Can you tell me a little bit more about the shopping bag installation?
“An artist from New York, this is a young artist, done by Selinger. They are all done in cast bronze and he makes references to the luxury bag Chanel. Upstairs we have Tiffany’s, we have Hermes, the other bags he does are Chanel bags, black and white Prada bags, very, quite popular. They are very sculptural because they are references to iconic fashion brands that people know and identify too. They are very heavy, they are an installation. He’s very popular. He’s one of the artists that we chose because when we have a group of well known Canadian artists, also newcomers, we like to represent an international brand of artists, and he was one of the ones we saw on our travels. We’ve had a few little shows and the reception for his work has been phenomenal.”
What brings you to Toronto and why did you open a gallery here? What might this gallery bring to the city?
“To expand our markets, we have recently 30 employees in Montreal, and we’ve always wanted to come to Toronto. It’s always been a dream in the back of our minds, in Montreal we recently opened our third spot right near the museum. So we have our exhibition space, and we have the flagship space so we’re very in tune to expand our market. Of course, we’ve been coming to the Toronto art fair for 15 years so we had, like yesterday, many people who said, ‘Oh my god I didn’t know you know so many people in Toronto’. So we had a very large client base and Toronto is such a dynamic, upwardly moving city- many children of our clients in Montreal are living here, so when this space became available we booked it because it suited our aesthetic.”
“Where we are in Montreal, we are on Green Avenue which is something similar to this scope, its residential with some elegant stores, quiet, off the beaten track but very close to downtown. When we saw this space we just said we were hooked and we said ‘we want to do it’. Prior, we just never found the right place, we didn’t want to be in an area where you need to take a taxi, where at night you were a bit hesitant if you were roaming alone, so here you could come view an art show; you’re in Yorkville, steps away from Bloor. You’re right in the heart of restaurants, activities, you have an access to the mall—which permits people to park. So for us, it meets all the criteria. Also, with the desire to come to Toronto, we wanted to expand our markets for us, for our artists, and also to bring new artists—so it wouldn’t be complete without Toronto. Aesthetically it suited our dynamics because I’ve been to fairs in areas (I’m not saying about Toronto but in the States), where it’s dark out and you’re afraid to walk around the corner. For me, that was always a concern. I said I want to able to go to a show, have a bite, and make it part of my lifestyle instead of making it a hassle to get to it. And plus, the size of the walls—I mean when I look at this gallery, for me, it’s as good as it gets. You know, it could be New York, it could be Paris, it could be London—its a space which is quite enviable, if it wasn’t ours I’d be jealous.”
What kind of work do you represent?
“We try to have the best blend of contemporary art. My husband and I choose the artists, our initial reaction is always visceral, like do we like the art? Then we do the dissecting. We look at if the artist is a serious artist, does he have a vision, is he a solid worker, does he want to go the extra mile? Because it’s not something that happens overnight. So at first our initial reaction has always been our personal taste, and of course over the years our taste has evolved and fortunately, for my husband and I, our tastes have evolved together. We started together very young, my husband is a dermatologist—he still does that only two days a week. But he’s equally involved. Right from the get-go, we wanted to create a repertoire of Canadian artists-that was our primary objective. But when we had traveled the world we saw that people had catalogs, people had transparencies, so we wanted to do that with our own artists. We like to be the best blend of contemporary, well-known, and Canadian artists. For example, we are having a show with James Lahey which we presented at the Toronto art fair, and we almost sold out. He has just two paintings and he is a star in Toronto. We are having his solo exhibition next Thursday. So it’s very exciting and that’s what we try to represent. Artists that we love, that we feel are valid artists, that have a unique vision. We also have Nick Vichy who works with x-rays. He is from England. So we try to show different artists; Selinger who is doing the bags, Sophie DeFrancesca who is a local—we are doing a show of her work called “Homage”. She is a Canadian star, so we really try to give focus and equal attention to the Canadians and to international artists.”
