The Art Collections Are Real; the Owners Are Not

 The Art Collections Are Real; the Owners Are Not


Episode 2 of “Mrs. America,” the new TV show dramatizing the battle over the Equal Rights Amendment, features a glamorous party at the Guggenheim Museum. It’s 1972, and Gloria Steinem is launching her new magazine, Ms. She mingles, dances and then talks shop with a fellow women’s movement leader, Bella Abzug. As the two walk up the museum’s ramp, artworks on the walls peek out behind them.

Fanny Pereire, who has spent more than a decade placing art in television and film productions, was indispensable to the making of that scene. Her nearly three dozen credits include the Oliver Stone film “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” (2010), the all-female heist movie “Ocean’s 8” (2018), as well as the recent high-profile TV series “Billions,” “Succession” and “Mrs. America,” which debuted last month on Hulu to critical acclaim (and runs through May).

“I create art collections for people who don’t exist,” Ms. Pereire likes to say. She dreams up what Midwestern housewives or New York City billionaires might hang on their walls and then clears the rights to use either real, existing works or, more often, to recreate them on set.

Ms. Pereire studied architecture and costume design at Bennington College. But it was an internship-turned-job at Christie’s that prepared her for her future career. As part of the auction house’s public relations team, she worked with publications and helped in the sales room during bidding. In the process, she studied not only art but also those who collect it — to understand how people use art to represent themselves.

It’s a lesson that served her well as she transitioned into the entertainment industry, which, after a series of copyright lawsuits brought by artists in the 1990s, started to be more careful about obtaining permission. Ms. Pereire’s first gig in what would become her new role came in 2002 on the set of the revenge drama “Changing Lanes.” That one-off assignment has since grown into a full-fledged job: “fine art coordinator.”

Ms. Pereire spoke by phone from her New York City home about the joys and challenges of her job. These are edited excerpts from the conversation.

What’s your process?

I get a script, I get a character, just like everyone else in the production team. The costume designer will come up with the costume; the production designer thinks about where would they live, what their office would look like. I put what they would have on their wall, and either it says something about who they are or what’s happening in the scene.

I have to take all sorts of things in consideration: the period, what we’re trying to say, and the cost — I’m not going to put a million-dollar painting on the wall for somebody who makes $50,000 a year. I want it to be credible.

Are you looking through your own files, images you’ve collected from seeing art over the years?

I have 57,128 photos and 810 videos on my computer. Plus I have Dropbox and other things — those are just photos that I’ve taken.

Once you come up with the art, what happens next?

I get clearance from the artist or their representative, or from the estate. From there I have to procure a very good digital file of the artwork. If it’s a watercolor, it’s reproduced on paper; if it’s a canvas, it’s reproduced on canvas. The art department’s scenic artists will finish them off to make sure that if the camera goes close enough, it looks like the real thing.

It seems as if you helped create the role of fine art coordinator.

Yes, somewhat. But the thing is, for a long time, let’s say they wanted a de Kooning. They had to make something that sort of looked like a de Kooning, but not enough like a de Kooning that de Kooning could say, “you have my painting and you didn’t ask my permission.” So it ends up being just as consuming. It’s much easier to get permission for the real thing.

What was one of your best placements?

In “Changing Lanes,” Ben Affleck is at a crossroads in his life. Across from his desk I put an Alex Katz painting [“Harbor #9”] of this person walking on the beach. It was actually twice as big as what I had the wall for, but they allowed us to reproduce it at just the right proportion. At one point Affleck’s character is like, should I go away and move somewhere and walk on the beach? That painting was the perfect rendition of what was going on in the character’s mind.

The Guggenheim scene in “Mrs. America” takes place in the actual museum. Did you use the art that was already on the walls?

Yes. That was sort of the chance of a lifetime. When the production designer called me, she knew I was going to be jumping up and down, because I had done other things at the Guggenheim, but never with Guggenheim artwork. She said, you’re going to go there with the location manager, and you’re going to have to take a picture of every single piece for those two ramps [in the scene]. And then you’re going have to clear every piece and make sure that [it wasn’t] made after 1972. Anything that’s not adequate for our script, you’re going to have to figure out what to do with it.

Is there more prominent art coming in “Mrs. America”?

There is another scene in Episode 8, which is the women’s conference in Houston. I think it’s 1977 or ’79. In there I have two very large Rothkos. But those are definitely reproductions, whereas at the Guggenheim it was all original artwork.

How often do you use real work versus reproductions?

At the Guggenheim we had no choice, because they weren’t going to take all the artwork off during the night for us to shoot and then put it back in the morning. When we shoot in a location for a day or two, I will either keep artwork that’s there and have it watched, or I will borrow or rent original artwork. I certainly don’t want to have original artworks for a long time. But Aaron Young’s artworks in “Billions” ended up staying for the whole season, and they were original. It took a special forklift to hang them [and] nobody could reach them because they were very high up and far away.

What’s one of the most prominent placements you’ve done?

In “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps,” our character had an extensive art collection. He had Richard Prince cowboys and Warhols, but also old masters. We wanted him to have something that was unique and priceless, and Oliver [Stone] wanted something that everybody would know what it was. So I came up with a Goya. There’s a series of Goyas at the Prado, and there’s one that’s been lost over the years. You don’t really know exactly what it looks like. And so, from my research of the drawings of the missing piece, we made the painting [a study for “Saturn Devouring His Son”].

We had five of them made because the character, at one point, out of rage, slams the painting and tears it with his teeth. Afterward, the actor, Josh Brolin, said, “I’m so sorry, I was really in the scene.” I said, “Don’t worry, we still have a couple more.” We ended up damaging three, I think, and I think Oliver has one copy and our producer still has a copy in her office.

What usually happens to reproductions when you’re done with them?

At the end of shooting, there’s a whole other part of the process: proof of destruction. Sometimes [whoever licensed the work] will want us to return our official copies, or they’ll want proof of destruction, in which case I will destroy the artwork and send them pieces of it and pictures of it being destroyed. Or I send them a video with one of us slashing it.

Have you had any works that were especially difficult or fun to destroy?

In “Changing Lanes,” we reproduced a sculpture by Antony Gormley. We made it in Styrofoam that was glazed to look like a matte metal. I remember asking the producer, how am I going to do the proof of destruction? He says, “Oh, leave it to me.” He had the crane pick up the sculpture and [drop it] from the top of the soundstage all the way to the floor. It exploded in pieces. Then he handed me the video and said, now you can send it to your artist.

I remember sending it to Antony Gormley and then seeing him a few months later and reintroducing myself. He was like, “Oh my God!” His wife was like, “You have no idea. He loves that video; he shows it to people when they come over.” Granted, this was 20 years ago, but I was so pleased.



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