ECLECTIC EXHIBITIONS. Tristan Hoare is a London based art dealer and gallerist with beautiful Georgian premises in a townhouse of the Adam brothers’ fine architectural Fitzroy Square.
My father was an Islamic art dealer who started the department at Christie’s and then opened an independent space. He never had a gallery space, he was a dealer and his clients would come to him, but towards the end of his life he did a series of exhibitions called Every Object Tells a Story. One of the exhibitions took place in Fitzroy Square, which is how I discovered this beautiful area of London which all sorts of interesting artists, writers and characters have lived in and passed through, including the first director of the National Gallery, Sir Charles Eastlake, as well as George Bernard Shaw and Virginia Woolf. I love being here and I love the atmosphere of the square itself.
Do the elegant space and high ceilings of your gallery in Number 6 Fitzroy Square have an effect on visitors?
It’s enchanting, the opposite of the white cube model. The floors feel old, the ceilings are high, the proportions absolutely wonderful. When people walk into it to see the exhibitions, the space and the light are the first things that impact them, they relax and start enjoying the experience.
How did your journey in the art world begin?
With study and then experience. When I studied History of Art at Edinburgh University the curriculum was from Egypt until 1900 or so. We touched on Picasso, but no art beyond the 1930s or 40s. I was also lucky enough to get work experience for three summers in a row at the Louvre in the department of objets d’art. A series of medieval exhibitions took place when I worked there, inexperienced and young. What I saw went in without me realising it. My interest in glass today came from walking through those rooms and listening to the curators and the experts talking.
Why have you decided to show an eclectic range of contemporary arts in your gallery, not just paintings but also cultural items, ceramics and photographs?
That happened over time. A lot of the influence was from my father, seeing how he interacted with things, listening to the stories he told. I worked with him for three or four years and he was a finder of rare objects; museums and clients would come and visit him.
Did he teach you to find objects?
I would say he taught me how to look. It was when I was working for him that I did my own exhibition in my apartment, and I decided I’d mix things. I borrowed one or two pieces from my father, but I also borrowed things that I’d seen at contemporary art fairs, of friends, different artists, and put them together.
“If you work with great artists the clients will come.”
Fitzroy Square, London
Tristan Hoare, what was this first exhibition of yours about?
It was called An Eclectic Exhibition, and it combined antiquities, antiques and contemporary art. People came, and to my surprise they bought things. I realised that I roughly knew what to do, and that the experience of living around my father for those years had somehow taught me, through apprenticeship or osmosis, how to deal with people and situations and artworks.
I didn’t know what Gagosian was for a long time, or any of the larger galleries, so the gallery has evolved independently of that system. My time at Christie’s was definitely a big influence as I was lucky to work in different departments: old masters, impressionism, contemporary, and finally photography which is the area I focussed my first gallery on. I began putting on exhibitions in a space in Notting Hill, near Latimer Road. There I came across Malick Sidibé’s work and the photographs of Seydou Keïta and the whole generation of brilliant African photographers. So, to answer your question, having a smaller gallery allows for more freedom and risk-taking, but as I grow, I can appreciate that having a big gallery comes with a fresh group of challenges.
Did you fall in love with Keïta and Sidibe?
I definitely did. Seydou Keïta was the first artwork I ever bought independently, a beautiful portrait of a girl, and people who came to my home would ask me about it. I would tell them the story of Seydou and Malick Sidibe, and then I noticed that no one was actively promoting the latter’s work in London. So, I got on a plane to Mali, met him, and persuaded him to do an exhibition of his work in London. Malick and that experience was really the starting point for me. We developed a good relationship and I loved working with him. However, after the exhibition was over I wondered about continuing as I realised what a tough operation running a gallery is!
Why is it so tough?
You’re the conductor of many different moving parts, and if one of those instruments isn’t playing in tune everything falls out. There is more going on than meets the eye. I continued in photography for about 4 years, learning how to organise exhibitions and work with artists. Then I was ready for a change and began looking for a new direction. I went to Japan, where I saw Taizo Kuroda‘s beautiful handmade ceramics. The space in Fitzroy Square appeared at the same time and my opening exhibition combined Kuroda with the work of Ursula Schulz-Dornburg, a brilliant German photographer from Dusseldorf. The point of it was to say, “I still do photography, that’s where I come from, but this is the new direction.” It was a beautiful show and took a long time to put together. In some ways it’s the exhibition I’m most proud of, because it pushed me in a completely different direction.
How can you survive as an independent gallery, not being in the main circuit of the art industry?
It has been challenging. During that first exhibition, very few of the ceramics sold until the second from last day a collector and an advisor came to see me and asked me where I’d gotten these pieces from. When I said that I got them from the artist, the collector told me that he’d been looking for Kuroda’s work for a long time and bought 80% of the exhibition in one go! I was saved. I’m not saying I’ve made a fortune or it’s been easy, but now it has found its roots, and it’s satisfying to observe how things have developed.
“I enjoy combining objects and paintings or two dimensional and three dimensional works of art. The space lends itself to that.”
Tristan Hoare, how do you find the ideas, the pieces, the artists?
Turn up! You visit studios, investigate and build your network and experience. And following your instinct.
Do you represent particular artists and show their work often?
