Globe-Trotter Jean Pigozzi Shows Off His Japan-Congo Art Collection in France - By Ellen Gamerman, WSJ
A Collector's Japan-Congo Mashup

Jean Pigozzi has a men's clothing line, a new photography book and a roster of friends that includes Bono and Michael Douglas. But for the moment the spotlight is on art: Mr. Pigozzi is one of the world's top African-art collectors and is moving full-speed into Japanese works as well.

The globetrotting Italian venture capitalist, who was born in France but lives part of the year in New York and conducts much of his business from the U.S., was back in Europe this month. An exhibit worthy of jet lag was opening: artworks from Japan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, culled from Mr. Pigozzi's collection of more than 10,000 pieces and on display at Magasin, a contemporary-art center in Grenoble, France.

Jean Pigozzi shows his collection.

JapanCongo was assembled by Carsten Höller, a Belgium-born artist who spent two days last September in Mr. Pigozzi's massive art warehouse in Geneva, Switzerland, combing through the collection before narrowing the focus to works just from Japan and Congo.

Mr. Pigozzi calls the result "Fusion Art," comparing the exhibit to the fare at an off-kilter restaurant: "It's a weird thing. You go to a Japanese restaurant and say, 'Tonight, we're serving spaghetti and French foie gras.' "

The 59-year-old collector buys art the way he invests in businesses, seeking overlooked parts of the market. Over 22 years, he's amassed one of the largest personal collections of African art. One favorite is Chéri Samba, a Congolese painter whose colorful canvases often include nudes, self-portraits and scenes of social inequality punctuated by blurbs of text. A Samba work sold last May for $98,500, a record for the artist at auction; when Mr. Pigozzi began collecting the artist's paintings, he recalls spending about $10,000.

Lately, Mr. Pigozzi is excited by Japanese work, even as other collectors rush to Chinese art. "People say, 'Eh, what is this?' " he says of others' reactions to Japanese pieces. It could take 10 years to find out if his instincts are on track: "I might be proven right, I might be proven wrong."

Magasin CNAC
Jean Pigozzi's French show of works he owns

Mr. Pigozzi collects Japanese works without an adviser, gravitating toward artists born after 1980. He is fascinated by Erina Matsui, a 27-year-old whose distorted portraits may show a face with multiple mouths or doubled noses and cutesy animals dropped in the frame. He thinks she's funny, and he's investing in part for her sense of showmanship. Ms. Matsui attended the JapanCongo opening in a huge orange wig, talking to everyone. "She has the energy and the karma," he says.

Mr. Pigozzi started his LimoLand clothing company, which has a store in New York's Meatpacking District, when he couldn't find clothes to fit his technicolor style. His new photography book "Catalogue Déraisonné" is the fourth installment of a visual journal of his very social life.

The businessman doesn't take an academic approach. It took him 10 years to learn the names of all the African artists whose work he owns, and he's never been to Africa. "You hear all these terrible stories," he says of travel there. "I simply don't have the energy. I guess I'm spoiled."

Mr. Pigozzi is now more focused on Japanese work, a change he embraces. "I'm always interested in finding the new trend," he says. "If you love pizza every day, after 22 years of eating pizza, you want to try sushi."

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