Today Artsper is meeting Baudoin Lebon, founder and director of the Baudoin Lebon Gallery in Paris. What is the job of gallery owner? How does it progress and to what new challenges is it today facing? Focus on an evolving and often unknown profession.
Artsper: What did you want to do when you were a child and why did you wish to become a gallery owner?
At first and for a long time I wanted to be a farmer. I’m from a conventional family so my parents dissuaded me from taking this path. As soon as I was 14 years old, I wanted to be an architect but I ended up with doing management studies after the baccalaureate. Once my studies were finished, I wanted to find a job as CFO in an architecture cabinet or an art gallery because art and architecture still captivated me. I had the chance to begin at Alexandra Lolas where I discovered for the first time the world of publishing. I continued in this field and I began to make some 13-copy publishings, some multiples. The idea was that each copy was unique because complexe to create. Nevertheless, I soon realized that this activity was hardly profitable. After the 1974 oil shock, the art market was in difficulties and one of my friends, Alfred Pacquement (today director of the Centre Pompidou, Paris), talked to me about the opportunity to purchase a gallery.
Artsper: How does a gallery owner choose his artists? Heart-stopper or strongly-thought decision?
I’m from the old school, the one where we could work in a rustic manner without necessarily do market research. Therefore, I have always chosen the artists I like because I think we cannot support a work of art that we don’t like. Before, the gallery cost was less expensive, I travelled everywhere to prospect without any money, hoping that – and it worked pretty well – I would sell some works and it would refund the cost of the travel! Nowadays, the market is very different and a gallery needs to pay communication, logistic, fairs and shows costs. Today we speculate less on an artist than on a name. There is always a speech behind a work of art, but 100 years later the speech has disappeared but the work itself is still here! Thus, the artists I’m supporting are heart-stoppers even though my choice is, of course, thought before. This is important for me to find artists who fit with the time being. As a reference to an expression I needed 40 years to find: “My specialty is eclecticism!”. I like self-taught people and artists who have a strong personality.
Artsper: According to you, what is the essential quality of a good gallery owner?
The biggest difficulty is to last. Thus, a good gallery owner needs to believe in what he is trying to sell and in the artists he is supporting. Moreover, a good gallery owner needs to be a good businessman because a gallery cannot survive without any sales. Finally, he needs to be careful in his expenditures because we often have the feeling that we are making a good deal in art.
Artist: What makes the identity and the strength of a gallery: the artist or the owner?
I’ve always highlighted the artists. I think that they are making the gallery. The choice of artists is not the one of the gallery owner but the one of the gallery.
Artsper: You first founded your publisher in 1974, then your gallery and finally Art Elysées some years ago: where does this wish to diversify come and do you think that a gallery needs to expand its activities?
In the contrary of publishing, the fact of moving from the gallery to the fair has not been a logical evolution for me but an opportunity. Like any other companies, if a gallery does not renew itself, it dies. Artists and activities diversification is a way to adapt.
Artsper: How do you see the evolution of the gallery owner profession? Will it still be the same in 20 years from now?
Like any other professions, it evolves. I notice today the competition between auctioneers whose clientele is private individuals and not only merchants anymore. Moreover, this clientele does not frequent galleries very often. The auctioneer profession itself has been modified because sale houses used to accept lots of works of art but today the selection is stricter. They also exhibit alive artists, like Artcurial did with Enki Bilal. Nevertheless, what we cannot withdraw from galleries is the selection and discovery of artists, although this work is also taken over from art centers. As a gallery owner, I am also responsible for a certain value, for the price, for an expert review on the work content, for a work of advice and for a relationship based on trust. The galleries also need to adapt their speech to all kinds of buyers. As I often say, we are a luxury store and we need to welcome the customer in the best way, whatever his budget is.
Artsper: What advice would you give to a young gallery owner?
I think that he/she needs to have either a small gallery with low costs and work with a small amount of people, or have a big structure and find capital. Intermediary size is not optimate. Then, it is the most important to insist on the role of advisor towards the clients.
Artsper: In an interview for Artfinding, you declared with a wink that you liked “the naked and the blue skies”: what are your favorite artists, contemporary or not?
It is of course a witticism. Artists like Lascaux, Rembrandt, Dubuffet and evidently all the artists with whom I work. I’m particularly interested in the artist evolution, his progression. I recently discovered some 3-meters 17th century still lives in Naples, inspired by Renaissance Fleming painters. Astonishing, isn’t it?
Artsper: What do you think about the Artsper project and why did you decide to participate in it?
My colleague and I really liked the project. One’s needs to evolve and help the ones who begin!
Discover Artworks from Baudoin Lebon Gallery on Artsper: here