A Conversation with Jeanne Beker about Fashion and Art

Jeanne Beker: AGO Collector's Series 2011
Jeanne Beker's personal art collection is whimsical, eclectic, and captivating - descriptors that can also be used for the woman herself. In a one-on-one interview with this fashion powerhouse, Jeanne and I had a lively conservation about fashion and art and she also gave me a tour of her favourite artworks now on display as part of the Art Gallery of Ontario's 2nd Annual Collector's Series Exhibition.

The Birthday Party by Marion Perlet
For Jeanne, each work of art in her collection evokes a memory. She said "They really serve as a kind of visual diary for me of my travels, certain stages I was going through in my life, of certain changing aesthetics I've had over the years." One of her favourites is an oil painting by Marion Perlet called "The Birthday Party" in which the artist painted her memories of her birthday party as a child. Jeanne said "This was a cherry pie but my girls always thought it looked like a pepperoni pizza. It sat right over our table in the kitchen of our old house and now it hangs in my dining room and it just makes me feel good. And yet, there is something about the look in their eyes, some of them look a little dysfunctional, or that they have their grudges or own stories to tell or their own feelings about themselves, their particular plight - they are your typical dysfunctional family I think."

Toller Cranston gave Jeanne her first artwork and encouraged her to start her collection. He told her to buy Canadian art and "just chose one artist that you really like and go with it." Jeanne followed that advice and has several pieces from Marion Perlet. She offers advice to other collectors and said "Just buy what you love. Don't buy as an investment."

Yves Saint Laurent by Andre Rau
Jeanne's collection also includes several exquisite photographs by David LaChapelle, Paul Alexander and Andre Rau that capture the intersection of the fashion and art worlds. Jeanne was surprised when I told her about my interviews with Valerie Steele, Chief Curator of The Museum at FIT and Matthew Teitelbaum, Director/CEO of the Art Gallery of Ontario on the relationship between fashion and art. She said "I just think it is old fashioned to not see fashion as art. Of course, I'm talking about a particular kind of fashion. Fashion with a capital F, not fashion put out there for mass consumption." 

Jeanne and I agreed that fashion and art have a complex relationship. She put it this way: "There are a precious handful of designers [that would quality as artists]. I'm certainly not intimating that all of fashion  is art, not by a long shot. But I do think that there are some fashion creators who are, without question artists, in terms of the techniques that they have learned, in terms of the statements that they want to communicate or in what they are saying in their impact of their creations on humanity. I don't know what the definition of art is, if it is not that."

In closing my interview, I asked Jeanne if there was anything left on her list of things she wanted to do given her long list of accomplishments to date as television journalist, as well as author and editor. She answered "I'd like to return to the places I've been to for work that I didn't get a chance to explore on my own, but really what I look forward to doing in this next chapter is to continue doing a lot of things that I have done, but just do them better. I want to continue to make great television - but better; I want to write more books - but better." When I told her that she must have a wicked perfectionist streak because so many people look up to her and admire her that I cannot imagine her having to do anything better, she said "Sometimes I feel like I've barely scratched the surface in terms of my potential. I am turning 60 next year and that only gives me another 20-30 years to go, but who knows. Diana Vreeland didn't start editing Vogue until she was 60".  I left utterly enchanted by Jeanne and her zest for life. 

The AGO's 2nd Annual Collector's Series
AGO Art Rental + Sales Gallery
481 University Avenue
Toronto, Ontario
November 30, 2011 to December 19, 2011

For more information, see the AGO website link here.

P.S. Jeanne Beker's interview of Harold Koda as part of the Bata Shoe Museum's Founder Series Lecture was published yesterday in the Toronto Star. The link is here.
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