Yes, that has developed over time. I do now represent artists and aim to show them in the gallery at regular intervals as well as present them in art fairs. Each artist I work with has their own story, a journey of how we got to that point. Sometimes it’s very straightforward and with others it’s been more of an adventure!
What about the beautiful flowers of Kaori Tatebayashi?
Kaori came to the gallery and we had a brief conversation where she mentioned her intention to work on ceramic plants and flowers in the future. When the idea of a botanical exhibition came up a year later that conversation popped into my head. I went to see her and that started our relationship. At that point I had no idea how brilliant she was!
Is your eye the most important faculty for you?
The eye is very important. And imagination, and being inquisitive. You also learn a lot through exhibitions.
I love putting artists together in exhibitions. I also enjoy combining objects and paintings or two dimensional and three dimensional works of art. The space lends itself to that. You look at the objects and then the works on the wall together, and immediately you see connections and a new narrative develops.
Pierre is an artist that I respect enormously. I did an exhibition with him just before he died in 2018 and I loved working with him. I want to try to introduce his subtle drawings to a new audience. Pierre’s family and I came up with the plan. I was very happy with the way the stand looked and with the fantastic response we got. We had people on the booth all the time, lots of fun, interesting conversations, and we sold. In the end, it worked.
What kind of relationship do you have with your customers?
What you’re looking for is people who are genuinely interested. What’s nice about running a gallery is that you interact with a wide variety of different people. Some clients are very engaged with the gallery, others connect with certain exhibitions and then disappear for a while. I often learn a lot from my clients, they tell me about artists, how they collect or their views on the exhibitions or artists I’m working with.
‘Paolo Colombo & Kiki Smith: Of Birds and Monkeys,’ 2020. Tristan Hoare Gallery, London.
‘Peter Schlesinger: Ceramics 1992-2020,’ 2021. Tristan Hoare Gallery, London.
Seydou Keïta, ‘Young woman wearing a black and white striped dress,’ 1952. Gelatin Silver Print.
“It’s exciting to meet an artist whose work and practice you connect with.”
Tristan Hoare, overall, would you say the art world has become global and open?
In some ways the internet and the availability of images and information has helped open up the art world enormously. It is now much more global than it was in my days at Christie’s. In another way it seems to have reduced people’s interest in collecting to the same brands. These two channels go in opposite directions at the same time. Overall it’s very positive, and brings new energy and information to people from all over the world.
Perhaps galleries will no longer be necessary because they sell from the Internet?
Things are definitely changing fast, but that’s good. The classic model of a gallery with a group of artists is evolving. It’s not a model set in stone, and there are now many ways of promoting, selling, buying and interacting with art.
Is London still a good base for you?
Yes. It’s a large dynamic city with a fantastic art scene.
Who comes to your gallery?
People who are interested, hopefully each exhibition attracts a different group of people. But there is a wide demographic who come through the doors, which I love. Some exhibitions are quieter, others busier. Some Saturdays you can sit and read the papers cover to cover and be completely undisturbed! Other days the rooms are full of people looking, discussing and engaging with the exhibition.
What are you showing currently?
An exhibition of two talented artists Rafaela de Ascanio and Christabel MacGreevy. Using ceramics and tapestries, they have focused on translating female archetypes into a new contemporary language, reflecting their own perspective. The works are vibrant and mischievous!
Do you want to expand, have a gallery in New York, and another one in Paris?
That sounds exhausting! I’ve done a pop up exhibition in Paris, which I loved, and I’m half French, so I have family and friends there. I would consider doing other projects, but I wouldn’t open another gallery space. One is plenty!
How do you position yourself in the wider art world?
I am part of an art world and a community of artists and friends who are in this area, and therefore I’m connected and interested it that. I pay attention. I participate in art fairs. I go and see the exhibitions, but, at the same time, I want to find my own path.
Which is the most difficult part of your job, the clients or the artists?
Both! But if you work with great artists the clients will come. So first and foremost has to be my relationship and choice of artists. It’s exciting to meet an artist whose work and practice you connect with. It doesn’t happen all the time, but ultimately it’s what you are looking for.
Sometimes you really do fall in love?
Definitely. With Kaori’s flowers, I chose one work for a group exhibition. When we were setting up a few weeks later I walked into the room and it was love at first sight. I couldn’t believe how beautiful her work looked up on the wall, the quality of the way it moved, like a real flower would. At that moment I picked up on what Kaori was and what she was capable of. I knew that I wanted to work more closely with her and do a solo exhibition.
When an artist stays with a gallery is the strength of the sales very important?
Galleries are often funded by a few very successful artists. They make a much wider range of activities possible. Even the very biggest galleries would not be around today if they hadn’t picked up on a few of these big artists that have allowed them the financial freedom to continue and develop.
Are the overheads considerable, with your opening parties and promotions?
The risk is constantly there. You’re never far away from a call from your bank. The overheads are high and you have to keep moving.
Was your father able to see your success before he sadly died in 2018?
He saw it at a certain phase, and he always encouraged me to develop my own area. Once I realised how difficult it was going to be to run a gallery I tried to get out and change job to be a landscape gardener! But he insisted that I had to keep at it. Art dealers and their children is not often an easy relationship, but he taught me a lot, gave me space and encouraged me, and I’m very grateful for that.
Thank you very much for this interview.
All images courtesy of Tristan Hoare Gallery.
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