Collector based in Paris, France
"Art is the ultimate luxury"
Sophie grew up in Paris, and graduated from the engineering school École des Nationale des Ponts et Chaussées. She went on to get an MBA at INSEAD. Over the last twenty-five years, Sophie has built a successful career as an investment finance specialist.
When did you start collecting?
During the 2000s, after graduating from INSEAD and starting a well-paid job. One of the first artworks I bought was a Banksy, Girl with Balloon. I didn’t grow up in a family of art collectors, but in one that valued culture and education. I often visited museums and galleries, and I have always enjoyed looking at art. So when I finally had a bit of expendable income, collecting came relatively easily to me - I have found it exhilarating, even! It’s a tough but fun challenge to seek out up-and-coming artists.
What’s in your collection?
My collection is an eclectic mix of contemporary art – painting, collage, drawing, sculpture, and photography – spanning the second half of the twentieth century to the present. I love colour: for instance, I love the vibrant, abstract painting by François Willi Wendt which I discovered thanks to my husband. I’m sometimes drawn by a single colour: I bought a print by Mr Brainwash because of its neon pink splashes of ink.
In a similar vein of quirky and punk, I have a collage by JonOne that I bought in 2012. It’s fun, and a bit flashy. I like the idea he had of drawing on dollar bills and the cliché fashion models roughly cut: for me the work is a riff on our money and celebrity-obsessed society. I also collect Alex Prager, an American photographer. I have a photo from her Hollywood Park series. It captures a variety of people and their emotions, and is delightfully anachronistic.
I met the photographer Dimitri Tolstoi and I bought his photo of the Piscine Molitor (a swimming pool in the West of Paris which had fallen into disrepair) before it was renovated into a swanky hotel and members' club. I went swimming there as a child, so this work spoke to me in a very personal way. The photo bears witness to how the urban landscape evolves, in a good and bad way. Another personal piece I have is the beautiful calligraphic work that my friend and artist Kais Benamina gave me for my thirtieth birthday; it still hangs in my bedroom today.
In terms of sculpture, I have a small dog sculpture by Jeff Koons. His iconoclastic, marketing-led approach to making work resonated with me. I like how he plays with the unwritten rules of the artworld.
I bought certain works at specific moments in my life, and often I did so because the works captured these moments so aptly. For instance, I bought a wood sculpture of two horses by Jorge Blanco at the time of my divorce. I was feeling so out of sorts then, and alone: this artwork captured my emotions completely.
When buying, what do you look for in an artwork?
When I buy an artwork, I often ask myself: can the artist do something different? Can they evolve? I have little interest in artists who keep churning out the same thing. I appreciate draughtsmanship and I admire a classical approach to drawing. I have a fluid and highly accomplished charcoal drawing of a tiger by Jouve, which is perhaps my favourite artworks in my collection.
Equally, I like art that is straying from the norms or testing boundaries. I like when artists paint the human soul: this isn’t simply about beauty, it’s about something deeper tucked away in our private selves. I am drawn to the work of David Altmejd, a sculptor from Quebec, for these reasons. His work is all about materiality: it's intricately modelled, often using unorthodox materials like hair and expanding foam. I love how Altmejd’s work is so of our time: there’s a lot of internal tension, self-destruction and even horror.
Have you sold any work that you had previously bought? If so, why?
Yes, I’ve sold some works when I felt I had accumulated too many, and when I got bored with particular works. I sold one painting by Roger Suraud when I divorced (to move on personally and dispose of emotional belongings), and another one when Suraud passed away. I also sold a drawing by Fernand Léger. I wasn’t looking to capitalise on an investment when I sold, I simply didn’t want the artworks anymore.
What don’t you buy?
I am not interested in still lives. And I love the elegance and erudition of Renaissance paintings, but I don’t seek to buy them.
If you could buy anything, what would it be?
I would buy a Bruegel or a Goya… or I would buy The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci! I would like to buy paintings related to Judeo-Christian liturgy, which bears witness to our collective history, and has inspired exceptional artists.
Did you ever make a mistake in buying an artwork?
Yes, I’m afraid so. I bought a painting by Di Maggio and it was all red: a red face on a red background. When I left the gallery, I thought, ‘Help!” and I put it immediately in the attic. It’s still there.
How do you buy artworks?
I’ve bought from galleries, and also at auction. When I see a work that I like, I ask myself whether it’s within my means. Then I do my research to find out if the price is right. Often this involves looking at auction records and digging deeper into the artist’s background.
You are a seasoned financier, so do you collect art as a form of investment?
No, I don’t see collecting art as an investment. The supply of artworks is infinite today, so how do you cherry pick the best ones? You can opt to take little risk - provided you have the means to do so - and can acquire a Picasso or a Basquiat. Or, you can choose to discover artists, to research and analyse their work and to develop an emotional connection with their work. This is what drives me to collect.
Art for me is the ultimate luxury. Its most important value is emotional because, ultimately, art is a commodity whose financial value often declines with time. You also have to be prepared for your taste to evolve, which can erode its emotional value as well!
How do you plan to develop as a collector?
I’m interested in exploring how certain artists become successful and how to influence this process. In addition, some people want to be guided in buying art, particularly at the beginning of their journey into collecting. So I am thinking about both sides of this equation, and I’m trying to figure out a way to build an art investment approach that would be more transparent than is currently the case. Ultimately, I want to influence the art market to make it less opaque and volatile, and to wrestle it away from the small network of people ‘in the know’ about what is good art. Watch this space.
Sophie Elkrief was interviewed for ArtULTRA in June 2023