Paris, 8 August 2013, Art Media Agency (AMA).
Of all the French galleries to open abroad, the Dumonteil gallery has been onof the most successful. The gallery was opened by Pierre and Dothi Dumonteil, who died this summer following a long battle with illness. The couple’s passion, love of adventure, and intuitive approach to art, led to Galerie Dumonteil achieving global access, promoting French artists in both Shanghai and New York. Art Media Agency spoke to Pierre Dumonteil, who shared the secrets of his success.
Could you explain how your gallery has developed over the years?
We opened our Parisian gallery in 1982, and opened our first Chinese gallery in 2005. We opened another gallery in New York in November 2012, having already solidly established ourselves in the city, having participated in around four New York fairs each year over a twenty-year period. In fact, we had already begun to exhibit our works at the Art & Antiques fair in Armory. Nowadays, apart from our gallery activities, we attend only two fairs, a year: in November, we participate in an event organised in partnership with the National Union of Antique Dealers, as well as the Armory Contemporary in Piers, which takes place at the end of March.
What motivated you to open your gallery in China?
The opening of our Shanghai gallery comes after several years of participating in art fairs. Our presence allowed us to establish a client network pretty much everywhere in the world, including the Middle-East and the United States, as well as Russia and the rest of Europe. The first time we participated in a fair in Shanghai – which was about nine years ago – we noticed that continental China was not an ideal place to develop international fairs, although it is a country’s whose art we are deeply passionate about. For Chinese clientele, fairs are too temporary – people in the country want to build lasting relationships.
My wife and I approached our work with an adventurous and enterprising spirit. Before the end of one particular fair, we started looking for a place before even knowing how we would operate a gallery there.
Eight years later, the project’s become a success. It opened doors for us in China, as well as the rest of Asia. We established an independent gallery, hoping to continue the work we first started in France; we primarily hope to promote Western – and particularly French – artists internationally, launching the careers of both figurative artists and artists whose works represent wildlife, and predominantly working with those who produce sculptures. Today, our gallery in China is autonomous. We participate in three fairs in Asia: the Contemporary Art Fair in Shanghai in November, the Art Fair of Beijing in May, and the Fine Art Fair in Hong Kong in October. We have also opened a second gallery in Shanghai. Today, our first gallery in Jumen Lu is more like a show-room and office, while our new space in Sinan Mansions is located in one of the most developed areas of Shanghai. When we first started our activities, we decided against opening locations in the most expensive districts in case this inhibited the durability of our activities. After a few years, we developed our client network and were able to open a secondspace.
So it all turned out to be a real success?
Our gallery in China is truly a great success, and we were able to make it autonomous. It’s allowed us to have a project in the region which is lasting and developed – it’s wholly different from simply participating in fairs, which we did for about 25 years, participating in about nine per year. When we only participated in fairs, the logisitical details were also complex, as we’re a gallery which predominately presents sculptures.
You’re also present in New York now?
Yes - through luck and determination we were able to find an exceptional space, far beyond our initial expectations. Our gallery is located in Park Avenue, at numbers 57 and 58, in the heart of New York. It’s one of our most prized spaces – a really magnificent gallery, measuring around 140-sqm, with a height of four metres. We work in the same way there, using the space to promote both our young, emerging artists, as well as artists who have gained international renown.
We are privileged to have good relationships with our artists. Most of them are sculptors, which does result in some problems regarding the matter of editions – this is something we work on a lot, and we make sure that all of our artists sign a contract of exclusivity with us. This gives us a certain peace of mind with regard to both the material and human investment we make in our artists. From their point of view, they can count on a partner who takes care of all of their expenses, both for studio space and materials, as well as for sales and transportation. Our relationships with our artists is incredibly strong, and allows us to establish true, long-lasting friendships – our gallery has become a big family.
So your presence in three of the art world’s three major market centres hasn’t forced you to stop participating in fairs?
Of course not. Though our galleries are ideal forums in which to promote our artists and new works, we have become accustomed to travelling across the world, to maintain a this promotional spirit. Just like people who work in theatre, we need this adrenaline.
It’s like a virus. Increasing the number of fairs we participate in has increased the number of fairs we take part in: Asia’s autonomy will soon allow us to participate in four fairs in Asia, and the self-sufficieny of our New York gallery has allowed us to become in more fairs there.
At the moment, we already participate in two fairs in New York, as well as onein Miami, which is held by the National Union of Antique Dealers in February. It is most likely we will participate in a fourth fair in the United States very soon. In terms of our participation in these types of fairs, we’re actually one of the more underrepresented galleries since we only take part in Masterpiece in London, and Pad in Paris. We’ve also stopped participating in the Biennale, having hosted exhibitions there for the past 25 years.
Is your decision to open galleries abroad based more on your taste for adventure or economics?
