Putting art within reach

As the founders of Carré d’Artistes Lebanon and the network’s first franchise in the Middle East, Maria and Maissa Fatte are playing a key role in reaffirming the gallery’s philosophy of democratising art

What can you tell us about the Carré d’Artistes’ philosophy?

When Carré d’Artistes was launched in 2001, its founders had become disillusioned by the corporate world in general and the art market in particular, which they felt was elitist and closed off to many enthusiasts. They opened the first Carré d’Artistes gallery in France with the twin aims of democratising art and making it more accessible, while also supporting emerging artists who were struggling to gain recognition in the market. The concept was highly successful and, since then, more than 30 new franchises have opened around the world. I’m extremely proud of the fact that when Carré d’Artistes Lebanon opened its doors in 2017, it marked the launch of the first franchise in the Middle East.  

How does Carré d’Artistes put its mission of making the art market more inclusive into practice?

The philosophy is evident in several ways, but especially through policies that are observed in all of the franchise galleries, aimed at providing visitors with a welcoming atmosphere and making the browsing and buying process both enjoyable and transparent. For example, prices for artworks are clearly visible and, unlike many other galleries, Carré d’Artistes has an open-door policy. When sharing photos of our artworks on social media platforms, we like to present them as gift ideas too, since we believe this is a great way of making viewers aware of their affordability. Browsing and buying art has a reputation for being confusing and intimidating, so Carré d’Artistes also aims to keep the process simple by having standard sizes and prices for its art, irrespective of the artist and allowing for small currency fluctuations. It’s a great idea and, we find, one that buyers are really comfortable with.

What do you think it is about the art market that intimidates some prospective buyers?

I think some of the traditions favoured by the big-name galleries, such as concealing prices, haven’t helped. Having to approach a member of staff to ask how much a piece of art costs can be very intimidating and can leave customers assuming that it’s out of their reach. Anyone who’s fairly new to the market would also be unsure of what represents a fair price for an artwork. Once you become more familiar with how the industry operates, you’ll naturally grow in confidence and feel more comfortable asking questions.

What are the benefits of being part of an international gallery network?

One of the main advantages is that by opening our franchise, we immediately gained access to Carré d’Artistes’ fantastic network of over 300 international artists, all of whom have their own individual style. Carré d’Artistes also operates a special system which enables each gallery to showcase the work of its various artists on a rotation basis for a couple of months, which is a brilliant way of introducing diversity into our spaces. Additionally, each market can recruit local talent, providing approval is given, which has been really exciting for us, since we’ve been able to introduce Lebanese artists to the Carré d’Artistes’ brand for the first time. It’s extremely rewarding knowing we’ve played a part in bringing local artists into the network, helping them to have their work exhibited not only at our gallery, but also in others worldwide.

How did you adapt your business to accommodate the challenges of 2020?

Things were very different last year, since we were unable to hold our usual events. Normally, we’d host international artists, for example, and offer them opportunities to show their work and meet potential buyers. These were win-win events, since visiting artists found Lebanon inspirational in many ways, while audiences had the chance to buy work with a great backstory to it. Inevitably Covid changed everything and forced us to search for alternative ideas. In the first lockdown, we collaborated with ArtScoops to hold an online charity auction focused solely on Lebanese artists since we wanted to support them, and, to our delight, sold 85% of the works presented, with a share of the proceeds going to help struggling families. We’re in the process of planning follow-up auctions, while selling online and also keeping active on social media, which we think is key.

Carré d’Artistes is known for championing upcoming talent. Who is on your ‘Ones to Watch’ list for 2021?

I’m really excited about the Lebanese artists in the Carré d’Artistes’ network and the inspiring, inventive work they’ve produced in such a difficult year, such as paintings depicting historic buildings damaged by the explosion in August, for example, which are really beautiful and incredibly poignant. It’s been an extremely tough year for everyone in Lebanon, including here at the gallery, which was damaged in the explosion. However, the support we’ve received has been phenomenal and I’m hugely proud of our Lebanese artists who’ve expressed themselves so brilliantly through their art, showing what a powerful medium it is. We’re always on the lookout for new talent to recruit into the network, so I have my eyes peeled! 

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