The Art of Succession & Billions: In Conversation with Fanny Pereire

Charlotte Stewart
written by Charlotte Stewart,
Date of publication30 May 2023
Last updated9 Nov 2023
The Nile by Jean-Michel Basquiat - MyArtBrokerThe Nile by Jean-Michel Basquiat © 1983
Rebecca Marsham

Rebecca Marsham, Sales Director[email protected]

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With the much-awaited finale of HBO's viral hit, Succession, we take a deep-dive into the Roy's covetable and illustrious art collection. Charlotte Stewart is joined by Fanny Pereire, one of the show's art curators. Fanny Pereire is a New York art consultant who creates some extraordinary collections for some extraordinary people with a twist: Fanny's people may not actually exist but her client list includes names like Logan Roy and Bobby Axelrod. She is the eyes and style behind some of our best-known, best-loved, and perhaps best-loathed billionaire collectors within various high-profile series and movies: including Billions, The Undoing and Oceans Eight.

In the case of Succession and Billions, Pereire's collections are made and curated for fantasy billionaires. Despite the fictitious nature of her clientele, Pereire's collections are integral to the characterisation and narrative of power and prestige: from Logan Roy to Bobby Axelrod. Pereire's collections are curated with scrupulous attention to detail. Indeed, Roy and Axelrod would overlook no detail when it comes to the provenance, condition and financial value of their art collections - and neither does Pereire.

Q: CS: Thank you so much for coming on the MyArtBroker Podcast. We are huge fans of both Billions and Succession, and you've done a huge amount of other projects as well. We've got so much to discuss today. I think I'd love to start by hearing how you got into becoming a curator for such extraordinary characters.

FP: Well, it's all thanks to Scott Rudin. About 25 years ago, copyright laws started being enforced in the film industry and he, as a major art collector, figured that he should have somebody, who knew something about art and had contacts or an artist, to get the real thing.

The process is the same to get a reproduction of real artworks as to have scenic create fake artworks. And until now, I think the art world didn't see the film business as an art form and, and vice versa; there were really no intersections between them.

And so we started building that bridge, and that was it really– artists started to want to have the artwork reproduced on films before that. It's a sort of very high-level product placement, for artists to be able to showcase works in these stories. Well, it has become… but they certainly didn't see it that way until then. Some of the artworks now actually carry the film as part of it's provenance if an artwork has been seen on a set.

But obviously we also use public domain artworks, but the process is the same whether it's a multimillion-dollar artwork, or it's a five year old artwork that you put on a fridge: you still have to get the parents to sign the clearance form for children’s drawings. The value of the artwork is not really relevant as far as the process!

"Until now, I think the art world didn't see the film business as an art form and, and vice versa; there were really no links between them. And so we started creating that bridge and that was it really– artists started wanting to have the artwork reproduced on films before that. It's a sort of very high level product placement, for artists to be able to showcase works in these stories."
Fanny Pereire, Art Consultant for Succession


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Q: CS: How interesting. You said absolutely every piece of art, whether it be the five year old's work on the fridge, goes through you, and I suppose so does the characterisation of that family life, down to how that artwork might look on that person's fridge in that particular scene. Tell me about the process of taking something like Succession scene by scene. Where's the starting point?

FP: Well, the starting point is you read the script like everyone else, and then it's really a team effort between the producers, the director, the production designer, and the costume designer.

We all work together and we really create these characters. We're basically creating characters who don't exist…we never call them by the name of the actor, it's always by the name of the character. They become our relatives or friends or, whatever.

And the production designer with the location manager will figure out where they live, while we figure out who they are and then it’s for me to do the research. Usually, the characters are always a composite of different people I know, plus we have an actor, who has a precise idea of what he would like. And then we talk about it. I I think the most interesting collaboration I've ever had was with Donald Sutherland on The Undoing. When we first met, we both had a list of ten artists that we thought his character would have… out of the ten we both had, nine of them were the same. So we were exactly on the same wavelength!

Q: CS: And who were those artists?

FP: Well we had Francis Bacon, which I'm not sure you see much in the editing, but he certainly had it - a small portrait - that hung right across from where he was seated in his living room.

