Perrotin gallery, 30 years of contemporary art and discovery
Laurent Issaurat: The Perrotin gallery has established itself as a major player on the French and international scene. What defines its identity, what is the hallmark of the gallery? Could you introduce some of the artists who feature in the gallery?
Emmanuel Perrotin: My passion has always been directed towards making artists’ projects a reality. From the start, I wanted to give young artists the opportunity to actually produce their work. I founded my gallery at the age of 21 and have since opened 17 different spaces, always with the aim of offering more and more stimulating environments for artists.
My first gallery was in an apartment in rue de Turbigo in Paris where every evening I unfolded my bed and slept there. In this space, I exhibited Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, Philippe Parreno, Pierre Huyghe and even Damien Hirst, whose first solo gallery exhibition I organised. It may not be apparent to everyone, but I had to struggle for many years to make the gallery profitable.
In the same way, I made the decision very early on to exhibit in international fairs, despite my then limited means: thus from 1993 to 1996 I participated in NICAF (Nippon International Contemporary Art Fair) in Yokohama — where I met Takashi Murakami — Gramercy Park in New York, Art Basel in Switzerland, Château Marmont in Los Angeles or Chicago Art. After eight years in rue Louise Weiss (Paris 13th arrondissement), I moved to an hôtel particulier in the Marais in 2005. Today the gallery has 2,300m2 of exhibition space. A gallery in Miami followed in 2004 (since closed), then Hong Kong in 2012, New York in 2013, Seoul in 2016, Tokyo in 2017 and Shanghai in 2018.
What makes this gallery stand out, is the loyalty it showed to a certain number of artists who have today become world renowned, such as Maurizio Cattelan, Takashi Murakami and Hernan Bas. Many were very young when we started working together: Daniel Arsham (born in 1980) was twenty-one and Iván Argote (born in 1983) twenty-five.
I met Maurizio Cattelan in 1992 in Milan during an exhibition preview evening. He had a very communicative energy. I felt an immediate affinity towards him and so I decided to take a closer look at his work which was then in its infancy. Together, we spent more than ten years building his profile before finally achieving the success we know today. Today the gallery represents about fifty artists and estates of more than 20 different nationalities. We have been working with some artists for 27 years now!
LI: Perrotin has an international presence, particularly in Asia, with establishments in China, Korea and Japan. What are the reasons for your attraction to the Far East?
EP: My links with Asia go back to 1993, when I participated in the NICAF in Yokohama. Since then, I go there very regularly, and the gallery participates in many fairs in Asia such as Art Basel Hong Kong, ART021, West Bund and KIAF. Siegfried Bing was the first major dealer to turn his attentions to Japanese artists. He published a review, Artistic Japan, and organised exhibitions of prints. Through his exhibitions he even influenced Vincent van Gogh, for example.
My contribution is, of course, more modest. We were one of the first French galleries to open on the Asian market, offering our artistic choices for consideration, and also helping to promote and exhibit Asian artists in France and the United States. Today, the gallery represents internationally renowned figures such as Takashi Murakami, Aya Takano, Mr., Chen Fei, Chung Chang-Sup, Park Seo-Bo, XU ZHEN®, Izumi Kato, MADSAKI and Bharti Kher. The gallery also supports the projects of artists gimhongsok, Huang Yuxing, Lee Bae, Lee Seung-Jio, Ni Youyu and even Maria Taniguchi.
LI: You have just opened a new Parisian space on avenue Matignon, near the major auction houses. This new establishment certainly helps enrich the commercial mix of the West of Paris through the field of art. What are you aiming to achieve with this space?
EP: I am delighted with this new address on avenue Matignon which strengthens and facilitates our relationship with collectors. Here we are in the veritable ‘golden triangle’ of art, as there are several large galleries and international auction rooms. This district has a great history, a varied cultural network and a community that is both Parisian and international.
The atmosphere of this space is rather like that of a living room: in this intimate setting, visitors can discover a selection of works by our artists but also view most of the works of our artists in full size, even if they are located on the other side of the world, thanks to technology that I created with my developers at the gallery. Perrotin Matignon is a space that’s much smaller in size than the 2,300m2 of my gallery in the Marais, but we do things there that haven’t yet been done elsewhere. For example, this autumn we host an exhibition of Japanese artists curated by Takashi Murakami.
LI: How do you judge France’s position on the European and world art scene, in terms of institutions, creativity and the market?
EP: It is important to pay tribute to French collectors who are very active and particularly discerning. Many of our big fortunes have gone abroad, but the Fiac has once again become one of the most important international fairs, owing to the dynamism of Paris.
We also need to remember that our spaces in Paris are very busy and we have always been keen to welcome a very varied public. I have set up counting machines in all my spaces: today in Paris, we welcome 300 to 350 people per day, and for Daniel Arsham’s last exhibition we had an average of 800 visitors per day!
LI: The 2020 pandemic hit the art market hard, but also helped accelerate its digitalisation. How has the gallery followed suit? Even if it is a bit early to pass any final judgement on the issue, are there any lessons that the art world can draw from this crisis?
EP: EP: We have experienced this particular period in real-time across three continents (the Perrotin gallery is based in Paris, Hong Kong, New York, Seoul, Tokyo and Shanghai) because we have remained in constant contact with all of our teams. Even if the situation varies according to each context, we have drawn on each other’s experiences. For example, our teams in Asia, who were confronted very early on with the pandemic and lockdown, shared advice and stocks of masks with the Paris and New York teams.
This year was also an opportunity to reflect on how we operate, but also to improve our tools and implement projects such as viewing rooms. The gallery has long been very active in the digital sphere. We have a team of ten in-house IT specialists and I have developed my own gallery management software. We have always been committed to progress and to offering the best service to our artists and our collectors.
During the lockdown, I also thought about how my gallery could help others in the sector: I decided to invite 26 Parisian galleries to exhibit for three months with us through four cycles of exhibitions, from the month of May. The ‘Stay United’ project has given rise to formidable exchanges, very beautiful exhibitions (more than 13,000 visitors in three months!), extensive media coverage for galleries and of course sales, benefiting galleries and invited artists alike. This project touched me a lot and I am already thinking of the next step, of how to move our profession towards offering further solidarity and defending the diversity of our sector. By helping others, we help ourselves.