This was a real initiation, and since I believe that you can’t just be an onlooker when you get interested in something, my artistic adventure started through my desire to get more involved. At the start, we’d buy pieces by the same artists separately and finally realised that we wanted to reunite them. LGR was born from this idea of sharing.
You speak a great deal between yourselves about artists and the works that you see. This is a great strength in the building of your collection and the thematic directions that you give it. Has welcoming Laurence to your adventure changed the way you operate?
Roland Botrel: Art is timeless. When Laurence joined us, we took her towards old art, and showed her how art continues to stay alive in each specific context. This way, her eye has formed like ours, and today her tastes are getting stronger. We thus compare our differences in viewpoints and the advantage in this context is to have three distinctive personalities.
Laurence Climbeau: I was necessarily influenced because I arrived when the foundations were already built, and it’s essential for me that these be maintained. The pieces that we buy always hold meaning in relation to what already exists in the collection.
Your selections hint at certain lines and themes. For example, can we say that you support the Nice School?
Roland Botrel: We arrived too late for the historic Nice School, but we have works by Noël Dolla, Pascal Pinaud, Bernard Pagès and several young artists who we met at La Station or Villa Arson.
You’ve collected works, many of them paintings, with political or History-related themes…
Roland Botrel: It’s true that a political element emerges. Narrative Figuration artists are people who lived through the same things that we did, and who denounce the abuses and excesses of this world. But beyond ideas, what is most important is the mastery and quality of the work. On the other hand, regarding our Mao Portrait painted by Yan Pei-Ming: we’re not at all Maoists! But this work draws us towards the history of the painter, History in general, and even a certain vision of painting because Warhol and many others painted Mao.
When you bought Yan Pei-Ming, he wasn’t yet known or represented in major public and private collections.
Roland Botrel: We bought our first Yan Pei-Ming painting in 1996, at the FIAC. We’d already noticed him the previous year, and we liked his nervous strokes, with droplets falling everywhere. We didn’t hesitate, even if his price, very reasonable at the time, was a sort of splurge for us…
You’re sensitive to the relationship between art and literature…
Roland Botrel: This isn’t just about the pictorial element… I mentioned before the way in which art is stimulated, and it’s always interesting to understand literary or musical encounters. Artists don’t live in isolation and are always under the influence of others. For Proust, for example, we have two young artists, Raphaël Denis and Jérémie Bennequin. The first has rewritten the whole of La Recherche du temps perdu on a single sheet, the second erases the text. Both tackle the issue of time masterfully.
You’ve collected a very fine set of works representing Narrative Figuration, a movement that has returned to the front of the stage in the last five years.
Roland Botrel: We included them in the collection long before! We studied each artist to understand their strength, their difference. For Adami for example, we’re interested in portraits. André Gide’s work shows great psychological depth while Arroyo’s theme of liberty reveals his hostility to Franco, with his special way of handling figures wearing masks or seen from behind. For us, these works embody strong moments from the lives of these artists…
Do you continue to follow them?
Roland Botrel: Not really. Narrative Figuration was very important between 1964 and 1985. Society has changed since, and us too. While we still have great respect for their current work, we’ve opened other doors, those of Pierre Buraglio, Erik Dietman, Paul Rebeyrolle… These are also stories of encounters and chance.
Is it complicated to look at art today?
Gaétane Botrel: No more than before, but we’re not very interested in the fashion for installations or videos. We see them in art centres, but we wouldn’t know how to live with them!
How do you see the art world and its market in the last 30 years?
Gaétane Botrel: People talk more about money than art today!
Roland Botrel: We’re art lovers and on this basis, we’ve visited many collections. Those of the Billarants or the Gensollens, for example, who have museum-like ensembles filled with wonderful artists whose names are almost all unfamiliar to us. At first, this disturbed me, but over time, I’ve been very moved by the worlds that each of us creates for ourselves…