Q: CS: I mean it's sort of the ultimate fantasy collection, isn't it? Building it for somebody who doesn't exist and therefore doesn't have restrictions on budget, really, apart from the fact that these characters within Succession and Billions would buy at that level. It must be so exciting to examine the characterisation of those people and their lives, and to imagine them choosing the artwork, talking maybe to their art advisor about the artwork. Let's talk about Logan Roy for instance, he’s an incredible character. Some people love him, some people hate him. No one's actually sure about his moral compass. How do you decide what Logan Roy collects?

FP: Well, first of all, the age of the character is quite relevant to what he would've acquired, you know: “When did he start in his career to have enough money or to be interested and buy?” Whereas, for Logan Roy's children it would've been different.

And so they would obviously buy different things. That was also a thing with his current wife: she brought in some contemporary art, whereas he had started collecting way back. And I think that's also interesting: somebody who set up a collection like two years back, will have it all hanging.

So it often comes through a spectrum of time. It's interesting and sometimes there've been several marriages and what they’ve collected, with which wife or in which part of their career… it's all these things.

We try to figure out: with Nancy Meyers on the intern, for example, we had many conversations on what Anne Hathaway's character would've had. So we decided that she would have mostly women artists and then there was the fact she had gone to art college and that her parents could have given her something. You really have to create these characters who don't exist. It’s a dialogue between many people. It impacts… the costume designer, it’s really a collaboration.

Q: CS: Who's been your most difficult character to curate for? Who's really made you think, “I'm not even sure that character would care about the artwork”, perhaps they would just be in it for the investment. Has there been any characters like that?

FP: Yeah, that's just it, sometimes it’s about the investments. So you just figure out sort of the top 10 or the top 20 artworks, it's not very interesting. It's not interesting, but it's not hard.

Q: CS: It's just the ones with the highest return - the big blue chip names?

FP: Yeah, I mean the interesting one to figure out is when they got things and why. Oliver Stone, for instance, would make me do binders with all the artworks in for Wall Street Two. I had to make binders for each actor, with all the artworks in the sets that they were shooting.

He'd give it to them and say, this is who you are. I had to give all the artworks and the biography of the artists so they would know why this is what they had on their walls. It really shows you that it's all about building the character.

Q: CS: I love that the actors use that to help them understand their character more.

FP: Yes! For instance, the scene where I put in the Frank Thiel's iceberg print (Spegazzini #01 (2012)) with Kendall. So from his desk he would see that iceberg come to represent the relationship with his father. But I was very lucky in Succession because we did it with Adam McKay, who created the character.

I remember, also, in Logan's bedroom having some Egon Schiele that you actually originally saw only half-lit at night. But that sort of told you something, because he was getting up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom and the lights were not fully on, that was important to the plot.

Q: CS: How do you source these works? Are they reproductions all the time?

FP: Yeah, they're mostly reproductions, I would say about 85 to 90% of the time they're official reproductions. And that was really what's changed the business: the need to be getting the copyrights to the image of the artwork. Sometimes it's a reproduction that an artist will actually do for me or if it's a photographer, they will actually print it for me. They might change the contrast because with a moving camera, it needs to have more contrast or less contrast, or it has to be darker or lighter.

When it comes to using original works: I've had budgets of 20 million, humbly, for half a day on set for the movie Paranoia. That brings a whole other set of logistical nightmares and insurance considerations, especially as it was on a location. And for insurance purposes where no one from the production was allowed to touch the artwork, we had to have the art handlers do it. When I waved that truck goodbye, it was like the most relieved I ever was.

So I find it unnecessary most of the time to use expensive originals. I've had very valuable originals, but usually for a very short time. On The Intern I had, several of Robert De Niro Senior's artworks, on his set in his home. It was very nice because he gave me full access to all his father's artworks at his gallery, his hotels, his offices, his home, everything.

I picked, I think, four of them. And when he came to the set, he was pleased with what I had picked! Some of them you don't see, but very often we dress the walls that the actor is looking at. So they see their character all around, even though the camera's never going to shoot it.