Our decision is predominantly based on moral obligation. Anyone representing artists must not confine them to a discrete and modest success, even if they would be satisfied with doing so. I fin, in fact, that this is generally one of the weaknesses with French galleries. Without intending to cause offence to anyone, I believe that my fellow French gallerists don’t have the physical or moral drive, or the means – or they don’t give the means necessary – to promote artists outside of France. Many of them simply don’t have the bilingualism which is absolutely necessary for this activity.
Apart from that, when you’re a gallery specialising in sculpture and you start to work with original editions produced by contemporary artists, there’s an obligation to spread their works, to help them conquer the art market. The French market can be easily saturated with a dozen artists producing three to four works per year.
Another important point is – the adventurous side of our work is very exciting! I started this adventure with my wife over thirty years ago, in 1982, while she was working as a model for Yves Saint Laurent -but she had the same love for art as me. Her assistance was very crucial to the success of our venturess. It was a great adventure that became a family business, with our children deciding to join us. My son Dorian is in New York, and my daughter Roxane will take on France and Asia. As my wife died fifteen days ago, and considering the fact that we started this adventure together, we three have decided to pursue it as far as we can, in her memory
How do you manage your three galleries?
First of all, we have a very competent and efficient staff, with Ms Yuxin Zheng in Shanghai and Mr Frank Laverdin in New York. We delegate some projects to some of our local staff, but our global policy, in terms of supervision and management, as well as our regular work, is under my sole direction. As with most galleries and because of our choice of artists, our way of operating is so personal that I cannot help but fully involve myself in our activities.
Yesterday we were two, and today I am alone, but I want to continue promoting our image and personal taste. If we were a gallery belonging to the “second market” and that we were in charge of selling works by artists from this second market, our only concern would be our profit margin. If that were the case, we would not need to develop any permanent spaces abroad, or be overly concerned by our physical presence. But in our case, there’s a very intimate relationship between our artists, the gallery and collectors. As soon as you propose your personal choice to clients, and they follow your advice, the link created is significantly stronger than if you had just sold them something whose value had already largely been confirmed via the history of art.
Is settling abroad absolutely necessary when promoting emerging artists?
Absolutely! Today, I have noticed that there are two categories of gallerists. I respect both, but I identify with only one – that would be, gallerist who defend an artist’s entire estate, whether the artist be living or dead, and who seek to create an exclusive relationship with their œuvre. It’s in this way that lasting relationships start – something which requires a lot of investment. I find it more appealing and interesting to work with artists who speak to me personally, and I also put a lot of energy into artists who have fallen out of favour, promoting the work of artists who people have begun to forget- I do all of this in agreement with their beneficiaries.
What is the position of French galleries in the global art market?
Scandalously insufficient, for several reasons. Their simultaneous strength and weakness is their autonomy. There’s very little – or not much – money available. French galleries only very rarely achieve the necessary level of funds to participate in the art market at an international level.
Then there is this national mentality which means that the French are quick to be satisfied with the fact that they are based in Paris, which is truly a wonderful place, but they lack the desire for adventure. There is also the important issue of French galleries’ accountability, which does not allow them to pay off their stock and prevents them from gathering new stocks. In order to go abroad, we have to create lasting relationships with our artists. But today, the cost of storing works prevents lots of galleries from succeeding and they do not have enough means to develop their promotional methods. As far as we are concerned, working with editions allows us to be very flexible, since we have the opportunity to renew our stocks more easily.
Today, we work with artists who are better known abroad than in France, a fact which seems paradoxical, but which is thanks to our presence at fairs across the world for over 25 years. Unfortunately, we are only a few French galleries to make this effort, both in terms of the way we engage with individuals and with regard to our Relationship with government support. There are certainly means which French gallerists could use to better equip themselves to conquer the world. These means don’t necessarily include grants. Although it is necessary to give grants for public projects, it is very different for individual companies in my opinion.
We are certainly the country with the least presence on the international market, both in terms of the development of our market and the fame of our artists. Today, among the best-known French artists on the international scene, besides Pierre Soulages, it is hard to mention many more artists. There are lots of reasons for that, but the main reason is that we do not export our artists sufficiently.
How do you see things evolving?
In general, I think that politicians are becoming more aware of the situation, as well as administrative departments. We have to consider the promotion of our culture as a means of lasting development, as well as a positive form of cultural “imperialism.” We complain a lot about the cultural imperialism of others, but we don’t change our own activities so that we can have a lore international presence. I think that we are beginning to go in the right direction, but external factors such as the economic crisis and exchange rates could affect this.
Developing both the material and cultural presence which French culture has at an internationally level would no doubt help us to fight against weakness arising from our geopolitical or economic status. It’s also a magnificent way of attracting art lovers the world over to artistic production in French speaking countries, an attraction which often begins to evolve from the moment people discover our works.