‘Collect art with passion, purpose and values’: Catherine Sarr supports artists through purchases, prizes and residencies

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The French American collector and jewellery designer Catherine Sarr, creator of the Almasika collection, and her husband Mamadou-Abou Sarr are major supporters of Black artists on both sides of the Atlantic. Their Sarr Collection includes works by emerging and established artists such as Carrie Mae Weems, Lonnie Graham, Bruce Onobrakpeya, Dawoud Bey, Leslie Hewitt and Lina Iris Viktor, and funds the annual Sarr Prize (a partnership with the Beaux-Arts de Paris art school and Villa Albertine, a French government institution promoting artistic exchange between France and the US). The prize gives €5,000 to three current students at Beaux-Arts and awards one of them a month-long residency in Chicago. Last year’s winners were the Algeria-born painter Abdelhak Benallou, the French video artist Jérémie Danon and the Ecuadorian sculptor Sofía Salazar Rosales.

The Art Newspaper: What was the first work you bought?

Catherine Sarr: The first piece in our collection was one acquired in Gabon around 20 years ago. It’s a beautiful sculpture made of a stone called Mbigou. Mbigou is a small region in Gabon known for producing natural stone with grey tones, hints of green and garnet that gives
an ethereal glow to the polished surface of the sculptures.

What was your most recent purchase?

My most recent purchase was from Abdelhak Benallou, a Paris-based painter and a 2022 laureate of the Sarr Prize. His work is often inspired by scenes from everyday life and reflects on social behaviours and relationships within society today, all while playing with contrasts between light and dark in his figurative compositions. I look forward to seeing how Benallou’s Sarr Prize residency with Villa Albertine this September will allow him a critical moment of reflection to enable him to flesh out his practice.

If your house was on fire, which work would you save?

Tribal Marks Series III by Babajide Olatunji, a Nigerian photorealistic painter, holds a special place in our home.

If money were no object, what would be your dream purchase?

At the top of my list would be a work by Mark Bradford. I am fascinated by his abstract, large-scale works that combine collage, painting and scraps with an artistic language all his own. His social engagement practice also speaks to the ethos of our own collection.

Which work do you regret not buying when you had the chance?

I had the opportunity to acquire a sculpture from Ben Enwonwu, a Nigerian painter and sculptor who was such an influential artist of the 20th century, creating increased visibility for modern African art. I was quite upset with myself that I didn’t take it.

What is the most surprising place you have displayed a work?

Bathroom—I won’t say the artists!

Which artist, dead or alive, would you invite to your dream dinner party?

Alma Thomas would have a seat at my dream dinner party. I admire her captivating work, the exuberant colour and luminous form in her contemplative paintings, and her lyrical representation of natural forms that would make for a philosophical conversation.

What’s the best collecting advice you’ve
been given?

The best advice I have been given is to collect art with passion, purpose and values.

What was your favourite exhibition that you saw in Chicago recently?

Most recently was Hauntology: Ghostly Matters at Mariane Ibrahim. The exhibition, curated by the Nigerian British curator Aindrea Emelife, explored the ideas of Black womanhood by uniting the many perspectives of female artists from Africa and the diaspora.

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