THE SECRET GARDEN: Kering’s headquarters in Paris, located on the tranquil grounds of a former hospital, are used to welcoming works of art from the collection of the group’s founder, François Pinault. Now they are also providing a temporary home for a major group of sculptures that is about to go under the hammer at Christie’s.
The exceptional array of works by the likes of Alexander Calder, Eduardo Chillida, Fernand Léger, Joan Miró, Auguste Rodin and Niki de Saint-Phalle can be viewed by appointment from Thursday until Oct. 22, the day of the auction. Pinault owns Christie’s through his holding company, Groupe Artémis.
The 41 sculptures were formerly housed in the garden of art dealer and collector Paul Haim at La Petite Escalère, the farm in the Basque region of France where he lived with his wife, the photographer and painter Jeannette Leroy. The estate has been in the care of his daughter, Dominique Haim, since he died in 2006.
“Rediscovering the works of art in this setting has made me view the collection in a completely new light. Our garden was never open to the public, and each piece of art blended in completely with the surrounding nature,” Dominique Haim, looking visibly moved, told a small group of journalists on Wednesday.
“I think my father never intended for it to become a collection. Almost all the works have a history or a specific connection to my father, because they were gifts or works that artists made specifically for the garden, like this mosaic by Zao Wou-Ki,” she said, gesturing toward a panel that stretches almost 25 feet wide.
Haim explained that she decided to disperse the collection because climate change and the expansion of the nearby city of Bayonne had caused the levels of the Adour river to rise, increasing the risk of flooding over the last decade. In the process, she realized the collected works were relics of another era.
“Neither my father nor I realized the power of this collection. It represents a certain period and a way of collecting that I think no longer exist,” added Haim, who briefly ran her own art gallery in New York City.
“My father would never acquire a work of art, even if he intended to resell it, without being comfortable with the idea of keeping it himself. I think that neither collectors, nor art merchants, have that relationship with art today. Major works have become speculative. You buy them in the hope that they will be worth more in 10 years’ time, and the art market and big galleries are like tanks. It’s business before anything else,” she mused.
Speaking of business, the sale — titled “The Secret Garden of Paul Haim” — is expected to net between 11 million euros and 16 million euros, according to Christie’s vice president Pierre-Emmanuel Martin-Vivier. The star lot is “The Caress of a Bird,” Miró’s totem-like sculpture from 1967, which is valued at between four million euros and six million euros.
It was originally an edition of three, one of which can be found at the Maeght Foundation and another at the Miró Foundation. Miró agreed to make an additional artist’s proof for Paul Haim. The magic of its original setting has been immortalized in a book, titled “La Petite Escalère,” published by Éditions Norma.