‘The unfavourable political, economic and social context in France today, along with the unhealthy ideological climate and stifling tax burden, compromises any prospect of a future art market in France and alters any enthusiasm as well as any entrepreneurial spirit!’
Gasp. Announcing – completely out of the blue – the imminent closure of their gallery, the page-long letter (doubled via email) from the renowned French art dealers Jérôme and Emmanuelle de Noirmont, which was received simultaneously by all their followers and friends on 21 March, caused much surprise and huge turmoil within the Parisian art scene. ‘We have taken a carefully thought out, personal decision’, it additionally clarified, ‘to put an end to the activity of the gallery at the end of Marjane Satrapi’s exhibition on March 23.’ Two days later, indeed, after nearly 20 years of assuredly successful business and at the end of said show – 21 paintings, entirely sold out in a few hours a month earlier – the gallery did permanently drop its commercial curtain on Avenue Matignon next to the Champs-Élysées. If you wonder, though, they’re not literally taking French leave, since their company Art & Confrontation, which they created back in 1994 parallel to the gallery, will continue to exist for projects that have yet to be determined. Still, their precipitous retreat from the art business, just a week before the opening of 2013 Art Paris Art Fair at Grand Palais, felt as if the sky had finally fallen on us.
At a time when the delirious yet symbolic 75 percent millionaire tax or the possible inclusion of artworks in wealth tax kept hitting daily headlines (and tempting potentially loaded French collectors to flee for better horizons), the national press was quick to spread the Noirmonts’ news, quoting their missive as if it were the voice of doom, especially the passage censuring the antientrepreneurial complexion of current national politics. That said, it is here absolutely necessary to clarify that the couple’s decision was not due to any immediate (or even remote) threat of bankruptcy. Financially speaking, their gallery was doing very well, representing a limited yet very keen catalogue of 15 artists any rival would envy – Keith Haring’s estate in France, Pierre et Gilles, Jeff Koons, Shirin Neshat and Fabrice Hyber, among others, as well as younger talents such as Benjamin Sabatier and Yi Zhou. All the artists were of course informed of the gallery’s irrevocable decision prior to the public, around mid-February, while the now ex gallerists are currently assisting them in finding suitable new art dealers and vitrines in France or abroad. So what really went through their heads?
While her husband was away in Newcastle for the opening of Hyber’s exhibition Raw Materials at Baltic, and after shutting up shop, Emmanuelle de Noirmont told me that for the past three years they actually had been looking forward to larger premises and more artists to represent. As their letter pointed out, ‘The future appears to be in certain specialized niches for simple structure galleries, and in the branding of mega-galleries, with several international locations’. Since they weren’t interested in leaving France, their plan was crystal-clear. In order ‘to continue to ambitiously serve the artists in this increased competition’, they had to extensively grow their business here in Paris. But the 2012 election of a socialist government altogether dissuaded them from taking such a risky step and took away their desire to race: ‘Surfing the wave and keeping the gallery in its current form would ultimately be a disservice to the artists.’
Now, caught between a rock and a hard place, what they didn’t explicitly communicate in their letter but Emmanuelle de Noirmont was kind enough to share with me is their strong desire to find an alternative to the rush for always-bigger money. Indeed, she and her husband deplore the ‘glamorisation’ of their profession to the extent that nowadays, the monetary weight tends to overtake the ‘humane’ value of the artists’ works. So if their personal decision to shutter their business could be quite damaging to the Parisian artscape within the increasingly rough competition that occurs in other marketplaces (though in case it’s still some kind of a hot topic, aren’t you aware by now that conservative Paris is mostly relying on its art history rather than gambling on the new?), at least their intention seems noble: ‘Our future commitments will always put art and contemporary creation at the heart of a social project drawing new paths through focused actions, both professional and charitable.’ The Noirmonts will disclose more on those by the end of the year.