Nicolas Saint Grégoire: at the crossroads between art, fashion, beauty and innovation
Good morning Nicolas. Thank you for having us. You are a young artist, as well as a gallery owner. Your work crosses several different fields like art, fashion, beauty and some type of innovations... What is your background?
I am originally a gallerist. I made some pieces for myself with no attempt to exhibit my work at all. One day, the woman I used to work with at a gallery in London, came to my house in Paris – which was an old plastic factory, with huge amount of space, 5 meters high ceilings – and cried when she saw the huge ‘Illusion Chandelier’ I had made to fill in the room. It’s a chandelier made of tubes of Plexiglas, reactive to black light. The idea is that in any regular chandelier, the light comes out white-- which means you have all the colors of light at the same time. You cover it to hide the ugly bulb. But here the light is created by the Plexiglas tubes themselves that act like filters and convert black light as real light you actually see. So the initial goal which was previously to hide the light source now becomes to provide light. She liked it so much; she offered to exhibit it in Basel Miami. It was a success!
Can you tell us about your homage to Yves Saint Laurent through your series of 11 dresses?
After this exhibition, were a few others and my friend in London told me I should keep making pieces of art. I wasn’t expecting that but I enjoyed it. I’ve always worked in art and I’ve always been interested in fashion, I’ve dreamt to be a fashion designer all my life. I met Pierre Bergé when I was really young, around 18, and he helped me a lot in my life. He was really protective. He gave me the opportunity to see the drawings of the Yves Saint Laurent’s dresses at the Pierre Bergé - Yves Saint Laurent Foundation in Paris, to see the original dresses, to touch them… I think that, and YSL said that a lot, fashion designers aren’t considered as artists, but for me, if you see a dress from Alexander McQueen or YSL it’s a real sculpture. A wearable sculpture. For me it’s art despite the fact that’s not considered as being art. Pierre Bergé used to say: “La couture n’est pas un art, mais il faut des artistes pour savoir la faire” (« Haute Couture isn’t art, but you need artists to do it »). That represents really what I’m trying to say in this series. YSL gave homage to Mondrian, to Brach, to Picasso, to Van Gogh, to Wesselmann, a lot of different artists in different collections. And I wanted to give homage to this homage. That’s why I needed to do this tribute to YSL. In a way it’s like a double mirror effect: an artist makes an homage to an homage made to an artist. To reintroduce the notion that says that designers get inspired by art as well as art is inspired by designers. Art is fashion and fashion is art. Does this all make sense? [laugh].
It sure does! And what was the trigger of the idea? Why a lamp?
I like to think of it as a sculpture. The most difficult part is to do something really simple like a lamp. To make something extraordinary with a lot of gold and very fancy things, a little bit of this and that, it’s always easy. The production of this dress was something simple at the opposite of that. Using something similar to neon was a way to make it more mainstream, easily understandable like the sign of the grocery store down the street. The Haute Couture is not easily understandable, this object had to be. I tried to make a tribute to this icon, like the Marilyn of Warhol. It is not intellectual or pretentious. It has to speak to people. It’s pop art. That’s maybe because I’m also a gallerist, but I think you have to choose between different ways. There is purely interpretable art, conceptual like absolute abstraction, monochromatic or something like that; and there is on the other hand this kind of art [pointing at a portrait in his living room]. Let’s take Picasso, considered as one of the biggest painter in the world, his paintings didn’t have any meaning, any message – except Guernica – it was just a technical message. Monnet or every impressionist didn’t care about any message behind their paintings. “Impression de Soleil Levant” is just a painting of the rising sun, nothing behind it. It was just technical. Sometimes people try to force a message, an intellectual provocation… I don’t know why, art should just be enjoyed. It’s a really 20th century kind of idea to see messages everywhere.
About Nicolas the gallery owner, what is he interested in?
