Influential gallerist Thaddaeus Ropac opened the Talking Galleries Barcelona Symposium with a call for a return to the gallery space.
Art Radar takes a look at some of his key points made at the 2017 edition of Talking Galleries.
Talking Galleries is a platform for gallerists and art professionals to discuss and exchange ideas about new trends and issues specific to the art gallery sector. On 16 and 17 January 2017 more than 200 professionals from 25 different countries gathered together at the Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (MACBA) to engage in conversation with over 30 leading figures from the art world. In its fifth edition, the Talking Galleries Barcelona Symposium addressed relevant issues around “gallerism” nowadays and was opened by a keynote address from Thaddaeus Ropac, Founder of the Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac (Paris, Salzburg and London).
The symposium saw a range of participants from the art sector, including gallerists, curators, art fairs’ and museums’ directors, dealers and art advisors, collectors, researchers and specialised press. Some key participants included Victoria Siddall, Director of the Frieze art fair (London and New York), Martin Klosterfelde, Director of the contemporary art department at Sotheby’s (London) and Adam Sheffer, partner at Cheim & Reid (New York) and president of the Art Dealers Association of America (ADAA).
The keynote speech from Thaddaeus Ropac, called The Global Gallery, addressed the idea of the global gallery. Ropac is one of the most influential gallerists in Europe with gallery spaces in Paris, Salzburg and London. Art Radar summarises a few of the main points from his talk.
The core business of galleries has remained much the same
German Renaissance painter Lucas Cranach was perhaps one of the first dealer-artists. He obtained a monopoly on portraits of Martin Luther from the Duke of Saxony and over his career painted 500 portraits of Luther. It might have been due to his belief in the reformation, however recent studies suggest that it was driven by a strong business decision, which he passed down to the next generation. From this early example of the dealer-artist, Ropac wonders how much things have changed.
The role of promoting an artist was not invented in the last 30 years. Even though many things have changed in the last 30 years this core work remains the same. What has changed is, in the words of Ropac, that “the art market has moved from the ivory tower to the centre of life”. With the emergence of art fairs, contemporary art has been garnering more attention from the press and the general public.
People became important not only in the content, but also in the market side of art and what artists can do for society. In Europe, England was the front-runner with initiatives like the Turner Prize, which became a media event. Artists became media stars, not only in the culture pages but also in more mainstream media. Galleries were always there to help achieve the goal of creating their universe and in some cases protect them.
As a result of more attention, there is some criticism that galleries create artists. But as Ropac says, this is not the truth:
We are able to kind of make other people believe what is great and we are maybe able to make other people buy what we think is a great piece of art [but it must be remembered that] we cannot do the masterpiece. The masterpiece is still done by the artist on his own in his studio, very much alone.
The artist needs to come up with the thought-provoking ideas, the constant surprise for the gallery and the audience, and artists need to always reinvent themselves. It is up to the artist to create the masterpiece and galleries have to be “careful not to limit their vision”.
Follow the natural growth of the artists
Ropac started his career opening a small gallery in Salzburg with lots of enthusiasm and naivety. He mentioned a few mistakes he made in this early stage, but that these were forgiven as the market was not as well developed then. He says that “there was a relationship between a gallery and an artist, and there was hardly a market, so artists also forgave you that you were not able to sell.” However, later there came a time when he realised he wanted to extend the gallery:
I realised that Salzburg was maybe not the centre of the world and I wanted to move just a little bit closer to where I could grow my audience, not necessarily to sell more art, but to have an audience. Back then in the 80s in my first gallery, I didn’t have enough people just coming in every day [although] I was rather successful in creating a new group of collectors.
Having this audience and being in the big hubs in the art world was important in order to exhibit significant works from artists.
After a while in the small inner Paris gallery, he felt that he again started to limit the vision of his artists. There were cases when he could not show works that were too big or heavy for the space, which led him to look for a larger space in northern Paris. Ropac observes that in a way he just follows the needs of the artists. It is not necessary to have a large gallery or to have a gallery with multiple spaces in order to be successful, but it is important to be able to provide the right space for artists.
When the gallery first moved to this new space there was some concern from some collectors as it was on the periphery of Paris. However, the gallery has been quite successful with more than 20,000 visitors in 2016. Ropac observes that they have developed a significant audience and that “people really do go this extra mile to see a great exhibition”. He warns that it is not always necessary to expand:
But as long as it’s fun, as long as it’s challenging, as long as it’s getting your artist excited about something, about a new space, about a new city, I think we can do it.
The gallery space is still important
There are more technologies nowadays, but the core business of galleries is the same. Ropac observes that “at the end of the day internet doesn’t sell art”. The physical gallery space is still very important. Ropac comments that he does not believe galleries should do their business at art fairs, but that rather there should be belief in the gallery space. He goes on to say that gallerists should make the utmost effort to make a perfect space, considering all elements such as the floor, walls, height and light. The gallery then collaborates closely with the artist to deliver work for this specific space. He insists that 75 percent of the business needs to be in the gallery itself.
Art fairs are good for connecting with the local art community in London, Miami, New York or Hong Kong and they are very efficient, but “the gallery space is the one who defines our work and this is where the artist is the closest”. This involves making sure the audience does not get lazy, just seeing art in the context of art fairs. In fact Ropac sometimes refuses to take an artist to an art fair and insists that his collectors come to the gallery as
nothing can take away the atmosphere of a gallery space.
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