It’s no small event… Thaddaeus Ropac is opening a fifth gallery, this time in London. The gallerist here explains his enthusiasm for the British capital, considers the Brexit, and expands on his exhibition policy… A full agenda ahead.
The new branch of the Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, in London – following the trail of Kamel Mennour who also settled in the city last October –, will be opening to the public on 28 April. The gallery will be located in an 18th century former residence at the heart of the historic Mayfair district. The ground-floor and first-floor spaces of the new venue will be inaugurated with an exhibition of historic photographs and video sculptures by Gilbert & George, a selection of American minimal-art works from the Marzona collection, as well as drawings from the 1950s and 1960s. A sculpture by Joseph Beuys will also be presented, along with a new performance and recent sculptures by Oliver Beer. Explanations follow.
You’re opening a new gallery in London next spring. What is the main reason for this choice?
Opening in London is in line with the way the gallery is moving forward. We represent many artists, and I think that we’re capable of running several galleries at the same time. It’s very exciting. We can put on more exhibitions and show more art. We’re trying to reach out to an even greater public with the exhibitions that we hold. This follows our gallery’s logic. I’m a staunch European, as I always say. So my principle has been to set up within the European context and of course, England was so much part of this. I didn’t want to go to the United States or China or anywhere else. There aren’t many cities in Europe that have quite as great an impact on the visibility of art as London.
So this is why you haven’t chosen Vienna or Berlin, for example?
London and Paris are very sophisticated cosmopolitan cities, and they have the best museums in Europe. We can’t compare these cities with any others. The art world is particularly dynamic there. London is very active, and there’s a critical mass of events that you won’t find elsewhere. Of course, if you go to a smaller city you can find a more important role in the city, but in a way, as far as reaching out to the global world, London was obvious.
What do you expect from the director of the London gallery, Polly Robinson Gaer ?
I’ve known her for a long time. She worked for two of the very big galleries for years, first for Anthony d’Offay, then as senior director for the Pace Gallery, whose opening in London she supported. She has wide experience, she’s English and knows London in a way few people do. I think that she’s really going to be able to help us, to open the gallery, to unite the team made up of 20 persons. It’s a very important recruitment and there’s also the renovation of the historic building, its five floors and 1,600 m2, so this is quite complicated. Polly Robinson Gaer is working towards getting our deadlines met.
Do you think that London is waiting for you, in particular collectors and museums? How have they reacted?
Yes, I think so! We already have many people who rely on us! They don’t all live in London, but London is like Paris: a destination to which people travel. I think that people will come from inside Britain, but also from overseas. In Paris, most of our business is done with people who travel to Paris. And in London, it will be the same thing. The reactions in London have been very strong, very positive, in the press as well. We feel welcome and well received. People are counting on us to do good work, so there’s also pressure, but it’s a wonderful challenge that will push us to go further.
What does the Brexit change for you?
In terms of morale, yes, it changes things because I believe in a strong Europe. Personally, it was very depressing for me to see Britain leave Europe. Otherwise, I expect that papers and administration will become more complicated again. I remember the years when Austria, for example, wasn’t yet part of the European Union, which made the movement of works more difficult. Today, we’re going backwards on a European level, which is very sad and irritating, but for business, there won’t be any difference.
Why do you feel the need for a new space?
Growth is a personal decision. We spoke with artists before taking the decision. They were all in favour of this project and liked the idea. I wondered if I needed this new project, which would demand a lot of work, but I believe that ultimately it will help us to better represent our artists. London is very well connected in the world of international museums, and few cities have this type of infrastructure. The Tate Modern is the world’s most successful contemporary-art museum. We can really see how London has positioned itself for so many years, with so many activities related to contemporary art, which is now part of the DNA of new generations. If we consider how people are integrating contemporary art in their daily lives, we can say that the art world has long left its ivory tower. And that’s good. I’m glad to be part of this.
How is London particularly lively for contemporary art?
