Who is he?
The 76-year-old French businessman’s family holds the number 53 slot on the Forbes list of the world’s billionaires, coming in with a net worth of a cool $15 billion. The self-made Pinault earned his fortune in retail at his holding company PPR (Pinault-Printemps-Redoute), now retitled Kering as of March 2013. The company acquiried many luxury goods labels in high fashion (Gucci, Yves Saint Laurent, Balenciaga, anyone?) as well as more wide-reaching brands likes Puma and Volcom. Pinault handed over control of the company to his son Francois-Henri Pinault in 2003.
What is his connection to the art world?
Pinault also owns Christie’s. As if that weren’t art-world clout enough, Pinault is a formidable art collector, owning over 2,000 works. He began collecting artists such as Willem de Kooning, Robert Ryman, Richard Serra, and Agnes Martin, to name a few, and now has the work of over 80 artists, including choice pieces by Picasso, Jeff Koons, and Damien Hirst. He presents parts of his collection in museums all over the world.
What is his connection to the art world in Venice?
After abandoning his own plans for a museum, Pinault took a controlling stake in the Palazzo Grassi in 2005 to display his collection. Exhibitions showing selections from his collection included “Where Are We Going?” “Post-Pop,” and “Sequence 1.” In 2007 he also took the helm of the Punta della Dogana to turn it into a center for contemporary art. To coincide with this year’s Venice Biennale, both institutions have new exhibitions: Palazzo Grassi opened a Rudolf Stingel exhibition, curated by the artist, on April 7, while yesterday marked the opening of “Prima Materia” at Puna della Dogana, an ambitious exhibition that incorporates Minimalist and Conceptual artists to define “prime material” in today’s media-driven art environment. Artists in the exhibition range from Alighiero Boetti to Sherrie Levine to Theaster Gates. The exhibition is already getting major buzz, but no rush if you aren’t hitting the Biennale: it will up until December 2014.
Wait, so Francois-Henri Pinault: totally different person, right?
Exactly. Francois-Henri now controls the company his father founded, which has since been renamed Kering. Francois is the art collector; Francois-Henri is the one married to Salma Hayek.
Has he always been a billionaire art-world insider?
Not at all. The tycoon got his start working at sawmill in rural France after dropping out of high school—so he began making his fortune buying lumber companies, naturally. Reportedly, he didn’t set foot in a museum until the early 1970s, well into his adulthood. And now? Pinault often calls art collecting the love of his life.
What was the work of art that changed everything?
Piet Mondrian’s Tableau Losangique II. Pinault bought the work for $8.8 million at Christie’s in 1990—his most expensive art purchase at the time. After that, Pinault has said he then changed his focus to collecting contemporary work.