The studio visit has always been essential to my business as a gallerist. Each year, I travel across the world, visiting up to 20 artists across Europe, China, Latin America and the U.S., to gain a better sense of what I like—and don’t like. The trips keep me grounded, connected to the work, and serve to develop the types of relationships I feel are necessary to grow both the artist and myself. I learn firsthand which museum acquisitions and private collections an artist has been a part of, and I evaluate whether the artist is a good investment—if he or she is producing at his or her full creative capacity.
Studio visits are critical to appreciating the evolution of an artist—and to be able to speak to collectors not just about the artwork but also about the creator. For this reason, it is important the gallerist or art dealer makes a connection, and a commitment, to the artist. Otherwise, the gallerist or dealer is just offloading inventory to their collectors. I do not sell inventory. I sell my artists.
One of the challenges, especially when representing three or four-dozen artists, is the time and capital required to travel globally for studio visits. Thankfully, my passion has always been exploration and travel. If I were not able to travel, I never would have entered this industry. As I explore, I refine and globalize my eye—an imperative in today’s market.
Iris’ studio was special, in large part because I have been historically less focused on photography than other mediums. Her work portrays strong women without shame; her subjects have faces with power. In many ways, her work is less about the form, the nude, or even the sex of the subjects, and more about the human condition. Iris captures the moment in time when we are seemingly the most vulnerable—but yet at our strongest. Much of what I love from afar about her work was reinforced during my visit. We spoke not just about current projects, but future plans. We have been thinking about working together some time now. My visit solidified our relationship.
From Paris, I took the TGV to Lyon to meet Eric Roux Fontaine, whose paintings I already sell. We’ve maintained an online relationship, but had reached the point where the visit was essential in order to continue working together. Musee Paul Dini in Lyon recently added some of Eric’s paintings to its collection. We scheduled my visit to coincide with the opening celebration of that acquisition.
Eric’s work can be best described as magical realism, a style that resonates with me. I was captivated by the portrayal of a jungle in one of his paintings. For years, he frequented the jungles of Central America and his work is heavily influenced by these experiences. As he explains, there is a clear demarcation between where the jungle begins and where it ends, creating symbolically and metaphorically in Eric’s mind a clarity of where imagination begins and ends.
Throughout history, humans have projected onto jungles and forests their fears, hopes and fantasies. Based on this concept, Eric’s work incorporates as an almost psychical element that adds to the magical feel of his work—a white horse, vaguely there; a white tree in a green forest; a glass house or a bed inside a forest. The otherworldly quality of Eric’s work is what drove me to meet him in person. My visit to Eric’s studio reinforced my belief in him as an artist and helped me to better understand his process.
As in any industry, there exists a disconnect between why many decide to enter the art world and the work they actually end up doing. The business side has less to do with art as a direct practice, and less to do with the passion that would inspire one to bloom both personally and professionally within the arts.
I struggle with this daily, and know that the minute I find myself away from the artist’s studio for too long, my sense of being will demand change. Fundamental to everything that we are do is the studio visit—it keeps the gallerist and dealer connected his or her purpose, and it makes the artist better by the intrinsic validation received. Whether it’s in the back streets of Paris or Lyon or in the Roma district of Mexico City, there is something transformative about the studio visit.
Georges Berges is the owner of Georges Berges Gallery in SoHo, NYC and of Berges Creative Group, an art advising firm dealing primarily with the secondary market. Follow him on Twitter @georgesberges and Instagram @georgesbergesgallery.