Overlooking the rooftops of Paris from his office in the glass and steel Jean Nouvel building, home to the Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain, Alain Dominique Perrin reflects proudly on his creation.
President of Cartier from 1975 to 1998, Mr. Perrin founded the Fondation Cartier, where he remains president, in 1984. This year, the Fondation turns 30.
“We were the first corporate foundation here to show contemporary art and we wrote the law on corporate patronage in France,” Mr. Perrin said in an interview.
For three decades, the Fondation Cartier has made it its vocation to enlarge the sphere of exhibition-worthy creativity by giving carte blanche to international artists and designers, musicians and couturiers, mathematicians and filmmakers, whether established or lesser known, within an exhibition program that has remained consistently fresh, eclectic and independent.
In 1987, the Fondation celebrated the talent of the car designer Enzo Ferrari. In 2004, it produced Pain Couture, an exhibition of dresses made with bread by Jean-Paul Gaultier, and in 2011, a show devoted to the poetry of mathematics.
“We have boosted the career of many artists. We showed Bill Viola before he was widely known, and both Philippe Starck and Marc Newson before they were major stars,” Mr. Perrin said referring to the video artist and the industrial designers.
“The Fondation has been a universal success, and most of all, it has given the Maison Cartier added credibility that has been priceless.” Mr. Perrin said.
Starting on May 10 and through next March, the Fondation will celebrate this milestone with a series of commemorative exhibitions that will reveal the institution’s private collection of commissioned works for the first time in France.
The idea for the Fondation originated from Mr. Perrin whose personal pioneering vision has fashioned the institution’s path.
“In the early 1980s, the socialist government of François Mitterrand had come to power, and, as wild as it may sound, a plan was being formulated to nationalize Cartier,” Mr. Perrin said.
“Cartier was doing quite well, but I realized I had to do something more to gain respect through social responsibility,” he said.
In 1981, Mr. Perrin had mounted a spectacular operation to steamroll 4000 fake Tank watches in San Diego, sending a resounding signal in the fight against counterfeit watches.
“That symbolic act inspired me initially to create an institution to help artists protect their intellectual property,” Mr. Perrin said.
While fighting counterfeits has been crucial to Cartier’s watchmaking business, upon the advice of his friend, the artist, César, Mr. Perrin quickly realized that he could be more effective helping artists create rather than litigate.
In 1984, the Fondation Cartier was born in a 19th century chateau at Jouy-en-Josas near Paris before moving, a decade later, to its current location in the 14th arrondissement.
Unlike other brands like Louis Vuitton that have regularly retained the services of artists including Takashi Murakami, Richard Prince and Yayoi Kusama, to design products, Cartier has rigorously separated its luxury business from its art patronage.
“A fundamental rule was that Cartier would never use the artists to promote its products,” Mr. Perrin said. “I did not want to damage the artists with money.”
Still, the Maison Cartier has fully financed the Fondation to the tune of €10 million annually with the help of Cartier’s suppliers.
“Cartier’s suppliers donate nearly a million euros each year to the Fondation,” Mr. Perrin said. “This project has united the entire Cartier family.”