I believe that the media plays a great part in this. England was the first country to exploit this if you think of the Turner Prize, which is highly publicised thanks to the BBC. Many countries have copied this prize: France with the Prix Marcel Duchamp, Austria with the Prix Kokoschka… Today, the Turner Prize receives a huge audience in the media. When we speak with teenagers at school or students, we realise that contemporary art is part of their lives. When I grew up, this wasn’t the case. The perception of art stopped at the turn of the last century. Living with art everyday, like something that belongs to you in the same way as sport, is a normal way to see culture. This has changed a great deal in the last 25 years.
Are you going to look for new British artists?
Of course. Incidentally, we already work with incredibly talented young British artists such as Oliver Beer, who will be part of our first projects in London. We have looked for new artists in recent years, and we’ve taken steps to the side to consider previously unexplored places like Rumania, Pakistan, Korea… I like the idea of seeing art outside our European and American borders. For years, we only looked at art within this perimeter. China changed everything. There are still many countries like Iran, Middle Eastern countries. I’m more curious to see what is happening far from us, to find new destinations on the map.
What do you think about the gallery’s district in London?
I wanted to be at Mayfair. This is the heart of the Anglo-Saxon art world. Here, you’ll find the most conservative galleries established for centuries, alongside contemporary-art galleries. The variety at Mayfair is truly superb. It was only here that I looked for a space, and it took me two years to find the gallery.
How do you feel in a historic building?
I don’t automatically believe in immense white walls. I like spaces with character, with soul. It might seem simpler to go to London and take a white cube. When I walk about in Chelsea, New York, it’s very exciting because I see great art there but all the galleries resemble one another. And I’ve never wanted this to be the case for my galleries. Even when I was setting up in Pantin, I looked around for a long time. I wanted a huge space with incredible character, and the gallery at Pantin has this character. It’s not a white cube. So when I thought about London, I wanted a space that was really different. I looked for a historic building, and I would never have thought that I’d find such a sublime one, a real gem. The building in London is protected by British heritage authorities, so we have to refer to them for the changes we want to bring to it. But it’s a very good challenge for us.
And how do you feel about Pantin today?
Pantin was a very important stage. I was always asked why I was doing it there rather than another city: why two galleries in Paris, why did I believe so much in this city? I’ve always said that Paris was the absolute core of my activity and that this would not change. And today I’m being asked whether I’ll move to London myself… I want to continue living in Paris where there are so many opportunities: it’s an extraordinary city. The London gallery allows us to increase our activities and gives us more space to work, but it doesn’t take the place of the Paris gallery, not at all.
How many collectors and countries do you work with?
My God! I don’t keep count. We work with so many collectors, from everywhere, Australia, the Arabic world, Latin America, Asia, and of course their numbers rise constantly. There are so many of us in the gallery’s team. In one sense, sales are not the core of my activity, personally; I’m more involved in production and with the artists.
What do you think of the Austrian market today?
Austria is an open and curious market, sometimes a little conservative, but magnificent collections have been built up in recent years. Germany and Austria has some of the most serious and least well-known collectors, who have gathered incredible works. And we are there with them.
The Ropac galaxy
Thaddaeus Ropac set up a gallery bearing his name in 1983 in Salzburg at the Villa Kast, a 19th century townhouse near the Mirabell Gardens in the city’s historic centre. Seven years later, a second gallery opened in the Marais district in Paris. In March 2010, the gallery inaugurated, at the Salzburg Halle, a 2,500 m2 space in an abandoned factory near the city centre. It was in 2012 that Thaddaeus Ropac – who today represents around sixty artists and renowned estates – also set up in the 5,000 m2 of a former boilermaking factory, dating from the start of the 20th century. At the gates of Paris, in Pantin, the buildings are particularly well adapted to monumental works. With a team of 80 employees, the galleries in France and Austria hold around 30 solo and collective exhibitions every year, backed uup by self-edited publications. It is in this context that the new London gallery is being born, set up in a 1,600 m2 listed monument, Ely House, built in 1772 by Sir Robert Taylor at the heart of the Mayfair district. This gallery’s four exhibition spaces are currently under renovation, with works steered by New York architect Annabelle Selldorf. The gallery will open next spring.