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The Cartier Foundation is opening its archives to the public for a new exhibition

It's known for its diamonds and pearls, but Cartier has also been making a name for itself in the world of contemporary art. On the eve of Fondation Cartier’s 30th anniversary, we delve into its rich archives

When François Mitterrand came to power in France in 1981, the first socialist government in almost 40 years had laid plans to nationalise the fine jeweller, Cartier.

In 1984, to ward off this threat and to mark itself out as more than just another global purveyor of luxury, Cartier, under then-president Alain Dominique Perrin, established the Cartier Foundation for Contemporary Art. The Foundation's aim was not merely to promote art, but to encourage its creation – a bold and, at that time, highly unusual step.

Such is the ubiquity of contemporary art today, it's easy to forget that this wasn't the case 30 years ago. "Then, the situation and place of contemporary art was very, very different to now," says Hervé Chandès, who has been director of the Foundation for 20 years. "Few places were dedicated to it. The idea was for Cartier to interact with the concept of creation."

The Foundation is now an acclaimed powerhouse, each year commissioning new work by artists, photographers and designers, as well as providing an exhibition space for established artists. Housed in a Jean Nouvel-designed building in the 14th arrondissement of Paris, the Foundation is particularly admired for its support of up-and-coming talent and its commitment to introducing new artists to Europe.


This month, as part of its ongoing 30th-anniversary celebrations, the Foundation is focusing on photography. Among the 30 or so photographers whose work is on display in Vivid Memories are Robert Adams, Nan Goldin and William Klein. Some, such as William Eggleston – whose 'Paris' series is here – were specially commissioned by the Foundation. Others, such as Japan's Daido Moriyama, were given a solo exhibition by the Foundation to bring them to a wider public .

Chandès claims he does not look out for anything in particular when seeking new photographers to exhibit, preferring instead to go with his instinct. "I tend to stumble across new artists. A friend tells me about a new photographer, or I come across them in a bookshop," he says. "Most of the time I can't tell if I am looking for something, or if the something finds me".

Vivid Memories is at 261 Boulevard Raspail, Paris, France, to 21 September; fondation.cartier.com