In April Thaddaeus Ropac added a London gallery to his other sites in Paris and Salzburg. The space was designed by Annabelle Selldorf and takes over a renovated historic landmark, Ely House, an 18th-century mansion in Mayfair. It opened with a presentation of early pictures and video sculptures by Gilbert & George and a selection of American Minimalist art from the Marzona Collection. Whitewaller spoke with Ropac about the first year in London and a new show of Robert Longo works.
WHITEWALL: The new gallery is set in a renovated historic landmark, an 18th-century mansion in Mayfair. Why has it been important for you to find spaces with character?
THADDAEUS ROPAC: I think white boxes are a little bit of a phenomenon of the nineties. This is how Chelsea was created. For me, space always mattered in terms of uniqueness. The way we built the gallery in Paris Pantin (like the cobblestone between the buildings, the coffee shop), I really wanted it to become a little French village. I’m against the idea that gallery spaces look minimal the same. And when I discussed this with the artists, they felt so too.
WW: Robert Longo’s fall show, “Let the Frame of Things Disjoint,” responds to the current social and political climate, and he also found some inspiration in Ely House for one of the works. Can you tell us a bit about that discovery?
TR: There is a quote in Macbeth where the king, knowing about his guilt, declares he would sooner die than live with the consequences of what he did. With this quote, and the meaning of responsibilities, Robert Longo reacted very strongly about what is happening at the moment. There are certain images, for example, that he juxtaposes—a headdress from an American Indian and Turner’s The Slave Ship. He really addresses issues of social concerns. And he went through the DNA of the building. When he heard that this was the Albemarle Club (and the Albemarle was the first club in London in 1909 that allowed women to be members), he went after Manet, which is in the collection of the Courtauld. We went there and negotiated with the institute that he could take the painting and make an X-ray. The X-ray is also this kind of hidden message for him—using a woman is kind of a symbol of taking over the gallery as women took over the club in 1909.
WW: You’ve talked about trying to do more to help collectors build their collections with younger artists and midcareer artists, and that you find it enjoyable working with collectors to develop their own taste. As a gallerist, how can you encourage that development?
TR: We want to be involved with building collections. I think this is the most rewarding part of our job. We have to protect the artists as they trust us and ensure their wishes how their works are placed. We take this responsibility very seriously and discuss it in depth for every exhibition. We are trying to sell to collectors – and this might be old-fashioned – who believe that the artwork means much more than a short term profit. There is also the situation to accompany the collectors in creating their collections. It takes time and effort but the outcome makes it worth and is rewarding. If the artists and the collectors are happy, we have done our job.
This article appears in Whitewaller London & Paris 2017, out this week.