Is the gallery still the royal road to success for young artists?
While the emergence of new platforms presents an appealing alternative, joining the ranks of a major dealer continues to be the aspiration of numerous artists. Pursued earlier and earlier in their careers, some artists resist this path, while others embrace it. With many names in the mix, only a few are chosen. This presents a unique state of affairs.
Can an artist truly thrive outside the traditional gallery circuit? Although many alternatives are blossoming, aligning with a renowned dealer can undoubtedly propel an artist's career. On the flip side, this can also lead to overproduction and inflated prices. However, it does open doors. Clients view such partnerships as a guarantee of quality, while the artists enjoy unparalleled visibility with access to major art fairs, such as Art Basel, and entry into prestigious collections and powerful institutions. Both elements are crucial for long-term success.
Who wouldn't dream of such a distinction? Young artists are increasingly sought after by major players early in their careers. Often fresh out of school, they find themselves in prestigious "white cube" galleries. Success usually follows quickly, evidenced by the frequently lengthy waiting lists of collectors. "Some artists haven't even graduated yet. The important thing is for them to continue working without worrying about what comes next. We need to progress slowly to consolidate their ratings," explains Cécile Attal Ktorza, Associate Director of Perrotin Gallery.
This talent scout has supported French artist Mathilde Denize, 37, whose show in Paris in January almost sold out immediately (with large abstract acrylics and watercolors averaging 20,000 to 30,000 euros). The gallery exhibited her work in New York in 2021 and plans a show in Shanghai in 2024, along with numerous upcoming fairs. "I struggled for twelve years without a gallery in this individualistic, money-driven market. However, success hasn't gone to my head. I'm a workaholic and will continue with or without Perrotin because I know that nothing is ever certain," says the former student of Franco-Algerian Djamel Tatah, who graduated from the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris in 2013. Denize began with Pauline Pavec before joining Perrotin while still at the Villa Médicis. A stroke of luck occurred when Alexandre Lenoir, another 29-year-old protege of the Almine Rech Gallery, canceled a group exhibition at the last Frieze in London.
"Being with Perrotin is an incredible showcase. Attracting art, fashion, and music stars and widely shared on social media, the gallery appeals not only to connoisseurs but also to diverse audiences of all ages and backgrounds. It truly has universal appeal," adds Mathilde Denize. "Thanks to its financial power, it finally allows me to live without having to work on the side, to have a beautiful studio in Saint-Ouen since 2021, and not to worry about my production." However, she admits her disappointment at not having sold a large piece, made of cut-out fabric, to the Louis Vuitton Foundation. "They didn't follow up. But it will happen later. I'm not worried," she concludes.
"I struggled for twelve years without a gallery in this individualistic, money-driven market. However, success hasn't gone to my head." ~Mathilde Denize, now with Perrotin Gallery
She is now poised for a bright future, as are other thirty-somethings like Dhewadi Hadjab, 31, who experienced success even earlier and more quickly. In spring 2021, at Poush, the "artist incubator" in Porte de Clichy (which has since relocated to Aubervilliers), the painter from M'Sila, Algeria, was introduced. He became one of the stars of the exhibition "L'écume des songes" and was featured in curator and advisor Hervé Mikaeloff's selection for Art Paris 2021 at the temporary Grand Palais. Notably, he appeared alongside Diane Dal-Pra, who transitioned from the Derouillon Gallery to Massimo De Carlo's for a sold-out "one-man show" in London last year (approximately 40,000 euros, small production, and a long waiting list). The Louis Vuitton Foundation has added her to its collection.
