Thaddaeus Ropac

Thaddaeus Ropac

Thaddaeus Ropac, Paris 2011


Mart Engelen: When you started your first gallery, did you know already in what form you wanted to shape your gallery?

Thaddaeus Ropac: When I started my first gallery 28 years ago I was just over 20, so I don’t think I had a very precise idea. But I
saw how a gallery functions in terms of this so called ‘information galleries of the 70’s’, where the galleries took almost the role of the so called ‘kunsthalle’, at least in Germany and Austria… and everything had a very narrow program, either you could show expressionist art or you could show minimal art and the two hardly mixed. I felt very awkward about it because I was attracted on one side to some of the great minimal artists of that time, like Carl André, but I also absolutely loved the work of Georg Baselitz who I just met in the beginning of the 80’s and of course Joseph Beuys who was one of my great heroes. So how do you combine all of this into one gallery program? When I started in Salzburg in 1983, Salzburg was not really on the market for contemporary art. We had a few galleries for classical modern art. There was one famous Gallery that represented the estate of Egon Schiele, Gustav Klimt and Kokoschka. So this was the background of the art scene there. I was able to create a program which was a bit wider because I was not in Vienna or Berlin or in a place where you were obliged to narrow your program, because I was in a place where I could show artists from different movements. And this was exactly what I wanted. I didn’t want to restrict myself into one direction. Much later, when I was able to start my
own private collection, I felt exactly the same. I wanted to own a painting by Ad Reinhardt as much as I wanted an Anselm Kiefer. So I was always very open between the different movements. I wanted to have a Gallery where you are able to show this.

ME: When you were very young you assisted Joseph Beuys. Did that influence you?

TR: I did only an internship at the studio. Beuys was working on a big sculpture for an exhibition in Berlin which Norman Rosenthal put together. The work was called Blitzschlag and he needed some help for a couple of months. I didn’t assist Beuys, I wish I would have. It is too much too say but I did an internship.

ME: Where does your love for art come from?

TR: I grew up in a kind of middle class rather bourgeois setting, so contemporary art was not part of it. The idea of art was really
19th century. When I finished my school we went to Vienna and I visited for the first time the Museum of the 20th century. The Museum had just acquired a collection from a German collector who sold his collection in Vienna for a lot of money and that was a big scandal. I remember I heard about it, so I wanted to see the art. The people said: “How can they spend so much money on this rubbish?” And there was Nasse Wäsche, the famous piece by Beuys but
also the Brillo boxes by Warhol. I walked into this Museum and what I saw astonished me. I had never seen things like this before. It grabbed me instantly. I was 19 years old and I realized that this was contemporary art. Even in school, art finished with the Second World War, with Kokoschka. Beuys irritated me the most in that exhibition. So I bought some books about Beuys. I wanted to read and learn about his work, because I didn’t understand it. After that I wrote him a letter and everything started.

ME: Is it difficult to find new talent these days?

TR: I think it was always a difficult task. People say it is harder these days because art is so much bigger than it ever was, and maybe this is one reason, but on the other hand I say that there’s so much more of an awareness of contemporary art. It became part of our lives. When I started it was an ivory tower, the artists were totally disconnected with the world. It was a very small elitist place and it didn’t touch the real world. In the last 25 years many things have changed for the better and art today is out of our lives. You can ask people on the street and they will
have an opinion, they will know some artists. People are going to see exhibitions. So I think it became much easier, because it really touches our lives and it is totally integrated but it also became, on the other hand, more difficult because now you have so many artists. But I don’t think you have more talent. The larger offer does not mean that there is more talent around. This is a problem we are facing now. You have so many academies opening up, so many artists who are freelance artists and they all show their work. Actually it is more difficult to find the real talent and basically you need a scout for this. We are working with curators and I wouldn’t even have the time to go to the academies and we don’t really select artists that early. We notice who is interesting in the early years. We have recently taken on two young artists, one is an American video and photography artist. His name is Cory Arcangel and we have followed him since he was 22. We show his work since 5 years and at the moment he has a show at The Barbican in London, The National Gallery in Berlin and he is going to open a show at The Whitney in New York. So he is kind of exploding and we are very happy because we were there very early. Another artist is an Iranian artist and his name is Ali Banisadr and Iran is a place we have a lot of interest in.

ME: What does the word Salzburg mean to you?

