A gallery owner plays the generous gentleman

Thaddaeus Ropac in front of a painting by Georg Baselitz

“One of the great contemporary artists.”

(Photo: Marco Riebler)

Paris Thaddaeus Ropac moves the armchairs apart: “We can take off the masks at a distance of 1.80 meters,” he suggests and opens the window of his office on the second floor of the Parisian gallery in the Marais district. On the occasion of the 30th anniversary of his Paris gallery The sixty-year-old Austrian takes a lot of time to talk to the Handelsblatt.

“I do a Covid test every two days, because I continue to travel as much as ever,” explains Ropac, who is known for his politeness and self-control. After a flying visit to Budapest for the exhibition of the painter Sean Scully, who is new to the gallery program, he flew to Antwerp for a show by Adrian Ghenie, then to Athens to the museum exhibition by Ali Banisadr, the opening of which was suddenly canceled.

And on the national holiday, November 11th, which commemorates the armistice of 1918 in France, Ropac celebrated the triumph of his high-selling artist Anselm Kiefer in Paris. The French President Emmanuel Macron had given the German with a studio in Paris an order. He was supposed to create a memorial for the Panthéon Hall of Fame, the emblematic burial place of deserving men and women.

That year the ashes of the writer Maurice Genevoix were transferred to the Panthéon. Kiefer reflects the suffering of the soldiers in the trenches described by Genevoix with installations in six showcases. An example: Poppies sprout from concrete blocks, the symbol for fallen soldiers, and a lead cloud hangs over them.

Ropac has been representing Anselm Kiefer since 2006. With method, perseverance and financial strength, as well as his network of relationships that have been spun over many years, he campaigns for the international recognition of the German artist. He placed Kiefer’s work in important museums and private collections around the world.

The “bottle holder” by Marcel Duchamp

Thaddaeus Ropac arranged the “readymade” at the Art Institute of Chicago.

(Photo: Ropac; VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2020)

Thaddaeus Ropac founded his gallery in Salzburg in 1983. His mentors Joseph Beuys and Andy Warhol were appalled at how small and underfunded it was. But as early as 1990 Ropac was able to open a branch in Paris. It was only from France’s capital that it began its triumphal march in the increasingly global art market.

Today he ranks among the five most important gallery owners for contemporary art, as the French art sociologist Alain Quemin confirms to the Handelsblatt. “He remains discreet, aloof and humble. But he turned out to be a relentless competitor of the Parisian gallery owners by slowly but surely taking over the best and most expensive artists: Georg Baselitz, Anselm Kiefer or Antony Gormley. “

Large gallery with six branches

In addition to a gallery in London, the large gallery owner currently has two galleries in Salzburg and two in Paris, including the 4700 square meter halls in the suburb of Pantin, which he opened a phenomenal gallery in 2012 Look from Anselm Kiefer and a stupendous selection of works by Joseph Beuys. Ropac has offices in New York and Hong Kong

Ropac calls Anselm Kiefer the “godfather of the gallery halls in Pantin”. Upon request, Kiefer let the Handelsblatt know: “Pantin is a very special place for me. It is significant that this gallery is outside Paris, because anyone who wants to see art goes there specifically. Doesn’t just pass by, like on a weekend stroll through Paris. ”And adds:“ I really like these old buildings, because the work of a lot of people who worked there is present for a long time ”.

Anselm Kiefer

On behalf of Emmanuel Macron, an installation was created for the Hall of Fame in the Panthéon with showcases, rusted bicycles, aluminum flowers, stone and lead, and oversized landscapes.

(Photo: AFP)

So many places of representation, so many exhibitions can only be managed with a team of employees. There are now more than 100 employees. Ropac gives his employees a lot of freedom, he delegates cleverly: “I can work in a team”, he says with a smile and only reserves the final decisions.

He also has offices in New York and Hong Kong. In 2019 he engaged Kyu Jin Hwang as a partner for his Asia expansion. The Hong Kong office enabled participation in the “Art Busan” trade fair in South Korea and the ongoing one in Shanghai last week.

How Duchamp’s bottle cage got to Chicago

The boss often travels to the New York office to talk to museum directors. After Ropac’s worldwide marketing campaign, Marcel Duchamp’s bottle holder – an icon of 20th century art history – was included in the Art Institute of Chicago to smuggle.

Ropac’s generosity is an essential characteristic, but also a smart move, especially towards museums. The director of the museum in the Center Pompidou, Bernard Blistène, sings hymns of praise to the gallery owner: “Thaddaeus Ropac is the most elegant and generous person I have ever met!” Ropac repeatedly gave important works to the Center Pompidou. Blistène is convinced that the “gentleman Ropac invests in public institutions out of love for art and artists”.

Adrian Ghenie „Jungles in Paris“

The painter, who seduces with surreal compositions and rich application of paint, is currently having a solo show in Antwerp.

(Foto: Ropac )

A look at the changing list of artists makes it clear that the smart, cool Mr. Ropac is also a tough businessman. After the gallery had shown a remarkable show of Iranian artists in Paris in 2009, he only kept Ali Banisadr in his portfolio. The brothers Ramin and Rokni Haerizadeh later said ironically in their studio house in Dubai that Ropac would rely on artists as well as racehorses.

The gallery owner presents it differently: He would have helped 17 Iranian artists at short notice after the exhibition, some of which was critical of the regime, because they could no longer return to their homeland.

23 artists were screened out

Ten years ago there were 58 names on the artist list. According to the website, 23 artists are screened out and 31 are new. Including the resounding names of Joseph Beuys, Robert Rauschenberg, Robert Wilson and Valie Export. Thaddaeus Ropac emphasizes that the mutual 100 percent trust between artist and gallery owner is the basis for cooperation. But that doesn’t mean that the gallery owner uncritically accepts the development of the work.

“In contrast to many of his colleagues, Thaddaeus Ropac is able to take a critical look at the works of the artists he represents and promotes,” says Philippe Dagen, professor of art history and for decades a critic of the daily newspaper “Le Monde”. “Standing in front of the works, we occasionally exchanged our comments and doubts. But I would only like to mention Baselitz specifically because we agree that he is one of the great artists of his time. “

Ropac succeeds even in such enormous Collections like that of François Pinault, Founder of the luxury goods group Kering, to set new accents. He was able to initiate the purchase of those early photographs by the now 80-year-old media and performance artist Valie Export that are currently hanging in Venice.

François Pinault personally made Thaddaeus Ropac Knight of the Legion of Honor in 2013. Because the entrepreneur collecting art thinks very highly of the “most French of all Austrians”. The gallery owner is intuitive, courageous and daring. “What I also like about him,” continues the tycoon, “is his preference for Paris. The whole world advised him to open galleries in London, Berlin or New York. He preferred to stay here, take risks and assert his artists. “

More: Unusual trade fairs: Paris mobilizes alternatives for the art trade


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