For our series celebrating the achievements of women in the arts, one of Paris’s leading gallerists, with spaces in Brussels, London and New York, shares her experience of working in the art world.
As you were starting out in the arts, what were the possibilities for mentorship, collaboration and cross-generational engagement among women?
When I was starting out in the 1990s, there were fewer possibilities for women. At the time, there were more men than women in the Paris art world. However, I was lucky to be close to the late designer Andrée Putman: I learned a lot by being in her circle. She was friends with the gallerist Paula Cooper, who she introduced me to, and with whom I had the opportunity to have many conversations. Even though Paula wasn’t living in Paris, and at the time I was not spending enough time in New York to have her as a mentor, I learnt so much from her. Back then, people were not travelling as much as they do nowadays. Suzanne Pagé, who at the time was the Director of the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, was a role model to me, because of her way of looking at art and understanding artists; an approach that was characterized by a disregard of generational considerations. Her programme took risks with emerging artists and also staged historical exhibitions.
What, if any, were the difficulties of embarking on a career in the arts as a woman?
I can’t say I encountered any difficulty that I was not able to overcome. I was unaware of the challenges which are inherent to art dealing and I ignored the obstacles people warned me about, which were more concerned with more financial matters than with regard to being a woman.
What specific experiences have you had that shaped your understanding of gender in the workplace, the media and the arts?
I think that, instead of pertaining uniquely to the subject of one’s studies and professional experience, it happened that personal questions – in relation, for example, to one’s own family background or private life – which might not have been asked to a man, are often asked of a woman. I have always managed to avoid these questions and change the subject.
What has changed today?
I believe the art world has changed a lot and that people are now far more professional when they approach a woman in the context of the work environment.
What are your thoughts about #Metoo and other initiatives to call attention to sexual harassment?
I think it has been essential to initiate an open dialogue about this problem.
Main image: Almine Rech. Courtesy: Almine Rech Gallery; photograph: Bec Lorrimer