Galerie Sultana, Paris

The gallery as a laboratory for artists to experiment. That’s how Guillaume Sultana describes the role of a gallery today. Inspired by the great art dealers of the 20th century, he opened his gallery in Belleville in 2010

Galerie Sultana, Paris

In recent times, much has been written about Belleville as a galleries hub. Can you tell us more about this? How would you describe this development?

Belleville has established itself over the years as the area of emerging galleries in Paris. This was done gradually as the Marais was developed around 20 years ago. The galleries have followed and each new arrival is good for the others. Like a family that grows naturally. It’s very interesting to see and participate in the evolution of this neighborhood. This development is almost mandatory to Paris because the center of Paris is saturated but mostly too expensive for the economy of galleries like mine. In Belleville we have fewer galleries but all have the same vision: to focus our visitors. The exchange with collectors as well as the connection and relationship among the galleries strengthens the visibility of the artists.

Olivier Millagou, One Way Wahine, 2016, Exhibition view, Courtesy Galerie Sultana

In general, what does it mean to run a contemporary art gallery in Paris? What are the limits and what are the possibilities?

Paris has a very important history of galleries. The main galleries of the 20th centry operated here, and many international artists were shown in Paris. The weight of this prestigious past brings a lot to the present. So museums are strong and rich and include great artists today. Also, from a practical point of view, Paris is small, it is easy to go from the 6th Arrondissemsent to Marais and Belleville in one day. The city is in Central Europe and it is also easy to go the USA and Asia. The French market is not very strong but remains stable with a lot of very good and discreet collectors.

However it is carried by a fair, FIAC, which has demonstrated very good qualities and foundations that are among the most powerful and interesting in the world: Foundation Vuitton, Pinault Foundation is opening a museum in Paris, Lafayette Foundation will open next year and the prestigious Luma Foundation in Arles.  All are essential assets for France and contemporary art. So the possibilities are rather large for Paris!

Can you tell us the story of the gallery. When did you open it and what motivated you?

The gallery was opened in 2010. Between 2005 and 2010, I had a gallery with a partner and in 2010 Galerie Sultana opened. The motivation is the desire to work closer with artists to promote their work, to make them known, give them visibility, to take risks, have the satisfaction of seeing that the artists are growing along with the gallery.

Mirak Jamal, Mother! Minsk! Where are you!, 2016, Exhibition view, Courtesy Galerie Sultana

What brought you into contemporary art in the first place? What is your background?

I grew up bathing in a cultural context. I have always listened to classical music, often go to shows, I was always reading books. Then I really discovered art when I was teenager. Especially Spanish and Italian classical painting. And I loved it. Which led me naturally to contemporary art via Cézanne, Picasso, Matisse and Braque. The course is classic and has allowed me to have a rich base.

I studied history of art and my parents always encouraged me to do what I really liked. I was lucky not to have pressure or obstacles to fully discovering precisely what I liked. At the end of my studies, I worked at the Rencontres d’Arles and the Collection Lambert in Avignon. It was such a great experience.

Is there someone who has particularly influenced you in your career?

Yes, the great art dealers of the twentieth century. I remember reading with passion biographies of Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, Ambroise Vollard, Paul Durand-Ruel or Paul Rosenberg. And of course Leo Castelli, “the” reference to contemporary art.

Celia Hempton, Lupa, 2015, Exhibition view, Courtesy Galerie Sultana

Let’s talk about your program. What kind of art do you represent? What connects the artists you represent?

The program is built on my sensitivity and the human quality of each artist. If it’s not relating to our humanity then I’m not interested. I’m not in a particular stream or a particular mode. I’m not interested in the latest craze. What’s in fashion is always out of style too quickly. In the program I try to mix and to open doors or build bridges between artists. For them to meet, exchange and dialogue even when they are different. My programming is different and I like it.

Group show: Jesse Darling, Celia Hempton, Paul Maheke, Sojourner Truth Parsons, Dardan Zhegrova, No Ordinary Love, 2016, Exhibition view, Courtesy Galerie Sultana

How do you decide to add a new artist? How do you find your artists?

The artists come to our gallery by knowing other artists, or by meeting at a biennial or in a museum. Of course they arrange these meetings but the human aspect is important and an alchemy between work and personality of an artist makes you want to commit. It means taking a risk,  but it  is always important for a structure like mine and it’s necessary.

If you could choose to exhibit any artist, even from the past, who would you pick?

Francis Bacon!

Jacin Giordano, Shadows of echoes of memories of rainbows, 2015, Exhibition view, Courtesy Galerie Sultana

How do you see the role of a gallery today?

As a laboratory where we experiment and create projects. Paradoxically, it is a place that is less and less commercial and more  a platform for specific projects. While at a fair it must be direct, perfect in terms of commercial issues and economic pressure. The gallery is a place where we discuss many projects and where ideas are developed. It is also a great meeting place for collectors, institutions and art critics.

How does digitalization affect your work?

This is a question that concerns me a lot today. I would like to be less present or be present differently on social networks. Because they kill all the efforts we make to bring the public to the gallery. Why go when everything is online? We would know how to balance, not post everything, ask artists not directly publish their works on Instagram etc. Even if it is gratifying to see the number of likes we get, it kills the element of surprise, discovery and in the end we have no more emotion before a work or in an exhibition. If you  experience  an exhibition without having seen anything before,  you will see it very differently. The Tino Sehgal exhibition at the Palais de Tokyo is a perfect example.

Bettina Samson, See the Bright Opportunity in each New Day, 2015, Exhibition view, Courtesy Galerie Sultana

What are your plans for the future? How do you see your gallery in a decade?

The gallery model changes often and quickly; we must always adapt. So I do not know if in 10 years there will be more galleries as we know them today, or whether a new model will have taken over. Will we still need to do five to six exhibitions a year, to have opening hours as a shop, have a list of artists, to have a white walls space?  Or something more flexible that can easily be adapted to international trade. What will be the fairs model, we know now that it no longer meets galleries or collectors? Maybe the concept proposed by Paris International allows us to realize that anything is possible.

Finally, which artists are you showing at Paris Internationale?

Celia Hempton, Pia Camil and Olivier Millagou.