Q: CS: It's almost artwork playing a supporting role. It stands in the background so that the person can stay in character and see their artwork, and that's fascinating. Why would you, with the Cy Twombly, for instance, not have that reproduced?

FP: Well, I can't get into the details, but it ended up being digitally inserted later on because the glass used caused a reflection and it didn’t show up properly when filming.

Q: CS: Who reproduces these artworks?

FP: Well, I'm part of, the United Scenic Artists of America (USAA) Scenic Union of America and in 1999 we were producing the works from scratch. Whether it was the Matisse or, we even did an Antony Gormley sculpture, whatever we created it was always a really fun experience.

Now with technology, that improves yearly, every production I get high-definition prints either on canvas or paper depending on the medium of the actual work. And then it's usually touched up to get the texture and details correct.

But now, technology is so good that if it's not a hero piece in the show, sometimes we don't even need to touch it up. If the work is pictured far enough in the background, it looks exactly like the real thing. I experienced a situation with a collector, who I can't actually name, who came into the house we were shooting at, and they said, ” Oh my God, we forgot to take that painting down.’’

Because we actually liked one of the paintings that this collector had, we reproduced it, and I had to run over and just take it off with my two hands off the wall and show her that it was all written in on the back and that it was mine. And she's like, ”Oh. That's not mine.’’ I said, ” No, it's not yours, it's mine.’’

This collector was genuinely shocked. It was obvious that we had done an excellent job that the work looked so real that the owner thought it was her original artwork and not the one that we reproduced.

Q: CS: And what happens to the artworks afterwards? These incredible reproductions.

FP: Well, that's a key part of my job is, and sometimes one of the last positions added to the payroll,l is to oversee the proof of destruction.

So either it's returned to the copyright owners, or sometimes if it's from an estate, the children or the grandchildren want to keep the copies because the artwork may be part of a collection, or it's been sold, and they haven't seen the work in decades. Or the work may be on loan to a museum.

In other instances, the artists may request the reproduction back and use the canvas and the stretch frame for another artwork giving it a second life. Most of the time, I provide proof of destruction, meaning I slash it up in pieces and somebody as somebody films and takes pictures.

Additionally, sometimes I send remnants of the destroyed work, usually by FedEx. At the end I have all these FedEx envelopes stacked so that they have the proof that we destroyed them.

Q: CS: Wow! And it obviously has to be destroyed so that there's no risk that these are floating around on the market.

FP: Well, that's the key part of having artists collaborate, is that they have to know and trust you, and that you're going to do well by their artwork. That you're going to do a reproduction that's good enough so that it looks like the real thing. And, also, that they will have it back or know that it's been destroyed.

Q: CS: It must be quite heartbreaking to destroy some of these reproductions…

FP: I know, I sort of say that all these artworks are my children for the duration. It's like the gestation that I have them for several months, and then when I destroy them, they're gone.

Q: FP: I know, I sort of say that all these artworks are my children for the duration. It's like the gestation that I have them for several months, and then when I destroy them, they're gone.

FP: Oh, absolutely! That’s essential, yes.

Q: CS: What's the most extraordinary reproduction that you've worked on?

FP:I think the most fun, research-wise and by outcome, was working on Wall Street Two with Oliver Stone and Kristi Zia, the production designer. Oliver wanted a Goya and I said, but they are all at the Museo Prado, it's impossible that the character, Gecko, would have had a Goya unless there's one that was lost.

So he says, ”well, we have to find it, and we have to do that one.’’ So that was really fun research where we created a small study. I did find some study of what was supposed to be the 10th work, and we created a new work which acts as a composite of what we could find.

Q: CS: How important is it that you are accurate? Or can you sometimes just fudge it and say, you know, we'll create another Mark Rothko that doesn't quite exist or we know is in an institution and hang it on this character's wall?

FP: Well, to me, accuracy is essential. It's really important from a research perspective, but we do use some artworks that are in museums or the public domain to an extent.

Obviously nobody will have the Mona Lisa or Van Gogh, so in certain instances, it is totally impossible. So I do think it is really important otherwise it becomes gimmicky.

