“You have a specific relationship with the artist when making a book. A book is the memory of the exhibition.”
Dorothée Charles is the Cultural and Artistic Development Director at Cartier North America. She is based in New York City. Originally from France, Dorothée Charles’ career began in the publishing department of the Fondation Cartier for Contemporary Art in Paris, where she quickly worked her way up to become the Director of Publications. She went on to work as the curator of the toys department at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris and spent eight years teaching in the Contemporary Creation Master’s program at the Sciences Po Institute. In 2013, Charles moved with her family to New York City to join the Cultural Services of the French Embassy, where she started the program Art2, an international platform for contemporary art in New York.
At Cartier North America, she works closely with the Fondation Cartier in Paris, directed by Hervé Chandès. She is currently working on The Great Animal Orchestra by Bernie Krause and United Visual Artists, an exhibition which will be presented at Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts from November 2020 to May 22, 2022.
In this interview, Dorothée Charles shares her experience working as the curator at a toy museum, what it was like moving to New York City from Paris, and how she collaborates with artists.
TGL: How was your childhood?
DC: I grew up in Malakoff, a suburb in the south of Paris. Culture has always been important in Malakoff. There is a theater, a movie theater, a library. We also had a library truck, which drove around. For 24 years, there has been the contemporary art center La Maison des Arts. Artists such as Christian Boltanski, Annette Messager, and Sophie Calle live in Malakoff for years. My parents lived near the farmer market, a place where every generation and different communities gather together on Sunday mornings.
TGL: Did your parents collect art when you were a child?
DC: My parents are both collectors. It started when my father bought a red flower pot filled with cement by Jean-Pierre Raynaud with his first paycheck. His aunt, Jeanne Charles Bourgeat owned the well-known Argos Art Gallery in Nantes. She represented contemporary artists in the 1960s and 1970s. including Jean-Pierre Raynaud, Christo, César, Georges Mathieu, Victor Vasarely, Soto and Francois Morellet amongst others. My father discovered and learned a lot from her and started collecting these artists, but then he moved to emerging and young artists. I grew up in the midst of the works of César, Raynaud, Christo, Niki de St Phalle, Antoni Miralda, Dorothée Selz…The first picture of me in my photo album is of me in front of the sculpture Soldiers by Antoni Miralda. A composition with white toys plastic soldiers.
TGL: Did you know what you wanted to do when you were a child?
DC: After High School, I knew I wanted to work in art. I went to La Sorbonne and the Ecole du Louvre. In 1992, I interned for the CCI (Centre de Création Industrielle) at the Pompidou Center in Paris dedicated to art, design and architecture. The first project I worked on was “Cubisme Tchèque”, then I worked for “Bob Wilson: Mr. Bojangles’ memory Og son of fire”.
TGL: What was your first job?
DC: My first job was for the Fondation Cartier for Contemporary Art at Jouy-en-Josas in 1992. I was in charge of welcoming the public for the exhibition A Visage Decouvert curated by Jean de Loisy. When the Fondation Cartier for Contemporary Art moved to Paris in its new building designed by Jean Nouvel Boulevard Raspail, I joined the team as the bookstore manager. Then I joined the publishing department as editorial assistant and quickly became director of publications. I published 40 books, including monographic catalogues on William Eggleston, Sarah Sze, Issey Miyake, Panamarenko, Takashi Murakami, Alessandro Mendini, Guillermo Kuitca, JD’ Okhai Ojeikere, Cai Guo-Qiang, Jean-Michel Othoniel, Francesca Woodman and catalogues such as Ce Qui Arrive (Unknown Quantity) with the French philosopher Paul Virilio and Yanomami, Spirit of the Forest with the anthropologist Bruce Albert.
TGL: Is this why you have a passion for books and literature?
DC: I learned a lot about art via books and exhibition catalogues. You have a specific relationship with the artist when making a book. A book is the memory of the exhibition. It takes many different steps to make a book the way the artist would like to have it. I was interested in working with a team with a graphic designer, photo engraver, printer, paper maker, photographer, and writer. Writers could be philosophers, art historians, and scientists. It gave me a look at the multidisciplinary world of an artist, which is much more than what you can see in an exhibition. You have the possibility to open other discussions or other ways of seeing or revealing by highlighting the world of an artist. The book as an object and as a memory of an exhibition is very important.
I remembered Sarah Sze's first book in 1998. It was important to discuss the content with her as well as the production. The quality of the reproductions, the choice of the paper, and the graphic designer were selected in close collaboration with Sarah.
TGL: Which book is the most memorable?
DC: Certainly the first one: By Night. The artist Jean-Michel Alberola was the artistic director. It was an exhibition about the night, with photographs, videos, and paintings. I learned a lot about how to play with images, the page, the text, and how you want to tell a story. It was a strong experience.
TGL: After Fondation Cartier for Contemporary Art did you work at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris?
DC: In 2014, I joined the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris. I was in charge of the toy department. This museum has a huge collection of more than 12,000 toys mostly from the Occident. It also has a great collection of Japanese toys. I took care of this collection as a curator and organized two or three exhibitions per year in the toy gallery. I also participated in writing several books for my exhibitions.
TGL: Were toys a new field for you?
DC: Of course! I had to learn everything about it. It was an interesting challenge. Toys are a reproduction of the world in a small scale.
