In search of art from the soul
The David Bloch Gallery in Marrakech celebrates its 10-year anniversary in 2020 - a year that none of us is ever likely to forget. Here, its founder tracks the gallery’s decade-long journey, from its launch and expansion through to doing business in today’s ‘new normal’.
What was your inspiration for opening the David Bloch Gallery?
I was already well acquainted with Marrakech when I decided to open the gallery 10 years ago, since I’d been travelling there regularly after setting up an international crafts business in Paris a decade before. In the intervening years, I’d grown keen to launch a new venture and had begun thinking about art – a long-time passion of mine – as an option. A vibrant cultural hub brimming with creative talent, Marrakech ticked all the boxes as an ideal location, so I started looking around for a suitable space. When I opened the gallery, I did so on a small scale, featuring carefully selected works by just three of the highly talented artists I’d got to know. Two of these had their roots in graffiti art, which was a field I’d always loved and promoted in the past. My aim was to set up a gallery showcasing truly unique art with an aesthetic appeal. As the gallery became more established, I also bought a small house to run alongside the gallery where we could invite artists for residencies. These have proved really popular and remain an important part of our work.
How do you choose the artists you represent?
When making a decision about a particular artist, I first ask myself whether I love their work enough to hang it not only in my gallery, but in my home. If the answer is yes, then I know things look promising! Secondly, my godmother, who is a journalist, told me to always remember that a good artist is 50% talent and 50% human being. I’ve tried to put those words of wisdom into practice ever since by choosing artists with whom I feel I can build and maintain great relationships. I believe that when it comes to representation, long-standing collaborations are win-wins all round – good for the artist, the gallery and collectors – since they instil trust and enable us to bring the human story behind the art to an audience. We represent more than 20 artists today, including the first ones that joined us, with most having held at least four or five solo shows at the gallery, which illustrates the deep-rooted relationships we believe in fostering.
You also talk about the importance of championing the “moral convictions of the artist and his work”. Can you elaborate on this ethos?
I receive a lot of emails from artists in which they describe their ability to be adaptable and adopt different styles in their work, perhaps thinking that this is what I want to hear, but they’re mistaken! In fact, the last thing I want is for them to be creating paintings and sculptures for the market; I want their art to come from deep inside, not be what they think I’m looking for. I need to feel that I’m viewing something authentic when I look at a piece of art. For this reason, while I might talk to our artists about practical issues, such as the size of a canvas, I never ask them about the style or content of their work. I want to be surprised and confident that the intention is pure - that the artist is saying something from their soul. I guess I’m something of a romantic!
You are celebrating your 10-year anniversary in 2020. What have you discovered about the art industry during the past decade?
I’ve learned that success requires a great product and service, and also a strong network. Networking became increasingly important once we’d established a presence in Marrakech and wanted to focus more on extending our reach. Today, 65% of the gallery’s artwork is sold abroad to a broad range of collectors, so our strategy has been effective. I’ve also learned that personal taste plays a huge part when it comes to sales and that there’s no point in trying to second guess what might appeal to clients! Luckily, the gallery showcases a diverse mix of work since our artists all have their own individual style.
What advice do you have for collectors when it comes to selecting art?
When I’m talking to clients, both new and longstanding, my advice is always to buy work with your eyes as it’s important to love it from the outset, even if you want your art to be a longer-term investment. Building long-term relationships with clients, in the same way we do with artists, enables us to get to know their tastes and then steer them in their plans. As that happens, we find that the investment side of things naturally develops.
How has the gallery adapted its operations to accommodate the Covid-19 pandemic and do you see these changes as short or long-term adjustments?
Like many galleries, we’ve faced a difficult few months. Morocco closed its borders when the pandemic arrived, so we have had no visitors, which is a major challenge since tourism is a key industry for Marrakech and we’re missing out on what’s traditionally our high season. We hope that if the number of cases remains low, things will ease a little. Online sales have helped and we’ve kept in touch with clients via digital newsletters. However, future success will require a tourism revival.