TR: First of all, I am Austrian. Secondly, I went to Salzburg because Salzburg meant a lot to me. People always think I went there because of the opera scene. Salzburg has a very rich opera scene, one of the best in the world. But this was not the reason, because at the time when I decided to go to Salzburg I didn’t have a real interest in opera, which I do have now. It was actually Kokoschka. Kokoschka wrote a book in the 70’s which was called ’The school of seeing or to learn how to look’. I read this book and I was totally mesmerized because he proclaimed that everybody is an artist within himself and they always have the chance to do whatever they do. But then it kind of makes a difference with the big geniuses. Beuys did exactly the same. Beuys declared everybody an artist, that’s the reason they kicked him out of the Dusseldorfer Academy because he accepted 5000 students and they told him you can do 50 students not 5000. Kokoschka was not as radical as Beuys but he did it even before Beuys proclaimed it. So when I read this book I was already in this kind of incredible Beuys mania for myself. I thought “My God, there is this Austrian expressionist who is very old now and lives in Salzburg, who founded his own Academy totally without any academic approach because he said everyone is an artist, he said the same thing as Beuys . I should go to Salzburg , I should try to meet Kokoschka, I should see what he is doing there”. That’s the reason I went to Salzburg. Unfortunately he had just died so I never met Kokoschka.

ME: Is it possible for a novice collector to acquire an artwork at Ropac under 15.000 dollars?

TR: Yes, of course. From younger artists you can already acquire drawings around 1000 Euro. I know people think you can’t, but it is really possible to buy affordable art.

ME: What is your dealing philosophy?

TR: We have a very clear philosophy. We always say we do not want to sell art but to place art, which means we want to find the right place for an art piece. We really feel the responsibility towards an artwork.

ME: What is your collecting philosophy?

TR: Unfortunately I couldn’t start to collect when I started my gallery. I could not afford it. So I missed out on major works I was able to show and sell at the time. As soon as I was able to afford it, I started to collect. Of course I started with the artists I loved and knew, because you have a special connection to them. This is the core part of my collection. I have major works by most of them. More recently I started to widen my collection with very eclectic works. For instance I bought a painting by Ad Reinhardt. I have some eclectic elements but the main part is from the artists of the gallery.

ME: What in art inspires you the most?

TR: In the beginning it was the charisma of the artwork. Later on you combine this with a certain knowledge and experience. Hopefully it becomes a very serious mix of an incredible passion. First you are seduced by the charisma then you become passionate about it but somehow at the end you have to combine this into a very serious way of giving the best service to the artist. We always say we are in search of excellence. We have to get better in the way we provide our services to the artist, the institutions, museums and collectors. So in a way it starts with this very passionate, charismatic feeling of loving art and it develops to a very serious base of passion, intellect and professionalism.

ME: Normally, I can imagine, you love an artwork and the artist so you like to represent him. But is it also possible in a dealers philosophy that you say: “It is important to bring this artwork now but I don’t like the work?”

TR: No, this is not the way we work. It happened a few times in the last 25 years that I felt I had made a mistake. We worked with an artist and we felt it didn’t work. Either there was no chemistry or the work did not find its content within the context. If we look at our history this happened very rarely.

ME: What should definitely change in art?

TR: We could stop to criticize the art market, which is somehow distorted. We are players in it so we are part of it. There are incredibly important artists connected to the best museums and they have a very small existence in the art market. Other artists have an enormous value because the market embraces them. So I think that the art market unfortunately doesn’t really put the mercantile value right. I know this is unchangeable because the market has its own rules. I wish there would be an ideal world where the artist would be financially measured on their content and context. But it never was like this and I assume it never will be. The museums always see it in a different way. They will always be seduced by
big prices. Sometimes you see an artist who has a big price in auction. Once I was seduced by another artist with the same quality but not as fashionable or fortunate. I think this the biggest discrepancy. Sometimes we are tempted because we are in a position where we can approach an artist very easy. I like and appreciate their work, but I think they are too expensive and overrated. So we don’t show this because I wouldn’t really know what to say to our collectors.

ME: How do you see the future of your gallery?

TR: We are thinking a lot what we should do in this growing art market. We decided for the moment to grow in Paris and we will announce soon a new additional gallery where we can show monumental works. We feel the need of growth in terms of space. We really need more space. On the other hand, there is the search of excellence; what we really can do better. I prefer to put this even before physical growth. To open a gallery for instance in Bejing is very tempting. If I would be a little bit younger I would consider it. But maybe we would lose a certain quality. In Salzburg we have the main gallery which is in the center of the city and we have built an additional new gallery of 3000 square meters for monumental works. This is such a success and the same thing we are emphasizing for Paris. Concentrating on these two places in Salzburg we are very strong in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. I think this is our main playground. In Paris we do the rest of the world, everybody goes to Paris. We like to concentrate
on this as well and like to do it there also better and bigger.

—Copyright 2011 Mart Engelen

Thaddaeus Ropac

Thaddaeus Ropac, Paris 2011