By Fanny Revault
Galerie Templon opened a branch in Brussels in 2013. Mathieu Templon, second generation, has run it since 2015. Inhabited by a desire for innovation, this young gallery owner remains faithful to the program of the great Parisian gallery while introducing something new. Mathieu Templon entrusts us with his resolutely modern vision of the profession of gallery owner of today, in connivance with the evolutions of our time and gives us his glance on the evolution of the market of contemporary art where the competition is increasingly tough. Interview with a determined young gallery owner, turned towards an optimistic future.
Why did you choose to be a gallery owner?
It was almost a vocation. I fell into it when I was a child. My father opened the gallery in 1966 and always shared with me his passion. He brought me with him all over the world since I’m very young. I had the chance to visit museums, galleries and artist’s studios all of my life. I always thought that is the job I wanted to do, deeply inside of me, that is the job I wanted to do. It seemed to be natural to me when the time came to join the gallery.
The Templon gallery, Parisian, opened a space in Brussels in 2013, of which you have been the director for four years. Why did you open a branch in this city?
I spent few years in the United States where I worked for the Sean Kelly gallery. When I lived there, Daniel decided to open a gallery in Brussels. We almost had no represented artists there at the time. Yet, Belgium is a real land of collectors. For centuries, they have supports the national production, which partly explains the success of the great Flemish painters. But there are also, and this since the early 1970s, a lot of very large Flemish collectors who arrived at the same time as the emergence of a new generation of industrialists. I would say that these collectors are perhaps a bit less conservative than French people. They have a real desire of discovery and they don’t hesitate to travel, looking for something new, new artists…
Do you register for the Brussels line as a continuation of the Paris program?
The idea, when I joined Brussels, was to continue to defend the Paris program while introducing a bit of novelty. Each year, I organize a new exhibition in Brussels with a new artist, younger, closer to me and often to my generation. I think this city is a good place to make the Paris program younger. This is made by the search for new artists who tend to be subsequently exhibited in Paris, as was the case for Omar Ba. The exhibit you can see at the gallery now is by Prune Nourry, a 34-year-old young artist who also started with the Brussels gallery. I also try to use the space a little differently, to do more group show with different themes and also, to suggest to the artists to invest the space differently. We have an amazing space in Brussels, the artists feel good there and I like to offer exhibitions where the artists have carte blanche.
Do you have an example?
For my last exhibition, I offered to five young artists from the gallery born in the 1970s to come and do a drawing exhibition where each would have one or two walls to create around these works.
What kind of artistic line do you follow?
Most international galleries are more general galleries. We show just as well painting, figurative or abstract, as sculpture, video, installations … I think that today, if there is a line in the galleries it would be the idea of some good taste.
How do you select the artists?
We are lucky to travel a lot, which allows us to see a lot of new artists. Sometimes galleries and museums inspire us and the idea is to see as much as possible, even if you can never see it all. From there, we start to identify artists that we like, that interest us and we follow their evolution over a certain period of time, then we meet them to sometimes offer a collaboration that can be done at the beginning, either by a group show, that is, if we are really sure of the desire to collaborate, directly through an exhibition. This is what I tend to do with Brussels now.
What kind of relationship you have with your father?
I discovered art through his eyes and his expeditions, so I think there is a form of common taste. But tastes are refined and changing. He transmitted to me the desire to do this job. We chat together everyday. Even if we are separated by a certain number of kilometers, we spend a lot of time thinking together, discussing artists, exhibitions and future projects. Even if my taste differs, I have this desire, like him, to defend a certain idea of art, to defend French creation and a certain taste for painting.
How should the profession of gallery owner evolve in front of new technologies? Does the dominance of the Internet change the rules of the game?
We talk a lot about that. They have revolutionized most industries. The art market is still one of the last to resist. Everyone has been trying for years to find a way to “digitize” the market. No one has yet figured out how to do it. Some initiatives work more or less well. Some sites are references, such as https://www.artnet.fr. Other online sales platforms are more or less successful. Many are, for us, a real tool. We will be able to put a list of our artists, photos of exhibitions, a selection of works available from some artists … These sites will serve as our showcase. Then there is Instagram which is an amazing tool. It is even possible, sometimes, to lead to sales through social networks.
However, when I am told that the profession of gallery owner is a profession of the past and that the internet revolution, as in other sectors, will kill the galleries, I do not think that is true. I think that artists are above all creators and must remain so. They need someone to accompany them. As a gallery owner, we are not only merchants and, in reality, have a dozen different trades.
We sell, this is necessary, but we are also the exhibitors of these artists, sometimes producers of these works, sometimes editors of their publications. We manage their relations with the press, with the institutions and we try to organize exhibitions in other galleries and museums around the world, and many other things.
I don’t think that the fact that a platform can put works online upset this model. And I think that the artist-gallery owner relationship still has a bright future ahead of it. And if some collectors are starting to buy more and more online, there is still a need to see, almost to touch a work and the human contact that goes with it is also necessary today.
How do you view the globalized and financialized contemporary art market?
Today, the competition is more and more rough. I think that we have gone from an art market with a very small number of players where everyone knew and lived a little together, to a globalized art market, dominated by some big multinationals from the art world. There are five galleries that culminate. And then a multitude of galleries around the world, then the domination of a few large auction houses. This is the model in which we are today. This was not the case 20 years ago.
In this context, has participation in fairs become essential?
Today, a gallery needs to have a real international presence. We can no longer afford to stay at home. We must go to conquer new markets, to meet new collectors. We do this a lot thanks to the fairs which today represent more than half of the revenue for a large gallery.
How do you see the future of the Templon gallery?
The Templon gallery has existed for 54 years. It’s Daniel Templon who has brought it to life for so long by constantly renewing himself, showing new artists and totally different creations. I think that in the future, we will continue to show this diversity. Daniel continues to present and seek new artists. I also continue on my side, but always in agreement with him, to find new talents and to present them in Brussels and Paris. We will also continue to be present internationally through fairs, and then, why not, through the opening, in another country, of a new gallery in a few years.