It was an honor and a privilege to receive two of France’s First Ladies, former First Lady Mrs. Claude Pompidou and the present First Lady Mrs. Bernadette Chirac, in my home in New York for tea. Later that evening, I had the pleasure of joining them at a benefit dinner for the American Friends of the Claude Pompidou Foundation, an event hosted by Ronald Lauder and Veronica Hearst at the Neue Gallery in her and Mrs. Chirac’s honor.
I had spent time last November with both of these most gracious women while in Paris for the Memorial I had organized in collaboration with the Centre Pompidou in Arman’s remembrance. Madame Chirac had been kind to receive me, my family and friends at the Elysée Palace just days before the event and Madame Pompidou was the guest of honor at the Memorial. I was delighted they accepted my invitation for tea at my home, particularly given their busy schedules while in New York for the charity gala. They entered trailed by a FR3 TV crew and warmly greeted my other guests. They admired the view of the Hudson River and expressed their delight with our collection of African art and antiquities, and reminisced about Arman’s artistic talents, his generosity and his intelligence. Mrs. Chirac exclaimed, “Oh, you must invite my husband Jacques! He would enjoy seeing all the superb African art.” Looking at the green jade sculptures, she added, “Jacques has one very much like this. How he would have love to have talked to Arman about it.” Later, while touring Arman’s studio, Mrs. Pompidou turned to me and said, “You know Corice, I still have the wonderful bronze violin sculptures which Arman gave my husband and me so many years ago. Your husband was so generous. Chère Corice, je suis très contente d’être là.”
Accompanying Mrs. Pompidou was her grandson Thomas Pompidou, a very affable and charming gentleman. A banker who lives in New York, he recently celebrated with his wife the arrival of twins, a son and a daughter. Mrs. Pompidou was beside herself with excitement at the idea of seeing her new great-grandchildren, Achille and Philippine along with their brother, Thaddeus, the eldest of the great-grandchildren.
The event for the Claude Pompidou Foundation was held at the Neue Gallery that same evening. I was seated at their table along with other guests including Agnes Gund, Richard Meier, Philippine de Rothschild and Mr. Jean-David Levitte, Ambassador of France to the United States, who graciously introduced himself to me, to name a few.
There were brief speeches by Mrs. Chirac, Ronald Lauder and Mrs. Pompidou, who stood up and impressed the crowd by reading her entire speech in English. Philippine de Rothschild, a friend of longstanding of Mrs. Pompidou and Mrs. Chirac had also attended the Arman Memorial in Paris. She reminisced about Arman’s design for the 1981 label for the Baron Philippe de Rothschild wines, recalling the first exhibition of the labels designed by artists. Arman and I attended the exhibition in California which Philippine herself had organized. It was there we met Angelica Huston, there to represent her father, the late great film director John Huston, who had designed the 1982 label for Baron Philippe. (By the way, we bought a Jeroboam at the live auction at that exhibition as 1982 was our daughter’s birth year.) For this evening’s event at the Neue Gallery, Philippine was recognized in the speeches from the hosts and the guests of honor for her generosity in donating the wine, its label designed by Keith Haring.
Philippine mentioned that she was planning another exhibition of labels in February and kindly invited me to attend. Ambassador Levitte expressed interest in visiting the studio, to which I replied that I would be more than happy to host him there during his next visit to New York.
After an engaging conversation about Arman and his work between Mrs. Pompidou, Agnes Gund and Philippine de Rothschild, the artist Jeff Koons, seated across from me, leaned toward me and asked, “So, Arman was your father?” I smiled and replied, “Oh Dear Heart, Arman was my husband!” (I LOVED the lighting in that room!) He blushed and proceeded to tell me how much he admired Arman and his work and when he had encountered Arman’s work for the first time at the Sonnabend Gallery on West Broadway.
My dinner partner on my right, Claude Roland, told me he hoped to run (and win!) in the forthcoming elections for Mayor of the 8th arrondissement in Paris. He mentioned he had many plans for the City of Light, based on cultural activities in and around Paris.
My immense pride in my husband swelled even further when, the next day, I received a telephone call from a close friend, who told me that she would love to be instrumental in placing a large-scale sculpture in the gardens of the American Embassy in Paris.
What a special week this has been and how it would have enchanted Arman! He continues to make it happen! It seems the special spell he cast continues to grow stronger and brighter with each passing day.