Q: CS: I love that it's so accurate. It's so important. Even though perhaps most people watching wouldn't be able to recognise it. Do you ever get people to write in about particular artworks that are shown and, and be critical about them?

FP: Yes, people do write in, surprisingly enough. I'm not very good with social media, but I sometimes have directors or producers who will forward me an email or request for me to answer, ”Could you tell them, who the artist is, and where could they find it?’’ etc.

The audience is now much more educated and knows that they could educate themselves. So whether it's that they want to know about somebody's handbags or shoes, or cars, or the location, or the restaurants...they ask questions about everything! And, of course, they ask questions about art.

Q: CS: What's the most amazing space that you've had to curate an art collection for?

FP: Billions was really fun cause we had this double height ceiling, and I had installed those Aaron Young, burnt tyre mark pieces.

For installation I had to have these special cranes, it took several days of undertaking and they looked fabulous. It was really fun finding something that looked good from below and above and from across. They were very, very heavy!

Untitled (2010) by Aaron Young - MyArtBrokerImage © Sotheby's 2022 / Untitled © Aaron Young 2010

Q: CS: What about Logan Roy and his residencies? Do you remember starting with that characterisation?

FP: My thought was that he (Logan Roy) didn't start collecting for investment. I think I initially had an Egon Schiele, and I remember the Juan Gris on each side of the doorway. And then when you went into the next room, there was some very contemporary artist, which his current wife would've bought because she wanted to be with the ”in-crowd’’ and so you could see the generation gap between them.

Q: CS: What's the budget like for a production like Billions or Succession for reproductions of art? How much does HBO spend on, on creating the art collection?

FP: Each budget is different with accompanying layers. There's the copyrights budget for the clearance fees for artworks and this varies depending on what kind of art it is. I work very closely with the artist’s foundation, or directly with artists if they're alive.

Then there is a budget allocated for reproduction and framing, which can sometimes be quite extravagant. But sometimes you'll have one huge painting which costs a lot more to make because of it's size and a special truck needs to bring it in, load it, etc. so you encounter all sorts of logistics.

If I’m on a series, I often come to do the built sets, and those artworks will stay for the whole season. So it's an investment to last. Sometimes, I don't know how many episodes they're gonna have. Then the production team will just sort of wing it, with things that are just for one scene here and there.

Q: CS: In terms of a family like the Roys, are you aware of what artwork moves through the family and appears in other people's apartments? Is there a story, in terms of Succession itself, around the art collection of the Roys?

FP: I can say, for instance, there were a couple of things that we thought, ”Well, that artist could have been a friend of her mother's, so her parents would've given it to her.’’ Or ”Then she had her friends in college that were artists, who she collected.’’ But usually that is the thought process: where did they start and where did it come from?

Q: CS: What's your favourite artwork that you've had to reproduce for a character? One that you really didn't want to destroy because actually, you would've liked to have taken home.

FP: There are so many I don't want to destroy. Some of them I keep as long as I can by my desk. Sometimes they go into storage for a long period of time, and then when the studio gives me the green light, I go back to the storage and destroy them, which is when I get to revisit them for the first time in six-months or a year.

On Changing Lanes, I use some of Alice Neel's artwork and I was really glad I didn't have to destroy those because the family wanted them, so I delivered them to, I think, Alice's daughter-in-law and grandson. They were going to actually have a family reunion to look at those paintings.

Also on Changing Lanes, we had a reproduction of an Antony Gormley sculpture and we were trying to figure out how to construct it. Gormley, being an English artist, and us shooting in Brooklyn, New York. We were trying to figure out how to complete the proof of destruction and then the executive producer says, ”We have the crane, most of the stage is gone. Why don't we just pull it up with the crane, and then we'll have a cameraman just videotape it!’’ So we took the sculpture all the way to the top of the ceiling of the armoury, and then we dropped it as we filmed. The sculpture fell down and just burst into pieces.

These were the days of video cassettes and I sent the film to Antony Gormley, in London. I remember seeing him a year or so later he said, “Oh, you have no idea how much fun that was. I loved watching it.’’ I would've liked to have kept a copy of that video.

