It takes a certain kind of person to convince Alexander Iolas, the gallerist widely credited with discovering Andy Warhol, to come out of retirement to put together a personal art collection. But arts patron and collector Pauline Karpidas did just that in 1974. Renowned for her influential art world relationships and legendary Greek get-togethers, Karpidas went on to amass a staggering collection of sculptural and contemporary works, often championing emerging artists who later rose to fame.
Now, a trove of Karpidas’ artwork is heading to auction, with 270 lots expected to bring in more than 11 million euros ($11.8 million) in October at Sotheby's Paris. The works, which have long been housed at her home on the Greek island of Hydra, range from surrealist sculptures to contemporary paintings and photographs. “This collection is characterized by boldness, flamboyance, conviction, and the insatiable curiosity and natural curatorial eye of its life force,” said Oliver Baker, chairman of Sotheby’s Europe, in a statement.
Born and raised in Manchester, England, Karpidas, 80, moved to Athens in the early 1970s. After meeting her late husband Constantinos Karpidas, a Greek shipping magnate, the duo embarked on a decades-long journey of collecting under the guidance of Iolas.
In a statement, Karpidas recalled advice given to her by Iolas, including, “in order for you to understand what emerged in the 20th century you must visit every museum in every town you visit, read the biographies of the artists and meet all the curators, gallerists and dealers.” Karpidas followed his advice and began building relationships in the art world, and the result was that her home in Hydra, a historical Greek monument facing the Aegean Sea, rapidly turned into a personal gallery.
One of those relationships was with Claude and Francois LaLanne, the French couple referred to collectively as “Les LaLanne” and known for their surreal and nature-inspired sculptures. Karpidas met the duo in 1978, collecting their pieces before Les LaLanne had achieved global fame. Her works by the artists include Claude’s Tres Grand Choupatte, which depicts a large cabbage with chicken legs, and Francois-Xavier’s Vache bien etablie I et II, a cow sculpture with a square hole in its stomach—estimated to fetch 1.5 million euros ($1.6 million) and 800,000 euros ($857,000) respectively at the upcoming auction. Karpidas even commissioned original works from Les LaLanne, describing the couple as having “infused my existence with beauty and grace.”
Pauline Karpidas transformed Hydra into an influential art hub
By 1996, Karpidas’ focus on finding and connecting with artists led her to create annual summer “workshops” in Hydra. These loosely defined social gatherings, which ran through 2017, were frequented by writers, curators and art institution leaders, along with artists like Tracey Emin, Sarah Lucas, Damien Hirst and Grayson Perry. Other notable attendees included the Tate’s Maria Balshaw, the National Portrait Gallery’s Nicholas Cullinan and gallerists Thaddaeus Ropac and Robin Vousden.
Her philosophy can perhaps be best summed up by her Hydra itinerary, which simply read: “There is little required from you other than an engagement with arts and guests, sunbathe, gossip and swim.” The casual nature of the workshops was documented over the years in black and white snapshots of art world power players taken by photographer Johnnie Shand Kydd. The photographs themselves were the focus of an 2015 exhibition at the Whitworth Gallery in Manchester.
Several pieces in the Sotheby’s auction were created by Karpidas’ annual workshop visitors. In addition to nine by Les LaLanne, buyers can also bid on pieces by Georg Baselitz, Marlene Dumas and Kiki Smith; photos by Nan Goldin, Richard Prince and Wolfgang Tillmans; and interior works from designers Mattia Bonetti and Andre Dubreuil.