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Jean-Marc Lelouch: "Ceramics Are Underpriced"

Published on , by Stéphanie Pioda

As the Parcours céramique brings together 19 Paris galleries, the dealer discussed ceramics, long considered contemporary art's poor relative.

Photo Louis Décamps Jean-Marc Lelouch:
Photo Louis Décamps

What kind of gallerist are you?
I'm a dealer who started out by scouring flea markets and second-hand shops for bargains. As time went by, I turned into a gallerist, in the sense that today I work more with living artists. The shift came naturally: when we started out in the 1980s, creations by Jean Royère, Alexandre Noll and Jean Prouvé were still affordable. Their prices hadn't yet reached the impossible levels they have today. Ceramics have always been present, especially since I discovered Georges Jouve 30 years ago. I bought many works; dealers were interested in them and we sold them to each other. Things gelled immediately, like with Noll and Royère. This dynamic has carried me all these years, with beautiful moments, like when gallerist Yves Gastou held his Francesca Guerrier show in 2001. I fell in love with pieces that I'm happy to have kept!

Where do you want the gallery's identity to go?
I focus on artists I like very much, especially Philippe Hiquily, Alicia Penalba, Guy de Rougemont, César and a few others, such as Jacques Adnet, whose pieces I continue to buy when I find them. I recently acquired this 12m, 39.3 ft high column by Guy de Rougemont at auction. I'm still a dealer at heart but started editing lighting fixtures and coffee tables with Philippe Hiquily, which led me to work with other artists, such as Élie Hirsch, Thomas Lelouch and Jacques Andrieux. I've also discovered some wonderful contemporary ceramists, including Nadia Pasquer, Claudine Gouriou and Véronique Rivemale. I'm not a dealer who sticks to a single medium, but who loves ceramics among other things. I'm delighted to participate in the Parcours and, soon, Art Paris.

Which facets of ceramics will you show during the Parcours céramique?
I'm going to exhibit 1950s pieces alongside contemporary creations. Nadia Pasquer, Véronique Rivemale, Claudine Gouriou and Jac Ward all work in their studio in Puisaye, an area in central France that's a real breeding ground of talent. This selection will be rounded out by Éric Astoul's volcanic creations and works by Élisabeth Joulia, both of whom live in La Borne, a famous potters' village in the Cher, a department in central France. Among their elders, Carlos Carlé, who's from Argentina, Guidette Carbonell and Denise Gatard (1921–1992) will also show works at this exhibition of contemporary ceramics. This is an opportunity for me to demonstrate that this dialogue is very successful and that the prices are affordable. A young collector can thus consider acquiring creations that are works of art.

Nadia Pasquer (b. 1940), Cube Blanc Engobe (Engobe White Cube) polished porcelain, signed, 21 x 31 x 31 cm.© Louis Decamps

Nadia Pasquer (b. 1940), Cube Blanc Engobe (Engobe White Cube) polished porcelain, signed, 21 x 31 x 31 cm (8.2 x 12.2 x 12.2 in.).
© Louis Decamps

Can you give me some examples of prices?
The one-off pieces by Nadia Pasquer, who creates a host of objects with pure, free-form geometric shapes that seem to literally fall from the sky, cost between €1,000/5,000. Véronique Rivemale creates extraordinary lamps over 50 cm/1.6 ft tall for around €4,000/5,000 each. A gorgeous white faïence fountain with two cherubs by Guidette Carbonell is available for around €5,000. Prices seldom exceed €10,000, but a vase by Élisabeth Joulia (1925-2003), a great ceramist, costs around €20,000.

How is the ceramics market positioned in relation to contemporary art?
For a long time, ceramics have been wrongly considered art's poor relative. That's why ceramic works are underpriced. After the war, Picasso helped to boost their value by numbering pieces and creating limited series, but not much happened afterwards. Some centres of creation have become famous, like La Borne, and some artists became movers and shakers, like Picasso or the flamboyant Johan Creten.

What advice would you give a young collector?
In an artist's career, there's one period that's really the most interesting. After experimenting with several directions, they've really found themselves. These are the works to buy when you sense the unity between the artist's personality and their self-realization.

Véronique Rivemale and Jean-Marc Lelouch in the artist's studio.Photo Louis Décamps

Véronique Rivemale and Jean-Marc Lelouch in the artist's studio.
Photo Louis Décamps

Some of the ceramists you present work with other materials. Does this imply significant price differences?
Yes. If we take the example of Argentine sculptor Alicia Penalba, I ask €30,000 for the totemic pieces she made early in her career, which would have been worth nearly twice as much had she cast them in bronze. Likewise, her large plaster sculptures are three to four times less expensive than the bronze ones, even though plaster is more sensitive and keeps the memory of the artist's hand.

Is it easy to sell ceramic pieces today?
Yes. A certain upswing has been observed for about six years. But growth is still slow. Now's the time to buy because prices are going up. I'm seeing rising interest and receptiveness from contemporary art collectors. For example, I've just sold pieces by Alicia Penalba to some curious people who had noticed them at Art Paris a year ago. This year, I've decided to exhibit great totems by another Argentine artist, Carlos Carlé, as well as works by Elisabeth Joulia and Nadia Pasquer there. But most of my customers are decorators. Private individuals buying for themselves are only starting to become more interested in contemporary ceramics.

You've been on Quai Voltaire for 10 years. Is an address like that a plus for outreach and visibility?
When I was looking for a new space, I had the opportunity to get the one on Quai Voltaire. It suited me very well and the address works. Foreign decorators account for three-quarters of my turnover, and thanks to the online version of Art Paris in May, I had requests from Australian, Greek and Lebanese decorators. Our real driving force is still Maison & Objets, which attracts great decorators from around the world. But whatever the event taking place in Paris, the PAD or the FIAC, customers always stop by at Quai Voltaire.

The 13th Parcours de la céramique et des arts du feu,
6th and 7th arrondissements of Paris.
Tuesday 15 to Saturday 19 September 2020.
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