On Thursday, March 7, 2013, Nathalie de Gunzburg received the insignia of Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Lettres. Antonin Baudry, Cultural Counselor of the French Embassy in the United States, presided over the ceremony and delivered the following speech.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Welcome to the French Embassy!
It is a real privilege and pleasure for me to host this ceremony tonight.
Our gathering is indeed a special occasion as we are about to honor one of the most important French collectors and philanthropists living in the United States.
Dear Nathalie, I’m personally so happy to have you here tonight, as you became a dear friend since I moved to NY, and I would like to extend a warm welcome to your husband Charles, your daughter Sabrina and all of your family and friends who have joined us to show their admiration and support. I must add that it makes me particularly happy to preside over this ceremony (as you have come to be a dear friend since I arrived in New York.)
Since we are technically in France, and I cannot resist, I would like to open this ceremony with a few words in our mother language.
I hope our American guests will forgive us this short moment of national satisfaction, but you all know that there is a long tradition of French modesty…
And indeed, we have many reasons to be proud tonight.
Our recipient is a “self-made woman” whose leadership, vision, dedication, and passion for art have guided her to one of the most vital American arts organization: the Dia Art Foundation. (And I am particularly happy that my dear friend Philippe Vergne is here tonight with Sylvia.)
So, in the French rule of art, allow me to say this.
Chère Nathalie, cet hommage que nous te rendons ce soir célèbre cet exemple de réussite que tu incarnes ici, aux Etats-Unis, ainsi que dans ton pays d’origine.
Ta force est d’avoir pu développer tes compétences et tes talents pour finalement prendre la tête d’une des fondations d’art les plus prestigieuses, non seulement dans un pays dans lequel tu étais étrangère, mais également pour occuper une place qui, trop souvent encore, est traditionnellement réservée aux hommes.
Ton engagement sert d’exemple au rayonnement de notre pays, et nous t’en sommes particulièrement reconnaissants.
Dear Nathalie – and now allow me to speak to the American Nathalie – for your important support of French culture on this side of the Atlantic, France declares you a champion tonight.
Your story began in France, where you received the French equivalent of an MBA from the Institut Supérieur de Gestion. You were set on a path to become a politician or a brilliant business-woman…But your passion for art and your curiosity for the United States pulled your career in a different direction. (and we are lucky for this)
The American artistic culture was always ingrained in your spirit, and so a move to New York City in 1998 was a major change, but it easily became your natural environment.
With your husband Charles, you assembled an audacious collection of art from late nineteenth century to the present day, displayed your passion for the subject and took risks. In a few years, the collection was so renowned and you became a real expert.
The essential part of the collected works focuses on Minimalism and includes some of the most radical American artists of the late 1960s – such as the revered Donald Judd.
With these choices, you state that “you were unconsciously influenced by the Dia exhibitions and that these works were so poetic because one could lose him or herself.”
And so in 2003, you and Dia officially found each other -though perhaps you were drawn together far before this date through a mutual love and respect for the works.
In 2004, you officially joined the board of directors of the Dia Art Foundation and chaired the Committee on Trustees. Yes, Dia is one of the most prestigious contemporary art foundations in the world but its specificity is its unfailing support of artists in every step of their creative process. Your pronounced taste for the avant-garde of the second half of the 20th century was a major asset working with Dia –which acquired its fame by supporting and presenting the greats such as Joseph Beuys, Dan Flavin, Agnes Martin, Louise Bourgeois, Andy Warhol and so many others.
Thanks to your exceptional dynamism, commitment and charisma, you earned the confidence of your peers in record time…
In 2006, you were appointed Chairman of the Board of Trustees, succeeding Leonard Riggio who praised your hard work, your deep understanding of Dia’s mission and your skill to be a visionary leader. Not only have you always been completely devoted to the Foundation, but your spirit has always been in perfect coherence with its founders, Heiner Friedrich and Philippa de Menil. Here we find another French connection…but that’s another story.
Dear Nathalie, I know that it is your subtle knowledge of contemporary art, your sheer energy and your steady vision, that propelled you to this new role.
You are an inspiration to your peers and since you arrived, everyone agrees that Dia is intellectually sexy. I totally agree !
You marked your chairmanship with the profound desire to perpetually renew Dia’s exceptional collection and the will to democratize access to contemporary arts.
Your perspective is that the essence of culture is public, and art is alive only if shown and shared with all the citizens of the world.
This is why you’ve challenged Dia to grant better access to contemporary art and largely broaden its public.
And this has certainly been achieved since the number of visitors to the Beacon space and to the various New York locations has notably increased under your leadership.
And to widen the reach, you never hesitated to take risks…even betting on a French artist.
Indeed, last year Dia was the first institution to organize a major exhibition of the Parisian artist Jean-Luc Moulène in the United States, and we are extremely happy it became a widely acclaimed success, both by critics and visitors.
In French, we say you are a “passeur” of culture: an exceptional intermediary between France and the United States, who helps art cross borders and circulate for many to appreciate.
I must also acknowledge your incredible generosity, as illustrated by the depth of your philanthropic actions.
You play a great role in many other art institutions in New York City: you are a member of the International Council of The Museum of Modern Art and of the “Leadership Council” of the New Museum, as well as a supporter of the Jewish Museum.
You’ve been profoundly committed to the Lenox Hill Hospital and to the association, Musicians on Call, which provides live music to hospital patients.
Chère Nathalie, à travers vos différents engagements artistiques et caritatifs, tu as fait preuve d’une détermination exceptionnelle et d’une incroyable justesse dans ta vision de l’art et du rôle de la culture.
Tonight, for your exceptional professional and civic achievements, your loyalty to France, and your modesty, we are proud to honor you as a French knight.
Chère Nathalie de Gunzburg, au nom du Gouvernement français, je vous fais Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.
As you so often say – voila !