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SmART Collector: Meet the Collectors

Isabelle and Jean-Conrad Lemaître: Video Collectors
by Patricia Frischer, edited by Rosemary KimBal

The University Art Gallery at University of California, San Diego, is presenting a selection of 18 video works from the collection of Isabelle and Jean-Conrad Lemaître calledRevolutions. The collection now numbering 80 works includes artists from all over the world..  

Revolutions occupies six specially created rooms at the gallery. Works vary from 80 seconds to 30 minutes in length, and are shown sequentially creating a complete cycle lasting almost three hours, and requiring the visitor to complete three rotations of the gallery.
On March 27th Dr. Hugh M. Davies, The David C. Copley Director of the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego, held a conversation with Isabelle and Jean-Conrad Lemaître, about their collection, collecting video and their involvement in the promotion of film and video. The following notes were drawn from that conversation.

Isabelle and Jean-Conrad Lemaître have come from a traditional family background in France. He is a banker and grew up collecting everything including underground tickets. Jean-Conrad was impressed by a painting in a Spanish museum. Afterward, he visited a sales gallery and when he realized the works could be bought, it became the first work he acquired. His wife Isabelle hated it. He took it back. Then Isabelle said she learned to “shut her mouth” when later he went back and purchased a work by the artist three times more expensive than the original purchase. This first painting was a challenge to comprehend. Putting in the work to appreciate a difficult video is a hallmark of their current collection.

The Lemaîtres always had a passion for cinema and often went 3-4 times a day. They started buying etchings and later in the 90’s, photos. Those same photographers started to make videos so it was natural 7 years ago to start collecting video art. They trusted the artist even when the general consensus was that it was not art. One of the first videos they acquired starts out quietly like an etching or a photo but ends with lots of action, sounds and color. They were tempted to have it all.

Both Lemaîtres are curious and brave. They move easily and happily to galleries, art fairs and enjoy visiting young curators and artists studios. A huge advantage of a video collection is that the works do not need to be insured and shipping costs are minimal. But documenting the collection is a challenge and showing the works in a museum with the exact requirements of the artists can be difficult.

They don’t have a cinema room in their home but show videos on a screen that drops down and a projector they set up in their living room where up to 25 can crowd in. They enjoy showing off the collection and seeing the works again and again. Jean-Conrad teaches about the collected works and arranges shows all over the world. As a Trustee of the Tate Gallery in Great Britain, he is an advocate for video art.

Storage of these videos is another of the advantages. They all go in a wardrobe with Jean-Conrad’s shirts. They have a master of each video which needs to be remade in a digital laboratory about every 8-9 years. Analog videos were unstable so almost everything now is digital. They only loan copies but even so, they strive not to be attached to the object. They don’t think there is a real problem with fakes as there is not really a market for video that makes thievery worth it yet, but all the works do come with certificates of authenticity. They have seen editions of 3,5,7,8,10 and even 40. They have even purchased an unlimited edition. They know that the artists have to make a living and need money to create new works, and unlimited editions mean artists can distribute works to the masses.

The Lemaîtres choose their art with a view to a long term relationship. As Jean-Conrad says, “No summer beach flings here.” They like the way that their video collection makes them slow down. Time becomes subjective they explain, where 3 minutes is boring if the video is bad and two hours might leave you wanting more if the work is excellent.

They will de-access a dead weight but have bought with their hearts with no intention to build a particularly themed collection. They are only two people with four eyes and limited time and that is the restriction that is placed on them. Geopolitical issues and human joys and suffering reoccur in this set of videos that show humans as infinitely unpredictable.

REVOLUTIONS: Selected Works from the collection of Isabelle and Jean-Conrad Lemaître
28 March - 17 May 2008
The University Art Gallery, UCSD, Mandeville Center, 9500 Gilman Drive, La Jolla, 92093-0327 Curator: Stephen Hepworth For further information 858 534 2107 or email

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