Ordinarily, anyone looking to spend a six- or seven-figure sum on something will seek expert advice before committing to the deal. Yet art collectors are often content to trust the gallerist or auction house that stands to benefit from the sale. Not so Pierre Lorinet, the French-born, Singapore-based chief financial officer of Trafigura, one of the world’s largest commodities trading houses.
Having grown up in an environment full of art and with his 40th birthday looming, Lorinet decided he wanted to build a contemporary sculpture collection. His eye had been caught by a piece by Anish Kapoor, one of the best known, most influential living sculptors – not to mention most expensive (the record paid for one of his works stands at £1.94m). Lorinet wanted to be certain the work he had in mind was a good buy. A friend suggested he consult art advisor Edward Mitterrand, co-founder of the Geneva-based consultancy Mitterrand+Cramer (and also, incidentally, son of the esteemed Paris gallery owner Jean-Gabriel Mitterrand and great-nephew of the former president of France). It was probably just as well.
“I checked out the piece and said I thought they were asking double what it was worth,” says Mitterrand. “I couldn’t recommend it. It was not just overpriced, but the gallery he was talking to did not represent the artist, so if the work needed to go back to the studio for anything it would have been very complicated.” That too made him wary.
Glad of the advice, Lorinet changed his mind. “There are so many traps in the contemporary art world; it’s so easy to take a wrong turning or make a bad decision. You need an overall knowledge of the artists and galleries and pricing.” And he had no time to do his own due diligence. “The money isn’t necessarily the most important thing, but you don’t want to pay more than you need to.”
Before long, however, Mitterrand located an alternative piece by Kapoor at Galerria Massimo Minini in Brescia, Italy: a wall-mounted “coupe” similar to the first piece Lorinet had wanted, though less flat and with a red interior. Lorinet bought it, at which point he decided to retain Mitterrand as an advisor. Lawyers were consulted, contracts drawn up, a fee structure agreed. Three years on, Mitterrand has purchased 20 significant works on Lorinet’s behalf, mostly by “mid-career artists”. The collection includes sculptures by Antony Gormley (Force III, a stacked-cube figure in Cor-Ten steel), Thomas Houseago, Allan McCollum (vases from the Perfect Vehicles series), Ugo Rondinone and Alexander Calder (Soleil Rouge, 1972). Lorinet’s favourite remains their second purchase, Sherrie Levine’s Dada, essentially a child’s rocking horse cast in polished bronze that Mitterrand had spotted at Art Basel.
“I’d wanted to go but hadn’t been able to,” says Lorinet. “But Edward sent me a lot of photographs, and straightaway I thought it was just great. I loved its simplicity and colour.” There was, says Mitterrand, “a lot of pressure. I knew it was the last piece available from the edition” (of 12, one of which sold for £313,250 at Phillips in June 2012). But he secured it, and it remains the first piece you see on entering Lorinet’s home, where it doubles as an unofficial plaything. “I have two boys aged six and seven, and the number of times I’ve caught them climbing on it… Though it’s solid enough, so I don’t have a problem with that. They do the same with the Lalanne Mouton [essentially a model of a sheep by the surrealist François-Xavier Lalanne]. I like that my kids are growing up surrounded by art and can experience it like this. They know to be more careful around the fragile works.”
The acquisition of the Levine was also significant in the way it represented what Mitterrand calls “a great step in the direction I want to take Pierre in, not by force but by persuasion, of course”. And this is towards the realm of the great American minimalists – Carl André, Dan Flavin, Sol LeWitt et al – though Mitterrand concedes that their work is “a bit more radical to interact with”, and it takes a certain leap of faith “to imagine paying $250,000 for 16 small sheets of metal that lie on the floor” (an allusion to André’s 1974 work Sixteen Steel Cardinal, an edition of which Christie’s New York sold for $242,500 in 2009). “You can’t base those sorts of decisions just on trust. And you certainly shouldn’t buy something like that just because you’ve been told you should.”
It would be a stretch to call Lorinet’s fast-growing collection eclectic, but there is some latitude in what Mitterrand encourages him to buy. Its focus may be sculpture, but there are also two photographs by Louise Lawler. On the whole, however, Mitterrand takes a dim view of contemporary painting: “Really, I think the only interesting thing about painting today is talk of its death,” he says. Lorinet has, therefore, “committed some infidelities”, as he puts it, “and bought without Edward’s advice”, among them a Picasso. “I also like [paintings by the Dutch fauvist Kees] van Dongen, even though he’s very different from the artists Edward encourages me to buy.”
There have been works they’ve wanted but missed out on, too: a drawing by Jean-Michel Basquiat and a painting by Lucio Fontana: “It was beautiful, really intense, from the 1950s, not a cut [canvas, the style for which Fontana is best known], and not so expensive,” says Mitterrand. “But the time difference between Italy, where I’d found it in a gallery, and Singapore meant I couldn’t reach Pierre in time.” By the time they got to speak, it had sold. “But frustration is also part of this game,” he shrugs, adding that part of the pleasure of working with Lorinet is how responsive he is to the images he’s sent. It’s only if he doesn’t respond that Mitterrand knows something has failed to find favour. (The conceptualists Sterling Ruby and Alighiero Boetti are artists who have been rejected thus.)
The two are in frequent contact by email and, despite the fact that Lorinet “lives on a plane”, manage to meet four or five times a year. A real friendship – “which in a way makes things more complicated”, laughs Mitterrand – has grown out of their client-advisor relationship, based on their shared interests in art and wine, as well as friends in common. They also attend fairs together, notably the editions of Art Basel in Hong Kong and Miami, something Lorinet hopes to be able to do more of when, as reported last March, he leaves Trafigura in September to pursue “other interests”, one of which will be art.
To this end he is a partner in the Domaine du Muy, a 10-hectare sculpture park half an hour from St Tropez that Mitterrand is opening in July. For Lorinet this is a project that will also enable him to commission and acquire large-scale installations such as Tomás Saraceno’s Cloud Cities, a 5m-long sculpture of interconnected polyhedrons, for which he will never have space at home, “and to work directly with artists. Time hasn’t been my greatest ally recently,” he says. “But I’m really looking forward to getting involved with works at their genesis.