In dialogue with François Odermatt and the instinctive side of collecting


The new international art wave which started four years ago and generated names that the art market and web communication have quickly made famous, has seen collectors increasingly involved in building artists’ careers. More than certain traditional museums, that have became too slow to react promptly at the many twists of the art-scenery, and even more than young galleries – most of the time with a budget too low to be really influential – art patrons such as Uli Sigg or Poju and Anita Zabludowicz have walked hand in hand with artists, supporting them not only with their purchases, but also providing that “institutional” frame their work needs to be recognized. Canadian François Odermatt is among them, and Arsenal, in Montreal, is the place that along with his two partners, Pierre and Anne-Marie Trahan, Odermatt is quickly turning into a leading spot in this new art geography.


Generally art collectors are the kind of people who don’t like to start a conversation talking about themselves, so I would ask you about some artists instead. Sam Falls, for example.


He is having an amazing show in Zurich, have you seen it?


Yes, I have. I agree with you.


It has been his best show ever.


Yes, indeed. Have you bought any piece?


I’ve bought four of them.


Have you read the introductory text he wrote for it? It’s a very good one.


No, I haven’t.


If you were in Zurich, I presume you had also visited Wyatt Kahn’s exhibition.


I couldn’t have missed it. I am his greatest admirer.


What about Peter Sutherland, whose vinyl series you have recently put on display at the Arsenal?


We had a very good time when he came to visit us for the opening of the exhibition. He has come with Isaac Brest, Nick Darmstaedter, Louis Eisner and Lucien Smith. We have spent the weekend at my country house. They are like a bunch of kids, we had a great time together.


We are at the beginning of the season, and Phillips’ “Under the influence” auction is approaching. Auction houses are playing a new role in the system, aren’t they?


Yes and no. In a certain way they secure people that there is a real market, and for many it has became a game to collect the artists who are in these auctions. But to tell you the truth, half of those names will be forgotten, while many great artists that you do not see in these auctions will become big stars. I know some amazing artists who are not in these auctions. Wyatt Kahn is one of them, and Gregor Hildebrandt too.


Sam Falls is in these auctions, but his prices are not soaring.


The problem for some collectors is that Sam produces a lot and they are confused. But that last show impressed everyone. If Sam continues on this path, this is not going to be a problem.


On the other hand, it is also good when works are rare.


Yes, of course. Look at Wyatt. He does 30 works maximum per year, more probably 25. That is why people are desperate to get one, and because his works are so great he could be considered the Lucio Fontana of today.


Very good link. Have you seen Fontana’s solo show in Paris?


No I haven’t. But I know Fontana’s work very well. Moreover, important museums are adding Wyatt to their collections.


Can you make any example?


The Albright-Knox Art Gallery is among them. Wyatt’s pieces are on display close to a master such as Clifford Still. And, you know, It’s only the beginning!


Are you also interested in antiques?


Yes, I love antiques, especially Roman and Greek sculptures. I am keen on mythology. And I love sculptures from Africa and Oceania as well. I have one African mask that I bought 20 years ago. Unfortunately I cannot collect everything. I wish I could.


How would you describe your collection?


Most of the time I buy works that have an awe effect because of their size, their strength and power and of their beauty. I am not an intellectual. I am more like an animal. I need to have an hyperemic reaction, even if I still like minimalism. I like a work of art to be beautiful, even if sometime they are beautiful and ugly at the same time, like the giants of David Altmejd, for example. I think he is an important artist and time will recognize it.


How would you describe the Arsenal?


Arsenal was started by my partner Pierre Trahan. It is a place of love and dream. We can curate shows that we dream of, and we do it because art is our heroine. We are like drug addict to beauty and we want to share our vision of what we think art is.


Any project for the future?


Among the others, I will curate a show at the M building during Art Basel Miami.


How do you imagine the Arsenal in 10 years time?


I am in discussion with a friend of mine for having a partnership. I would like to find other supporters, the museum needs energy.


If art is a sort of heroine what do the artists represent for you?


Artists are the fix. Do you want to know something crazy? I consider myself as an artist. I think that the way I assemble my exhibitions becomes a work of art in itself.


Antoine de Galbert thinks almost the same about himself. Do you know him and La Maison Rouge in Paris?


I crossed path with him, but I don’t know him personally. I have a lot of respect and admiration for Antoine, I like the way he curates his shows. I haven’t seen the exhibition of his collection, that is currently on display at La Maison Rouge. Last year I saw there a beautiful show dedicated to the Setari’s collection, where many good Italian young artists were on display along with the masters from the Art Povera movement.


You are known for buying early emerging artists. What should you do to avoid wrong purchases?


Well, I like that.


Wrong purchases?


Yes. Mistakes can happen and I always tell my son that the only people who don’t make mistakes are those who do nothing. Mistakes are part of the learning process, and moreover you have to be able to understand why you did that particular mistake. Most of the time they are conscious mistakes. For example, you fall in love with the person, not the art, and you buy it…




It could happen that great people make bad art and assholes make great art sometimes.


What comes first in your choosing, aesthetics or ethics?


I try to collect works that have both these elements. It is only when beauty meets a strong meaning that the piece comes powerful, and this power is what I am looking for. It’s that kind of power that impresses and excites you at the first glance.

September 22, 2014