Our next Gallery Spotlight finds us within the fascinating world of long-time art dealer and collector Yves Laroche of Montreal, Canada’s Yves Laroche Gallery. Yves has been involved in the arts for longer than most of us have been pattering around this fine planet, beginning his adventure in 1979. He’s stayed true to his course through the fat and lean days, braving uncharted territories from his early days as a poster publisher to his current state as an international curatorial powerhouse.Join us as I sit down with Yves and gets to know one of the new contemporary art world’s most genuine and creatively generous souls.
Yves Laroche with collaborative portrait by Shawn Barber and Jean “Turf One” Labourdette for the Life Size exhibit
Thank you for your valuable time and thoughts, Yves. It is certainly appreciated. So to begin, let’s start early on. How and when did you become interested and involved in the art world and dealing in the fine arts?
In 1979, I sold my small bookstore and reinvested all I had into buying a publishing company. Back in the day, I was starting my modest collection with a few vintage posters (mostly Soviet propaganda), and in the meantime I published many Canadian artists, which I promoted in various international art fairs.
We have heard that your gallery once had a different direction with the art that you exhibited. What were those times like, and what prompted the change to show more of the younger and upcoming talents?
In 1991 I bought a beautiful space in a prime location in Old Montreal. My goal was to showcase innovative contemporary artists. Unfortunately, a great recession exploded (mostly in real estate) and times got really tough. We were in debt with the bank over our mortgage and after 15 months of trying to operate, the bank gave us an ultimatum. We were either going to give up or re-focus our gallery & try to make it work. Turning into a very commercial gallery in a location with constant foot traffic proved to be very good for us. Then in 2002, we managed to pay everything off and it was time to go back to what we loved.
When you come up with an exhibition idea, do you have the artists in mind beforehand, or does the inspiration dictate the artists that will be involved?
Well, our director Ximena Becerra is the one in charge of anything involving the exhibitions we have at YL and the direction the gallery takes. She works very closely with the artists and makes the exhibitions happen rather organically. To answer your question, it’s a mix of both. We offer exhibitions to artists we’ve usually worked with in the past and when it happens the artists have full artistic freedom. For our two-person exhibitions, we’ve wanted to show artists who complement each other, show each other strengths and in some case we like to merge a Canadian with an American artists. When it comes to group exhibitions we set a theme we hope is inspiring for all.
What was it like for you growing up? Have you always lived and worked in Canada, and how does that influence your global artistic view when you gaze over the creative landscape of today?
I had a very hectic childhood, I was very hyper active (still am) and luckily enough, sports was my only drug and reading a lot calmed me down. I loved music (Joplin, Hendrix, The Doors) and since technology was not as present as today, my friends and I had more time to cultivate serious long-lasting friendships.
I’ve always lived in Canada but worked a lot in the States and in Europe. I lived a few months here and there to see what was happening in other parts of the world. My vision of contemporary art has definitely been influenced by the previous international avant-garde. Consequentially, it has given me a better understanding of what I see today. There are many avenues in contemporary art, that as a dealer you need to be highly in tune with your own sensibility in order to clearly know what path you want to take.
Please tell us about your current gallery incarnation, and how you envision your gallery moving forward into its future state of being?
In 2003 we decided to change direction, artists and staff. We created two divisions: the young artists and my secondary market. For the young artists, we didn’t want to approach it like anybody else had, which meant visiting art schools and picking the best finalists out of there. It’s ridiculous, 99% of these artists are doomed to begin with. They are filled with the academic bullshit they’ve been spoon fed by their teachers. They learn how to follow the recipe and the rest is history. They’re reactionary artists who are all dried up inside. I like it when the artist is able to reach me from the inside.
2010 will be a great year for us. We will be moving actually, expanding into a much bigger space. Our mandate will stay the same but we are in constant evolution. Even though we love the low brow/pop surrealist movement, we’d like to take this genre even further. I’m working closely with museums and collectors in order to take all of our hard work on another level.
What is it that draws you to a particular artist – what criteria must a creative soul be representing to catch your experienced and critical eye?
