PARIS —Nathalie Obadia’s eponymous gallery on the Rue du Cloître Saint Merri has traveled around Paris a bit since it was first established 20 years ago; from its initial spot on the Rue de Normandie, also in the Marais district, it spent some time in Yvon Lambert’s former space on the Rue du Grenier Saint Lazare before moving to its current location. And more recently, Obadia has also been expanding, with a second location added in Brussels in 2008 and a third planned to open this month on the Rue du Bourg Tibourg. The gallerist recently sat down with ARTINFO France to discuss her different strategies at each location, how the Paris gallery scene has changed over two decades, and what’s on her art agenda in 2013.
Why open a second gallery location in the Marais?
It’s a gift to myself for the gallery’s 20th anniversary, and most of all it’s a way to offer artists a second possibility of showing their work in a different space. I wanted to stay in the neighborhood, and I didn’t want to go with something gigantic outside Paris, because that’s a different gamble. If good galleries start competing with institutional spaces, it’s kind of too bad, because artists usually prefer showing their work in institutions. The role of gallerists is to bring artists into museums and institutions, to find projects for them, as I did with Joana Vasconcelos in Versailles, or Lorna Simpson at the Jeu de Paume. Our role is to offer great exhibition platforms and to participate in biennials — that’s how we can help institutions and artists to do larger-scale projects. A gallery show lets artists show new, never-before-seen work, as I am doing with Fiona Rae, and it encourages critics and institutions to offer more significant environments or other contexts for shows. That’s why I prefer to stay in the center of Paris. The new gallery is located between the Pompidou Center and the Marais, where 80 percent of the galleries are. And I think it’s important to be on the circuit.
What will the role of the new space be?
There won’t be a particular kind of programming. We’re launching the new space with Fiona Rae — we’re celebrating 20 years together. We’ve worked together ever since I opened my first gallery on the Rue de Normandie. Fiona Rae will inaugurate the new space, and for her it’s a new challenge. We’ll leave the space on Rue du Cloître Saint Merri empty twice a year. And this way we can show works we have in storage.
What’s your view of the current situation of art galleries in France?
We spark a lot of curiosity, and we’re at the heart of something. We’re really taken seriously. We generate money and jobs. If you combine the profits of the 15 galleries that count in France, we weigh more than the auctions.
What are some of the highlights of your 20 years?
First of all, there’s been a radical change in France’s place on the international playing field over 25 years. This is a milieu that I’ve known for a long time — my parents were collectors and I’ve always wanted to do this job. When I started working at Galerie Daniel Templon in 1988, I saw a strong market but France’s position wasn’t at all clear, because it was caught between Cologne, England, which was waking up, and new markets such as Spain and Zürich. Paris had a hard time, because it was the last city where you wanted to show your work when you were a foreign artist. And then, bit by bit, over 20 years I’ve seen Paris’s position open up. International galleries have come here. I went to the opening of Karsten Greve, Thaddaeus Ropac, and Marion Goodman. If foreign galleries were opening up shop in Paris, it was already a good sign. Even before the circles of collectors in France got bigger, there was a network of important museums in France that were buyers — they buy less nowadays. From that time on, galleries were well-established, and the new ones of my generation got into real patterns of competition, with real economic stakes. This context pushed us to open new and beautiful spaces, to put together more efficient teams, to participate in more fairs, and to offer ambitious projects to our artists. We’ve also sparked more attention from French collectors, who are buying more and more, but also from foreign collectors and institutions who come to see what’s happening in France.
How do you see the role of your Brussels gallery?
The Brussels gallery has allowed me to launch artists such as Michael DeLucia, a young American artist whom I discovered and whose works were selling for inexpensive prices. He didn’t have a gallery in the U.S. and I called him. In Brussels, his work was bought by very good collectors. In France, it would have been harder to make a gallery turn a profit with artists whose works are inexpensive. Thanks to Brussels, I was also able to launch Brenna Youngblood, a young Los Angeles artist. Since then she’s done a show in Paris, since the price of her works has gone up. The Brussels gallery lets me do projects that I couldn’t do in Paris — it has more experimental programming. I’m thinking in particular of Andres Serrano. I remember Yvon Lambert himself asking me to do an Andres Serrano show in my Brussels gallery. I love this artist, and Serrano had not had a show in Brussels for a long time. The exhibition was a big success. In France we find ourselves with a specific strategy: do seven fairs per year, have good sales for our shows … it’s stifling, and Brussels lets me breathe.
Do you show a lot of foreign artists?
Having a gallery in France doesn’t mean showing French artists. We show the artists we believe in, who are going to develop. Again, a gallery in France always has an international calling, and there are possibilities of dialogue between artists from your own country and foreign artists. I’ve always loved cultural exchanges, and today a gallery must reflect the world and its generation. For example, Rina Banerjee has a unique profile. She was born in India, she settled in the United States with her parents, she went to Yale and other big-name schools. And her work delves into her origins — she is at this intersection between the Indian world and the American world. I met her in New York but she started out in France. This is where I brought her into big European collections. She also had a big solo show at the Musée Guimet.
What kinds of artistic practices appeal to you?
I am particularly attached to sculpture. I need works that have some body. I need this tactile aspect, even in photography. Patrick Faigenbaum approaches landscapes like a painter, with great sophistication. Luc Delahaye, whose background is in photojournalism, produces staged scenes, and Youssef Nabil takes black-and-white photos which he paints by hand. However, I’m also representing the Martin Barré succession, and he is a true painter in the Minimalist tradition. And I also handle Sarkis, who is more conceptual, but who is a true sculptural artist. Michael DeLucia, Sarkis, Barry X Ball, Jessica Stockholder, Chloe Piene, and Joana Vasconcelos are protean artists, who create veritable universes and have great abilities to work with different materials. Joana is a conceptual artist — she has an entirely sculptural practice but at the beginning she starts with a concept and a discourse in the way she plans the works.
What are you planning on this year?
Lorna Simpson will have a big retrospective this year at the Jeu de Paume in Paris and then at the Haus der Kunst in Munich. She is really a pioneering artist and very important. I put on her first exhibition seven years ago here, and we sold some fabulous works. As for Joana Vasconcelos, she will represent Portugal at the Venice Biennial with a very unusual project. In fact, since Portugal doesn’t have a pavilion, she didn’t want to rent a palace. I’m already imagining a really great artwork! There will be a show of work by Martin Barré from the 1970s. And next fall, we’re planning to show Mickalene Thomas in the new space. I’m also going to show a young French artist — it will be her first show in France. Laure Prouvost lives in England and she’s an extraordinary artist whose work includes music, video, sound, and objects.