Interview with Antoine Levi, founder of the gallery Antoine Levi in Paris
A train to Paris, a Frenchman, an Italian woman, a cat: the start of a new gallery for contemporary art in Belleville. Antoine Levi told us the story of his Galerie Antoine Levi, keeping the suspense about the future and a new location.
When did you start your gallery and what motivated you? Was there a moment or an episode that compelled you to open a gallery?
Nerina and I decided to open our own gallery while we were living in Rome between 2011 and 2012. We felt the need to create something on our own with our vision, and I needed to come back to Paris after many years living abroad, bringing with me the best from Italy, Nerina.
Nothing compelled us particularly, just the need to work and to do what we like. We usually spend time on internet, and after some time the urge to work with the aesthetic we like was pulsing; we took our luggage and our cat on an endless train to Paris.
Which was your first show and why?
We opened the gallery with only 5.000 Euros and after the many administrative expenses and the first rental fees for the gallery space we were totally broke.
Since the beginning we wanted to open the gallery with a solo show that was more meaningful than any other option, so the artist we opened with was Olve Sande. Olve immediately understood the feeling and the philosophy of our project, its needs, its tendency, its freshness. Knowing our financial difficulties he asked me to keep all the remnants from the renovation of the gallery space and did a show with those: monochromes with anti-humidity green wall filler, and Frank Stella-like stripe paintings from the turned upside down slabs of parquet from the former inhabitants of the space. Many journalists and critics were shocked about such a daring statement in France where conceptual art has a strong position and presence: “How dare we?”.
I remember it as if it were yesterday, the day of the opening, it was minus 7°, Olve was in short sleeves, happy as a lark, the gallery was packed with friends, artists, we had cheap beer and an disgusting inaugural dinner in a Belleville Chinese restaurant. It was the greatest feeling of pride we’ve ever had. Thank you Olve.
What did you do before? How did develop your passion for contemporary art?
At the University I was specializing in Romanesque medieval art, liturgical books illuminations from Spain. There, in Barcelona, I made the first contacts with contemporary art at the Caixa Forum, then went to Valencia for a period as assistant curator at the IVAM. Back in France I asked the University to accept my chronological switch to the 20th century studies. Nerina graduated in Ravenna at the Bologna Art History faculty. She then worked as independent curator, and later in Turin with the public art curtorial team of A.Titolo, developing an impressive portfolio of projects.
What is the program of your gallery? What kind of art do you show, and what do your artists have in common? Can you give examples?
There are no boundaries or logical criteria, many galleries work with a certain world area, a certain generation of artists, certain disciplines; I am not sure we need to “find our style” but sure there is a “je-ne-sais-quoi” that links our minds with the artists, that guides our directions and that people can identify. I believe a common thread is the cultural knowledge from the artists and a certain accepted heritage from the past. The Avant-Garde, American Minimalism, and metaphysical artists such as De Chirico are some of our landmarks. Strangely enough, there are four artists from the Baltic Sea region, but each one with a different sense of conceptualism.
The choices are made upon how the artists can coexist within a program, and each one brings its stone to the house without invading the lawn of the other ones. I trust the fine setting balance between varied artists builds, in contradiction, the harmony Nerina and I look for and aim at.
Tell us about the location of your gallery and why you chose it.
Very easy. Belleville was the perfect place to open for the high quality of the young galleries and the lower costs in town. Less money for the rental of the space, therefore more money to invest for the projects.
How is the Paris gallery scene developing? And how do you want to position yourself in this context?
Very well I guess. Here in Paris we have amazing galleries and strong institutions. It is easier to work in such a culturally rich context. Other galleries and off-spaces are blooming, breaking the expected and classical vitrine image Paris might give.
Is there someone who has deeply influenced you in your work? Or a particular experience?
Well, the gallerists I had the chance to work with have all given me something, Roger Pailhas, Juana de Aizpuru, and Franco Noero, without a shadow of a doubt.
However they are the artists who have given us inspiration and keep on doing so today. I think about Miroslaw Balka and Franz West who I had the luck to meet and to know. Also someone like Arturo Herrera has been wonderful when I decided to open the gallery.
If you were to open another location of your gallery, where would you go? Do you have any plans to open another location?
We do have plans for another location, you’ll know about soon enough. Now we focus on Paris and on the second edition of our new project Paris Internationale we co-founded with our fellow colleagues from Sultana Gallery, Crèvecoeur, High Art and Gregor Staiger Gallery.
Three adjectives to describe the art world today?
Wild. Fascinating. Relentless.
Your gallery in 5 years?
Today matters to prepare for tomorrow.
Antoine Levi takes part in Liste–Art Fair Basel from June 13th to 18th, 2017. The gallery will present a selection of works by Ola Vasiljeva and Alina Chaiderov.
Antoine Levi has participated in the 2nd edition of Paris Internationale in Paris from October 19th to 23rd 2016.
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