TGL: What was a specific project there that you worked on?
DC: I curated an exhibition with the new realist French artist Gérard Deschamps. I knew Gérard Deschamps from the Fondation Cartier for Contemporary Art. Deschamps collects all kinds of daily plastic objects like children's pools, toys, fishing rods…He made 4 different installations with pneumo structures and windsurf’s sails. I selected toys that echoed his work. It was a fantastic collaboration. We also produced a great film with him.
TGL: You also taught at the Sciences Po Institute.
DC: Yes, Science Po Institute is a world-class university in the social sciences. Laurent Lebon, now Director of the Picasso Museum in Paris, and I worked together for 8 years as professors for a Master’s program called Contemporary Creation. Every week we had 4 hours sessions with our students. We invited professionals from the art and culture worlds, talking about what it means to work with institutions like in the Opéra de Paris, the Théâtre des Amandiers in Nanterre, the Pompidou Center, the Fondation Cartier for Contemporary Art…We also worked closely with the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris developing art projects.
TGL: What did you do when you moved to New York?
DC: At the end of 2013, I moved to New York with my family and joined the Cultural Services of the French Embassy. I was in charge of visual arts, architecture, and design. We developed a program called Art2, an international platform for contemporary art in New York with Florence Ostende, Virginie Bobin, Fionn Meade, and Les Nouveaux Commanditaires. This project gave the French and American cultural institutions an opportunity to work together and present their research. We had 32 events in 45 different places in New York. We created and launched Oui Design, a multifaceted program to foster creative exchange in design between the United States and France, and we restructured the Etant Donnes Fund.
TGL: What cultural differences did you perceive in New York?
DC: I went to meet the various artistic worlds in the United States, and it was with great curiosity and joy that I discovered new cultural institutions, collections, artists, curators, galleries, and collectors. This new perception allowed me to build a network and transatlantic projects by being at the heart of the American contemporary artistic creation. I could better understand how American institutions worked and what their desires and curiosities were.
TGL: You currently work at Cartier North America. What led you to work at Cartier?
DC: My mission at the French Embassy lasted three and a half years, and my family and I were tempted to stay in New York. I had the opportunity to lead an environmental foundation for two years before joining Cartier North America as Cultural and Artistic Development Director for a new position.
TGL: What is your role as Cultural and Artistic Development Director at Cartier North America?
DC: I work with the Fondation Cartier for Contemporary Art in Paris to develop a series of exhibitions, conversations with artists, public programs in collaboration and in partnership with US institutions. In 2019, Aquarium, an artwork by the Brazilian artist Beatriz Milhazes was exhibited at Cartier Hudson Yards. In 2020, we launched a series of online conversations with artists called Fondation Cartier Art Book Series.
I also work on developing Cartier Collection jewelry exhibitions in the United States with public programming and specific events. In 2022, the exhibitions Cartier and Islamic Arts: In search of Modernity, will be exhibited at Dallas Museum of Arts.
TGL: What are you working on now?
DC: I just came back from Boston where I met the wonderful team of the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts to present together the North American premiere of The Great Animal Orchestra by Bernie Krause and United Visual Artists, as part of PEM’s Climate + Environment Initiative from November 20, 2021 to May 22, 2022.
The Great Animal Orchestra was commissioned by the Fondation Cartier for Contemporary Art in Paris in 2016 and travelled to Milan, Shanghai, and London. Herve Chandes, the General Director of the Fondation Cartier for Contemporary Art read the book by Bernie Krause and was fascinated by his story. He contacted him and organized the meeting with United Visual Artists to visualize Bernie Krause’s database. This is an immersive audio-visual experience which celebrates our planet’s rich biodiversity. Over the course of nearly fifty years, the American bio acoustician Bernie Krause collected more than 5,000 hours of recordings of natural environments, including at least 15,000 terrestrial and marine species from around the world. This unique installation makes a plea for preserving the wondrous diversity of the animal world.
I am also working on a project initiated by Instituto Moreira Salles in Sao Paulo and the curator Thyago Nogueira about the artist and activist Claudia Andujar. The Yanomami Struggle was presented at the Fondation Cartier for Contemporary Art in 2020. Andujar is a major photographer who dedicated her life to the Yanomami people, who are living in the Amazonian forest. We will bring this project to the United States in 2022.
TGL: What is a good relationship with an artist, and what does it bring to you?
DC: In 1998, I published Sarah Sze’s first book. It was a great experience working with her. And 23 years later, we are working together on the Art Book Series where she discusses her new book Night Into Day with artist Anselm Kiefer and philosopher Emanuele Coccia. It was an intense project between Paris and New York. Our differences, our complicity and our maturity have contributed to achieve a superb episode for this new online series.
TGL: What makes a collaboration between a brand and an artist good?
DC: Being able to tell stories and keeping a great independence between a brand and an art foundation in order to give total freedom of artistic programming and commissions to artists from all over the world. Cartier is about freedom and generosity.
TGL: Who would you like to have dinner with that you don’t already know?
DC: Greta Thunberg, Davi Kopenawa, the Chief of the Yanomami, and a Paraguayen artist Jorge Carema.
TGL: What advice would you like to give to The Genius List’s readers?
DC: Support the artists, spend time in museums, and protect our precious environment.