By Flora Tsapovsky
Coming face-to-face with a masterfully curated art collection can be as thrilling as adventuring in foreign lands or browsing through exquisite couture. This month, local art connoisseurs will have a rare chance to experience a unique take on painting and history, courtesy of the Prat family and Christie’s Auction House. The extensive treasure chest of 20th century art, acquired over the years by the late French power lawyer Jean-Francois Prat and his wife, Marie-Aline Prat, is coming to the city as a teaser to the grand auction planned by Christie’s in Paris, in October. The location? The Jules Maeght Gallery, deepening the Paris–San Francisco connection further.
Jules Maeght, who’s got a winning French accent, is the grandson of Aimé and Marguerite Maeght, owners of the historic Galerie Maeght in Paris, open since 1945, and the founders of Maeght Foundation in Saint Paul de Vence. A specialist in art editions and an avid lover of photography, Jules, together with his wife, Amelie, launched his family’s first foray into the U.S. in 2014, settling in Hayes Valley. Now his space is getting ready to host important works by Basquiat, Stella and Polke from September 11 to September 15. Maeght is anticipating a success: “My family has been working with Christie’s and Sotheby’s for a long time,” he explains, “and I personally met the San Francisco team three years ago, as they were looking for spaces in the city. We collaborated on a gorgeous Giacometti show previously. This time, there are some really incredible pieces—and not only big names, which I think is important.”
The Prat collection, consisting of over 200 pieces, spans the globe and offers a fascinating narrative. In it, the highly regarded Jean-Michel Basquiat, Sigmar Polke, Lucio Fontana and Robert Ryman share the spotlight with French artists like Yves Klein, Simon Hanta, Jean Dubuffet and Martin Barré. “All best collections have a key component, and in this case it’s the lack of boundaries,” says Andy Massad, Deputy Chairman and Postwar and Contemporary Art specialist at Christie’s. “The couple met in the ’60s and collected everything together. Prat ran his practice without borders and boundaries, and his collection similarly reached across countries and art movements and styles—it’s very international, with a strong abstract factor.” Ellanor Notides, Deputy Chairman, Christie’s Americas, adds: “When people look at art they want to understand the story, the passion behind collecting. This collection makes it easy. Jules has a very similar philosophy in the gallery—looking back and looking forward.”
While the sneak peek planned for September is part of Christie’s 10-year program, during which the team brings in exhibitions from London, Paris and New York, the Prat collection has, according to Massad, a special connection to the City by the Bay: “San Francisco has a very deep tradition and understanding of painterly expression, which jibes very well with this collection. It’s a very international, outward-looking city, with young creative energy. A city without borders, with all the innovation that’s going on.” Accordingly, “the collection represents how artists influence the next generation, and helps you understand how the Prats were and still are motivated to pursue younger artists. In fact, the auction was initiated to create a pool to purchase new emerging work.”
What makes the Prat collection so special, in Notides’ opinion, is the collaborative spirit the couple exhibited while putting the pieces together. “Collections are like children,” she observes. “They show the genes of the parents, and seeing it together make the difference.”
It seems like art-world insiders are like children, too; creativity sparks when they get together and play nice. “They’re very professional and we speak the same language,” says Jules Maeght, summarizing the successful collaboration with Christie’s. “They know exactly what they want, I know exactly what I don’t want. They bring a lot of art lovers to the gallery, to see some incredible art up close. This will be very exciting.”
We couldn’t agree more.
The Prat collection will be on display at the Jules Maeght Gallery from September 11 to 15. 149 Gough St, San Francisco