“There is a thirst for art in the last decade, art has become more accessible, people are more interested in art, there is such a combination of art and fashion- you see the recent unveiling of Jeff Koons and Louis Vuitton. We have a small Jeff Koons upstairs, a print, the only print he ever did. But he’s making references to Botticelli’s, Mona Lisa, and he’s contemporizing it by putting his blue mirror on it so it makes it unique to him. There is this interest in art worldwide, the two, fashion and art, are becoming very much linked together. It’s exciting times to be in.”
Art and fashion are synonymous- they go hand-in-hand. However, do you think there is more room for installations like that of Selinger, which represent more literal interpretations of fashion, in an art gallery setting? Is this a newer/emerging trend we are seeing where fashion is being showcased on a more literal level? Is this sort of art something you perhaps hope to showcase more of in the future?
“I think there is that complete circular vision, that if people are interested in art, then they are in tune to whats happening in fashion. They know lifestyle, they know architecture, they like to see colours, so it’s a very open society. No one is cookie-cutter now which is beautiful. You can have a dollar bill sculpture, you can have reference to Picasso, and you can mix them all in one setting and they all speak to each other well.”
“We have an artist Nicolas Ruel, he’s having a show, he’s a Canadian artist, he worked in strange collaboration with Jean-Paul Gaultier. He did a whole fabulous black and white series body of work, and its all done in the atelier of Jean-Paul, and it’s his unique vision. There is a perfect example, he opens his camera, he has a very long exposure, he turns his camera around, so mechanically the way he treats his photo is very unique. He prints it on stainless steel, and aesthetically when he prints the image you think ‘wow the models are posing that way’- but they are not. It’s his technique. He swirls the camera around and then what was behind you, is now in front of you. He superimposes the image, and the dialogue between the two is quite spectacular and unique. It was a huge success. He went to Paris and did a collaboration with Jean-Paul Gaultier- so there is where you’re seeing that artists are really starting to merge with fashion. There is a real fusion between the two.
Are there any moments in particular in your careers which you are particularly proud of?
“Well recently, this week was full of emotions because we were at Art Toronto. I had been designing a booth and I knew we were having a show of James Lahey and I said ‘James, I’m going to make my booth around your work’- the three flags. I didn’t really tell anyone but in my dream, I took the three flags, and each flag is unique, it’s like a person. The way he has it billowing in the wind, the tones, the brushwork… so in my heart, I was thinking I would place them like a story on the wall. I thought ‘oh my god if I could sell out this wall’… and I did, and I sold it twice! So I was so thrilled, and of course, when I told the artist, it was a great moment of pride. Of course, you need to pay your bills, and your staff but it was more the validation, that what he did, and how I presented it, in a small space, in a short period of time, was so well-received. I think that’s what every artist strives for, even if you’re a gallery owner. You’re a different kind of artist, you’re not doing the painting, but you’re the spokesman for the artist. So it becomes very intermixed. Your success is his success, it’s a win-win…for your staff too. When we moved here, one of our fellows came from Montreal, he came, the director Martin, and we hired two people in Toronto- two bright, young faces. Then after that, we hired another person in our operations because it was just more then we anticipated. And probably, we will be hiring another sales associate. Then the opening last night, people that we had known for 20 years, 25 years, they were coming and it was just a source of pride. We were the also the only Canadian gallery accepted in the Expo Chicago in October. We brought a Canadian photographer David Burdeny. So there are many successes and fortunately, we’ve had the health to keep this hectic schedule. We approach everything with the same passion that we had 38 years ago. I think that all the hard work, never taking anything for granted, and always striving for more puts us in a position where people can appreciate that.”
What do you envision going forward, for your futures as gallery owners, and for the galleries themselves? Maybe expansion beyond Canada, going overseas?
“Right now everyone’s asking us that question! Right now I just want to enjoy the success of Toronto, the reception has been great. Its even more then we anticipated, you always have jitters when you’re opening and designing. I mean this was all raw, and dust so we got an excellent designer Robert Krief- who used to be in fashion, he used to have his own line of clothing. Now he is working, designing stores and shops, he has excellent taste. He made a drawing for us and we approved it, but when you see the reality of it, it’s beyond our expectations.”
Words by: Rebecca Sneath