Dhewadi Hadjab's intensely expressive figures, infused with classicism and reminiscent of Pina Bausch's dance style, were highly sought after last fall at Kamel Mennour, another heavyweight in the Parisian market (20,000 to 50,000 euros for large formats). "I signed with him during Covid, a period that allowed me to reflect and reconnect with new forms of vocabulary. The same applies to Ymane Chabi-Gara, 36, the revelation of the Sisley and Emerige prize, whose wooden supports depict interiors invaded by books, computers, furniture, and clothes. Her reflection on isolation in the saturation of our world totally convinced me," says Kamel Mennour. "I wanted to support them both to maturity, as I did with artists of my generation: Franco-Moroccan Latifa Echakhch, 48, and French Camille Henrot, 44, who just opened her exhibition at the Munch Museum in Oslo," adds the gallery owner, who has just returned. "I believe I am among the best positioned to integrate artists into institutions, the Marcel Duchamp prizes, or Biennales. And not just sell, despite managing an overwhelming waiting list. I don't want to be part of this predatory market, like America, which drives up prices aggressively and ultimately destroys artists," the gallery owner continues.
"I am not a Damien Hirst who knows how to sell himself. Instagram is good, but it's not enough."
~Dhewadi Hadjab, represented by Kamel Mennour
Who could forget Jacob Kassay, the 39-year-old American artist, or Anselm Reyle, the 52-year-old English artist, both of whom vanished from the scene due to inflated market values promoted by auction houses? Consider the rapid ascent of Brazilian artist Lucas Arruda, 39, a favorite of François Pinault. With an entire room dedicated to his work at the Bourse de Commerce's "Before the Storm" exhibition, Arruda's prices skyrocketed to an astounding 800,000 euros at David Zwirner, despite being valued at just 20,000 euros at Mendes Wood in Brussels not long before. Some artists avoid the speculative spiral to protect the fragile nature of their creative process. This is true for Franco-Israeli artist Nathanaëlle Herbelin, 33, who was introduced by Philippe Jousse and poetically showcased at the Hôtel de Guise in Paris in 2021 with the support of Philippe Ségalot, a former Christie's executive and advisor to François Pinault, who is known for his strategic artist-launching prowess. Her delicate, intimate interior pieces continue to sell for under 10,000 euros. However, it remains uncertain for how long this will be the case. After reportedly declining David Zwirner's offer, she is rumored to have accepted a proposal from prominent Brussels dealer Xavier Hufkens.
"My ambition was to join a gallery like Kamel Mennour, which boasts a twenty-year history and strong connections with institutions. I am not a Damien Hirst who knows how to market himself. Instagram is good, but it is not enough. First-market galleries where I have exhibited, such as H in Paris, Heimat in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, Provost Hacker in Lille, Stems in Brussels, and now Paris, provide a good starting point. But after that, you need to shift gears," notes Dhewadi Hadjab. Only an artist like Peter Doig, one of the most highly valued living artists, can afford to leave his dealer, Michael Werner Gallery, after twenty-three years, as he recently announced.
What other market players have launched the new generation of artists on the path to stardom? Numerous alternatives to "blockbuster" galleries such as Gagosian, Hauser & Wirth, White Cube, Ropac, and Templon exist. Templon's recent recruit, Abdelkader Benchamma, 47, sold out his latest show. There are even first-market galleries like Magda Danysz or Jérôme Poggi for the pioneers, and Sans titre or Crèvecœur for more recent entrants. All of these galleries excel at paving the way for artists, though they sometimes lose them along the way. "Times have changed; career development is no longer a given. All it takes is three or four major influencers and effective online sales channels to propel an artist into the spotlight," explains art advisor Laurence Dreyfus, who was among the first to create a nomadic venue for new talents. "Chambre à part" celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2022.
"In the vibrant atmosphere of the emerging art scene, characterized by a youthful, collaborative, and supportive spirit, new models are thriving. Frédéric Lorin's Cultur Foundry, launched in 2020, Les rencontres du Pré aux Pierres by collector Jean-Philippe Vernes, which invites artists and friends from the Palais de Tokyo to his Yvelines estate, and Radicants, a cooperative established by art critic Nicolas Bourriaud on rue Commines in Paris, are prime examples," explains Guillaume Piens, the general commissioner of the Art Paris Art Fair. Additionally, shared spaces are on the rise, such as Kaléidoscope, which was founded in 2019 within Alain Le Ga's venue.