Catherine Petitgas has a way about her, being charming and interesting and knowledgable, especially about art which has been her proven passion. My fondest recent memory was following Catherine, mesmerized by her French accented commentary, through the Tate Modern, through Turbine Hall from the Boiler House to the new Switch House, hearing animated details and anecdotes about the transformation of the former power station to its current modern art gallery under the architectural oversight of Herzog & de Meuron. Catherine does feel directly connected to the place, having been hugely influential and actively involved in the gallery’s expansion and evolution. She currently Chairs the Tate International Council having spent the past 14 years as a member of their Latin America Committee advising the Tate on its acquisitions from the region. As well, she serves as a Trustee of the Whitechapel Gallery, Chair of Gasworks Triangle Network, Council of the Serpentine, among other prominent positions that serve to support and champion contemporary art in a meaningful way to the artists, institutions and community.
Catherine lives the life of one who is inspired, by ideas, beauty, intellect, color… and indeed she is herself drawn to color, be it markets in Mexico, the Beatriz Milhazes painting that punctuates her reception room or her favorite Missoni coat. It is in the spirit of her passion, from collecting art, to influencing and inspiring major art institutions and their communities, that we celebrate Catherine Petitgas as our MUSE. Here she answers our questions:
Q:What would be your desert island essentials?
Water colors, pencils and painting paper – because I have wanted to do that forever and I would love to have time to do it.
Q:How would your female friends describe your style?
I would say probably colorful and classical.
Q:What is the most treasured item in your wardrobe?
I would say probably a Missoni coat, bought in Venice when my son was little, and I remember those days when I wear it.
Q:What is the most treasured items on your walls?
That would have to be this work by Beatriz Milhazes, the Brazilian artist, called Summer Parties, which is a sort of Frieze that evokes the procession of the carnival of Rio that makes me very happy when I look at it.
Q:Is there anything in your wardrobe that you should get rid of but can’t?
I would think it’s that same collection of Missoni in various sizes and shapes that I have outgrown, and that I keep for sentimental reasons.
Q:What do you never leave home without?
Probably lipstick. It’s a very French thing!
Q: You’re the fashion police for the day, what do you ban?
I’m not sure I would ban anything. I think people can be free to wear whatever they want as long as they have the confidence to hold it.
Q:What do you love most about what you do?
I think it’s the intellectual stimulation, and sharing the poetry of the artist and the people I work with, I think they open my eyes, to a different reality, and because working with contemporary art, is really working with everyday life and seeing it from a more poetic and spiritual angle, and I think that’s what I enjoy the most, meeting artists and sharing their views.
Q:Where do you find your inspiration?
I find my inspiration in the markets of Mexico. I need color, I need dust, I need noise, and I find that in the colorful markets of Merida, where I have this house in Mexico which drives my inspiration.
Q:You’ve had many collaborations. What is your favorite collaboration?
I have written a book on Brazil, one on Mexico and one on Colombia. I’m very fond of Mexico, and I think I put all my heart in while writing the Mexico book, and I think it’s been quite a success, so I really enjoyed the Mexico collaboration.
Q: If you could live in any other time for its fashion, when would you choose?
Probably the 1960s, there was mix of femininity and color and shape, which I quite enjoy.
Q: What is your most recent purchase?
It’s a work of art. It’s a fabulously tall totem, made out of bronze, by a Brazilian artist called Erika Verzutti, and the piece titled La Mexicana. That really had my name on it. I only just bought it in Sao Paulo last week, and I’m extremely excited by it. I love this sort of domestic totem, and I have quite a few… I like this idea of art meeting domesticity.
Q: Can you judge a book by its cover?
You know what? I would say yes sadly, because we do spend so many hours and so much effort finding the right cover for the book that I produced, and I can definitely say you can judge a book by its cover. I think people are a bit like magpies, they like things that are colorful, that are shiny, and especially if you are talking about an art book, then sadly the cover is important.
Q: What are your bad habits?
I have a real problem with punctuality. It’s pathological. I’m making efforts though!
Q: What are your greatest extravagance?
I would say having this house in Mexico. It’s a dream come true. I’m not sure how much I am going to be going to it, but owning a piece of Mexico is definitely my biggest extravagance.
Q: What are your guilty pleasures?
Chocolate in any form of size or shape. When I don’t have it for two weeks I start dreaming about it.
Q: What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
To not give up. To believe in the future. To keep hope.
Q: What is your idea of a great holiday?
A holiday where I can swim before breakfast, and where most of it is swimming in the ocean, or the sea, and where most of it is spent barefoot.
Q: What are you most proud of?
Certainly of my son and his achievements, and also my contribution to the art, and how I think that a little contribution can change an artist’s career or perspective, and I think that’s a big reward.
Q: What is your pure bliss?
Having a house full of friends, and sharing my passion with them.
Q: If you could meet someone from History, who would it be?
It would have to be Marcel Duchamp. He is my great hero and after whom my dog is named after of course. I just think he will still have a lot to share and he is sort of everything in art and I’m sure he has more to share with us and to enlighten us.
Q: How would you like to be remembered?
As someone who helped others achieve their dreams.
Q: 1-10, how good looking are you?
I think how good looking you are depends on how happy you are, so I think it’s variable.
Catherine Petitgas’s book collection is available to buy online here.