After long days in the kitchen, the chef Alain Verzeroli says he indulges in a “visual feast” to wind down. That involves communing with his art collection.
“There’s nothing more relaxing for me than to come home and be surrounded by all the pieces I’ve so carefully collected,” he said, standing in the foyer of his Midtown duplex, gesturing at the works adorning the walls and tables.
The French chef, 53, lives here with his wife, Isabelle Verzeroli, who is the vice president of marketing and communications for Cartier and his co-conspirator in art-buying. “Isabelle loves art, and I cannot buy anything without her liking the piece as much I do,” he said.
Mr. Verzeroli, the culinary director of the Manhattan French restaurants Shun and Le Jardinier, also happens to be an amateur photographer who began amassing art more than a decade ago in Tokyo. As a protégé of Joël Robuchon, Mr. Verzeroli was the executive chef of Mr. Robuchon’s namesake restaurant there.
Mr. Verzeroli’s diverse collection of prints, paintings and sculptures includes many works by Japanese artists including Izima Kaoru, a fashion photographer who explores the beauty of death, and Kouzo Takeuchi, a ceramist known for observing the effects of time on different mediums. Helmut Newton, the renowned German-Australian fashion photographer, and Erwin Olaf, a Dutch portrait photographer, are also represented.
These are edited excerpts from the conversation.
What kind of works are you most drawn to?
Each photograph or art piece has its own power of attractiveness. It can be the depth and questioning about culture, politics or the human condition. A lot of my art examines the idea of life and death or has a fashion element to it. I like when there is something deep behind the image, although sometimes it appeals to me because it’s visually well balanced and beautiful. Some collectors build their collections in an organized way, but for me, it’s about being connected to the work.
When did your photography hobby start, and how did it lead to collecting art?
A while ago, I was gifted a Canon camera, which got me excited about photography. In Tokyo, at 11:30 at night when I got out of work, I would unwind by going out and taking pictures, mostly landscapes such as different parks and streets.
The more pictures I took, the more passionate I got about photography. I started to buy photography books and eventually photographs and other art.
What art have you bought since you moved to New York a year and a half ago?
Nothing yet. I have been working so much that I haven’t had the time. New York, like Tokyo, is a heaven when it comes to options.
Do you buy most of your art in galleries?
Yes. I like the narrative behind a work and the story of the artist, and I can learn about that at a gallery. Of course, it’s more convenient if you look to the internet, but I love to experience the art. I want to see it, to feel it, to know it. The bulk of my collection comes from galleries in Tokyo. I bought most of my European artists at art fairs in Tokyo or when I visited Europe.
If you had to pick a work in your apartment that resonates with you the most, what would it be?
Probably the four pieces by Izima Kaoru called “Kimura Yoshino Wears Alexander McQueen,” from his 2007 series “Landscape With a Corpse.” He’s a Japanese fashion photographer who became fascinated of using traditionally dark narratives to highlight the beauty of clothes. For the series, he asked Japanese models and actresses to imagine cinematographic versions of their own deaths, shot while wearing stunning haute couture.
In these pictures, the actress Kimura Yoshino picked Varanasi, in India, and an Alexander McQueen dress; both are fantastic. Her eyes are open, and she’s dead, but at the same time, they’re peaceful works and beautiful.
Tell me about the first piece you see when you walk in the front door, that large, colorful flower print with the gold backdrop.
It’s called “Korin: The Time of Celebration” by [Takashi] Murakami. It’s modern and almost like Pop Art. I love how it blends classic Japanese aesthetics and patterns within the backdrop of a fantasy world.
Is Isabelle involved in building your collection?
Yes, it’s always a joint decision.