The world is now more complex and puzzling than ever. I founded Château de Montsoreau — Museum of contemporary art nearly 4 years ago with the idea, the purpose, of changing lives. In many ways, the artists of Art & Language have anticipated the needs of the world we are living in. They give us the opportunity to look at its construction while still being made. All of the Art & Language works tell specific stories that are relevant to today’s world, and what we all are asking ourselves.
As part of my series about the leadership lessons of accomplished business leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Philippe Méaille, founder Château de Montsoreau — Museum of Contemporary Art in the Loire Valley in France. Philippe is the founder of Château de Montsoreau- Musée d’art Contemporain, and an internationally renowned art collector. He was born in Enghien-les-Bains in the Val d’Oise in France in 1973 and both his father and mother were established art collectors. Méaille studied chemistry and pharmacology at René Descartes University in Paris, where he regularly frequented galleries and bookstores. He created his first library at that time and met with major booksellers, such as Marc Martin-Malburet. Méaille’s first purchases were Nam June Paik’s works and the collection quickly turned towards Minimal and Conceptual Art. He eventually focused on the works of the Art & Language group, quickly becoming the main buyer in a then non-existent market. At the end of the 90s, Méaille met the artists behind Art & Language movement and understood that his collection should become public. Between 2010 and 2017, the Philippe Méaille Collection was kept at the MACBA in Barcelona. In 2016, he signed a 25-year lease with the President of the Conseil Départemental du Maine-et-Loire for the Renaissance Château de Montsoreau, a UNESCO World Heritage site situated on the river Vienne in the Loire Valley. The next step for the collector was to open the Musée d’Art Contemporain within the historic castle, which today houses more than a 1000 contemporary art works, the largest collection of its kind in the world.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Both my parents were art collectors and I grew up surrounded by beauty. When it comes to appreciating and understanding beauty, no one has the same degree, nor the same way being involvement. This creates a gap of interpretation on what beauty is. For some people, it is a matter of decoration, for others it is a matter of philosophical importance. That gap of interpretation has been the major problem I’ve had to face. My answer was to create a museum where people could decide for themselves.
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
I found my personal drive to pursue this path in books. This was how I understood what was at stake. I decided to build a library, which allowed me to reflect on different ideas and concepts, taking it as wide as possible.
So, how are things going today? How did grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
One should not under estimate luck. We all have grit and resilience, and work hard. Very few of us are mastering time and that is a key to success. That’s why it helps sometimes to have a bit of good luck on one’s side.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Strangely, it is a milestone in my personal story and it goes back to the beginning. I went to the Rothschild Bank in Zurich to see, and potentially buy, an entire collection of works by Art & Language. The collection had been made in the seventies and was the home for some very important works by these seminal artists. When I entered the conference room, hundreds of these works where leaning on the large table, and every one of them was important. So, important in fact that I couldn’t stop smiling, probably the biggest smile of my life. The seller was there as well. Thanks to my enthusiasm, and enormous grin, that day I had put myself in a position that was not good for negotiating. I did not have my poker face on! That day I learned that, quoting Simone Biles, “Smiling doesn’t win you gold (medals)!”
What do you think makes your contemporary museum stand out? Can you share a story?
It has the ability to change one’s life. The world is now more complex and puzzling than ever. I founded Château de Montsoreau — Museum of contemporary art nearly 4 years ago with the idea, the purpose, of changing lives. In many ways, the artists of Art & Language have anticipated the needs of the world we are living in. They give us the opportunity to look at its construction while still being made. All of the Art & Language works tell specific stories that are relevant to today’s world, and what we all are asking ourselves.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Old school collectors were thinking the artworks were acquiring a sort of power from being hidden, from secrecy. Some are still thinking that way, but we are now very far from the mid-twentieth-century and the world has radically changed. The only valid reason to build a collection nowadays is to share values with as many people as possible. A different world has different rules.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Ironically Donald Trump. The US president’s total disinterest in culture modified deeply the image of America leading the art world. It put France back in the game and this will eventually ‘Make France Great Again.’
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Seeing people leave Château de Montsoreau thinking differently and asking questions, is my best provider of happiness. I understood early on that conceptual art was the missing link that can explain the transition from modern to contemporary art. It is fundamental for me that people live in the present. It is the most obvious and fastest place from which to create one’s future.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
I would be particularly interested to work on prospective ecology because I am both concerned by environmental issues and confident in our model of development. I feel that we can find solutions to continue to grow and deliver a better world for our children. Many people are saying that humans are responsible for major climate disorders, global warming. It is time we take responsibility and repair the climate and the planet. This is what I call prospective ecology.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I opened Chateau de Montsoreau’s contemporary art museum” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
1- Don’t name it Château de Montsoreau — Museum of Contemporary Art. It is almost as difficult as Arnold Schwarzenegger to pronounce and to write and it is very long!
2- Bad press is not good. We have had couple of articles that were not flattering and it is something that can be damaging.
3- The Loire River is very, very wild. Just after opening Château de Montsoreau there was two days of solid rain. The river flooded the roads, the train stations, the airports.
4- The World Wide Web, aka the Internet, is the best place to bring content to the world. You can use other methods, advertising and word of mouth. But the internet allows you to reach the entire world at your fingertips!
5- Philippe Méaille — refer to point 1.
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Thank you for all of these great insights!
About the author:
Chaya Weiner is the Director of branding and photography at Authority Magazine’s Thought Leader Incubator. TLI is a thought leadership program that helps leaders establish a brand as a trusted authority in their field. Please click HERE to learn more about Thought Leader Incubator.