Great question! What moves me the most about an artist is their manifest content, that singularity which is their personal imprint. I love when artists takes risks. Someone who doesn’t care about anybody else’s opinion and whose main focus is to take that “desire” and move forward with it. What is art? It is surely a “desire” put into practice through a medium. I find it fascinating to see an artist exploring the difficulties until he finds the special thing he is looking for. There’s nothing better than seeing an artist reinventing themself in their work, rising like a Phoenix, fully grasping his desire. Those are the artists I love and will forever defend. They are revolutionary human beings and not reactionaries. They have a fire, a volcano in their stomachs and know how to exteriorize it. They truly are poets.
Main hall of Yves Laroche Gallery during their Sweet Calaveras exhibit (2007)
How do you feel the Yves Laroche philosophy aids in the growth and progression of the artists that you choose to work with?
Our philosophy is simple, hard work. Talent & creativity will eventually pay off. We try to build strong links with our represented artists and encourage a certain work ethic. I think the fact we are here to help them with anything no matter what, helps them feel they can trust us. It gives them a certain freedom to just be themselves. They are free to create and know they have a group of people working only for their best interest. We go beyond being a gallery, we are a hub of creativity and hard work, and it will distinguish us eventually.
Ximena (left), Yves (center) and Shawn Barber (right)
What highlights have you experienced in your career as an exhibitor, collector and observer?
I can say with great pride that a few Canadian artists who started their career with us are now doing very well internationally. It’s not only very stimulating for them but for us. It’s our reward. And it’s a great one. And now great collectors are coming around and investing in this emerging talent, it’s fantastic.
Canadian favorite transplant to the States, Martin Wittfooth (left) and Yves Laroche (right)
In the face of the ever-changing currents in the fine art realm, what do you see coming around the corner, and how are you preparing for that future?
It is very important for my collectors to constantly be aware of what is happening in the scene. I see curators of museums or important collections (public & corporate) retiring very soon. They will be replaced by a wave of younger art lovers far more receptive to what we do. There’s going to be a re-education or a training of the new collectors. It’s not only happening here but everywhere around the world like France, the UK, Germany, Australia, China and Brazil. They’ve all started the move. These awkward teenage years are almost over – let’s get ready.
We’d heard a rumour that you might be considering passing the torch and entering into a retirement mode. Is there any truth to this, and if so, how do you feel it would affect the area in which you’ve built somewhat of an artistic oasis within an artistically challenged landscape?
50% true. I really do want to pass the torch to my young collaborators who I’ve built solid links with. I’ve gathered hardworking young adults with the same passion and guts. However, being in retirement mode will never happen because I’ve actually not worked a day in my life. I’m realizing my dream, my passion. I’m on fire! How can you retire if you’re not really working? This is what I love to do, it’s not a job. And anyways, I’m way too young. I hate saying my age but let’s say I was born in 1952. I still have time to do what I want to do and beyond. I want to dedicate myself to my group of collectors I’ve worked closely with in the past 30 years and slowly push them into investing in our avant-garde. I have a lot more fun putting my young artists in great collections rather than just selling work that’s been already established (great Canadian / American masters). I want to host more exhibitions, go to more international art fairs, and gather a younger clientele. Ultimately my goal is to have an internationally known gallery and be a must-see destination in Canada.
Ximena (left), Yves (center) and Shawn Barber (right)
Is there a particular dream exhibition or artistic expression that you would some day like to pursue and realize?
Of course, there’s many dream exhibitions but we will actually make them happen. That’s a promise. Recently, I’ve discovered in Havana a great group of avant-garde artists I’d like to show in Montreal and Miami. Cubans posses a great culture, are highly educated, yet remain poor because of their current economic situation. These artists are hard workers and overall happy human beings. Mix all of that and you get beautiful results.
And now, as we depart from each other’s company for the moment, do you have any advice for artists? What advice would you give to collectors or patrons of the arts?
From left: Van Arno, Yves Laroche, Ron English (2007)
To the artists: Don’t let yourself be bothered too much in your workspace, carefully choose your art dealers and respect them as honestly as you can. Have strategies for your career (alongside your gallery) and showcase as much as you can in international art fairs. Get out of your county, out of your comfort zone. Be creative. Be generous because selfishness could be seen on your work. Be aware of the wolves, the many pseudo-galleries.
To collectors and patrons: Do not do business with only one gallery. Take your time, think, pay attention. All that is popular now will eventually fade away. Visit art fairs, ask questions. Be open minded.
– by Nathan Spoor