Book Review: Impossible Collection: The 100 Most Coveted Artworks of the Modern Era

30Sep08

By Emily Waldorf

The Impossible Collection by Franck Giraud and Philippe Ségalot, published by Assouline, with an introduction by Joachim Pissarro, a partner in the authors' art consultancy and great grandson of Camille Pissarro, $500

If money were no object, which works of art would you pick out from the 20th century to create the ne plus ultra in art collections?  Private art advisers Franck Giraud and Philippe Ségalot of the New York and Paris based art consultancy Giraud.Pissarro.Ségalot (François Pinault is a client) take a stab at curating their ideal collection in their new book, The Impossible Collection: The 100 Most Coveted Artworks of the Modern Era, published by Assouline.

The book is organized chronologically through the 20th century starting with Picasso’s 1901 self-portait in the aristocratic style of Goya and Vélazquez and ending with Rudolf Stingel’s 2000 relief Untitled.  Editing down the 20th century’s greatest works is not an easy task and of course highly subject to curatorial bias.

David d’Arcy did not agree with the authors’ artist selections and gave the book a less than glowing review in the September issue of Art + Auction, dismissing it as nothing more than coffee table adornment listing what he considered egregious artist omissions such as photography pioneers Henri Cartier-Bresson, Walker Evans, and Man Ray as well as Edgar Degas, Amedeo Modigliani, Balthus, Giorgio Morandi, and Edward Hopper.

According to d’Arcy, Giraud and Ségalot missed the mark with this ambitious tome.  He highlights the self-serving nature of the artists selected by the authors, “Giraud and Ségalot’s choices are weighted towards postwar art, especially that produced after the decline of Abstract Expressionism.  Pissarro goes overboard when he calls this an ‘Athenian’ age, but from the perspective of the market, in which the book collaborators make their living, these works are where the money is.  Sixties Pop art from Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and their progeny is leading the pack at auction, which may explain why the $500 book often looks a lot like a sale catalogue.”

Art collecting is, of course, a wildly subjective pursuit, thus it should be acknowledged that compiling a book of the 20th century’s greatest hits is bound to met with criticism.  I would argue that Giraud and Ségalot paint a compelling portrait of their own taste in artwork and a beautiful, if opinionated, read.  In any case, The Impossible Collection is a wonderful addition for any collector’s library and a perfect snapshot of a certain segment of the contemporary international art world’s taste.

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