It’s completely based on my personal tastes; otherwise it would be complicated to sell. I need to be able to defend what I like, what I support. If you trust something and you’re honest with yourself I think the collector you work with, to whom you want to sell understands that. At first it was like a family. I work only with people with whom I have a special connection with, I know them all personally. We talk every week. It’s very friendly. I have very different artists in my gallery. I don’t want them to be like competitors thinking one is better than the other. They all have a huge talent in a different way. That’s why I have photographers, totally different types of painters, etc. But I don’t represent myself, I think it’s really complicated to speak of what you do, especially for me because I’m super shy. When the townhouse I bought in Chelsea (NY) will be finished, I’d like to transform the concept of the gallery in an apartment, a house, where you see the pieces of art in a real living context. Usually you see art in white cube galleries, but as a gallerist AND a collector I don’t want to see pieces of art on hospital’s walls otherwise you can’t imagine yourself owning this piece. The idea is to discover art around dinners, aperitifs, through a human to human relationship.
It’s a new way to look at art. The “art on a pedestal” era is over?
Yeah, I mean museums are great, but these pieces under plastic or glass bubble that is not the way I do things. I am a seller, I need to present and share something. When I go to a gallery in Chelsea it’s a very cold place where the receptionist doesn’t even look at you. It’s an old way to do, I don’t understand. People think that a pretentious and arrogant attitude looks elegant. The snobbier the better. It was the trend in the 90s but now it’s an irrelevant sales technic. For instance the other day I was visiting a gallery in Chelsea and asked for the prices of the paintings. The receptionist didn’t want to give them and suggested I talk to the director. Just to know the prices… Since he was not there she then said me they’ll said them by email. Today I’m still waiting for them. What is this attitude? If you don’t think this is not for me alright, the hell with your paintings. I felt like I was at the MoMa trying to buy a painting thinking it was a price shopper. If at a gallery you can’t ask for a price I’m wondering what the purpose of it is really.
How did you discover the artists you represent?
Usually I look up on internet. But it’s complicated, sometimes when you buy clothes online because they looked good you just realize they don’t fit you at all once you received them. The same with art. Because you can’t show 100% of the reality online sometimes you’re disappointed when you see paintings in real life. But there’s a funny way of how I discovered Mark Beard. I bought his book like 7-8 years ago and I loved his paintings. Time goes and I forget about this book. And one day during an exhibit I see an interesting painting and say to myself “I know this” but impossible to remember where I’ve seen this and the name under the painting doesn’t remind me of anybody. This killed me for weeks, and a month later I suddenly remembered about this book. When I finally got hand on it I realized he was the same artist but using different aliases. First I reached out to him to learn more about him, what he was doing, and I decided to represent him in collaboration with the gallery who was exposing him.
What is your latest news as a gallery owner?
The “Life as a Work of Art” gallery. I think you have to build your own piece of art. Life is like a book where you write everything down. It’s also the name of a super-egocentric personal project I have commissioned very different types of artists to paint or shoot portraits of myself through the years. The interest goes beyond the subject itself, who’s myself. The interest is in the evolution of technics, tests, trends in art and also the fact that we see the subject growing older and older until death. This project will be over at my death and I think that will be interesting to see the evolution of all this.
- As an artist:
- Palm Desert (LA) at Melissa Morgan gallery (Introducing new artists November 29, 2014)
- Miami at Art Miami (December 2-7, 2014)
- Paris at Marcel Strouk (Late December)
- Paris at Théâtre du Chatelet exhibition for The Unicef « Frimousses de Créateurs » on the « Opera » theme (Auction on November 24, 100% of recolted money goes to Children of Darfur)
- As a gallery owner:
- Paris at Théâtre du Chatelet exhibition for The Unicef « Frimousses de Créateurs » (representing Shane Wolf, Mark Beard, Claire Fanjul, Artemisia Galerie)
- Miami at Scope Miami (December 2-7, 2014 representing Marc Beard, Marwane Pallas and Alberto Sorbelli)
- New York at Chelsea 27 (February 17, 2015 representing Shane Wolf and Marwane Pallas)