"Forge the Document" from Changing Lanes (2002) © Paramount Pictures

"So we took the Antony Gormley sculpture all the way to the top of the ceiling of the Armory, and then we dropped it as we filmed. The sculpture fell down and just burst into pieces.."
Fanny Pereire, Art Consultant

Q: That is a great story. From our perspective, we broker prints and multiples in the secondary market, and so we deal with a lot of Andy Warhol and Banksy prints. How often do you use prints and multiples in scenes? Something like a whole set of Warhol's Ads or Marilyns? That's got screen power, hasn't it?

FP: In The Undoing, I had a whole set of prints. I think I had two or three original prints, from Jeff Koons. They were the ones with the ranging ball. So, I sometimes do use prints where I would otherwise use the originals. I've also worked closely with some artists regarding possibly creating prints for us, on Billions we have talked about doing some of that.

Q: CS: That's interesting. So creating a limited edition print to actually use in the show, but then it's allowed to live on because it is actually produced by the artist rather than a reproduction?

FP: Oh, that's very interesting. Oh, no, I've just had photographers make prints at a specific size, for us, and then they get it back. Then it's a one-off, that they could sell or do whatever they want with it. So some of the artworks actually have a second life after the film.

Q: CS: I think it's fascinating that you're now starting to see credentials in an artwork movie career reflected in its provenance when something goes on sale at auction. In the same way that you would say it had been exhibited at MoMA. Is there an artwork that you can think of that's been associated with a particular character that's gone on to sell it auction and perhaps has had an influence on its value?

FP: What was quite fun is I used an Alex Katz in Changing Lanes for Ben Affleck's office. It had been noticed by a lot of people because it was across from his desk. Four or five years later, the original in the full size was for sale at either the Armory Show or, Frieze Art Fair. It was really funny to see, I was like, “Oh my God, there's my Alex Katz!” and it was for sale.

I think that was ultimately the vision of Scott Rudin, that artists now feel that they're part of the same artistic world as films. Some of them are very cooperative and understand that it's beneficial for everyone, especially the artist.

Q: CS: It really is a collaboration, isn't it, of the creative elements that bring a scene alive. Bobby Axelrod, we have to talk about him. What was the brief there? How do you capture a character like Axe in his art collection?

FP: Well, my starting point there was the Jean-Michel Basquiat, I knew that he needed to see the Basquiat from his desk. And then I had a Christopher Wool, that reads, ”TR BL’’, referencing ”TROUBLE’’ on the other wall, which I thought it was very fitting and quite in your face. But, then in the other corner, I had Gabriel Orozco, those calculations that reflect his very mathematical mind.

And then when he's walking that hallway all the time, with those Aaron Young tyre marks, it shows he’s ruthless. It was very fun, I had a variety of different things and lots of work in the trading floors of his office.

"Bobby Axelrod Wins A Slick Argument" from Billions Season 5 (2016) © Showtime Entertainment

Q: CS: Just those three works, Basquiat, Christopher Wool, and Aaron Young absolutely typify his character, don't they? It's so brilliant. There's a new series of Billions coming out, isn't there? Towards the end of this year, certainly in the UK. Are you working on that?

FP: No, I'm not. But our friends are. They're basically almost done with the last season now, which is very exciting.

Bobby Axelrod liked the Basquiat. Everybody knows the work, and I think that was important to him - if you walked into his office, you knew what it was.

Q: CS: I think they call that flex appeal, don't they? It's a flex artwork, and I think these characters, especially the children in Succession and certainly Bobby Axel. They see art as an asset and a trend. I like to think that Shiv would collect more female artists, though.

FP: That's what I would do if I was dealing with her now. Work to incorporate monumental females, up and coming in both the primary and secondary markets. I wish I could have had a Cecily Brown

If you haven't already, watch the final episode of Succession streaming now. The much-anticipated Season 7 of Billions is rumoured to be launching soon, with Damian Lewis returning as Bobby Axelrod.

Rebecca Marsham

Rebecca Marsham, Sales Director[email protected]

Interested in buying or selling
an artwork?

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