Saturday, January 14, 2012

Paris Galleries - Dorothy Polley

I met with Dorothy Polley in October of 2011 and she was the first gallerist of this series whom I interviewed.

When I started writing about Paris galleries I wanted the first gallery to be purely french and run by a french person and I'm glad that I made that decision.

However on writing up the interview with Dorothy I realised she is very much French and an important part of Paris. Although she is originally American she has made a huge impact here. Not just in art but in many other areas too. Significant impact. So it's with pleasure that I introduce the second in the series of interviews with french galleries based in Paris.

Q. Hello Dorothy, for my first question I’d like to know, when you came to Paris, did you plan to open an art gallery?

  • A. No, I didn’t plan on anything. I just came here to live. I started as a language teacher. Paris was very different then. I set up a huge organisation for language teachers, almost by accident. Then In 1986 I set up a language school which I sold in 2006. We had very big contracts with International and French companies. During all this time I was involved in music and theatre had many friends in that world. Naturally, through my language school I made a lot of contacts in the world of business. In 2006 a Japanese company offered to buy the language school and I said yes. In the same year, I set up the art gallery and invited all the people I knew from International companies and contacts in the french administrative system to attend the art vernissages and other events. It took 6 months from the original decision to the opening of the first exhibition but it was a huge success right from the beginning. I’ve been running this gallery for 5 years now but I can’t compare it to the art scene when I first arrived here in Paris because I was totally involved in establishing the language school which had 80 teachers. All my outside interests were in music and theatre.
Q. And why did you choose to open in Bastille?
  • A. This was originally my family home so I already had the space and now it’s the gallery.
Q. What about motivation?
  • A. I don’t know why I did it. I was just following my inspiration. It’s best to follow your desire because you waste a lot of time and energy by trying to understand everything before you take action. The people I worked with during the first exhibitions were of great help. They were art students and they helped with the hanging. I also worked with another gallery to find the artists and we shared the space. So the first exhibitions were a great success and when I opened the doors for the first time it was full. We had a great first response. It was very encouraging.
Q. Do you get a lot of help from associations that help galleries to set up?
  • A. No but I think that they exist. You see, this is a company but recently I have begun to investigate the advantages of setting up an association and benefiting from the help which associations receive.
Q. What is the advantage of being a gallery in Paris?
  • A. The advantage is that if companies buy work over a period of years they get the money back. That’s a big advantage for the companies. There’s no advantage for this gallery but it’s great for the collectors.
Q. Why isn’t Paris an incredible hotbed for collecting art? It seems like everything is in place for it to happen.
  • A. I don't know the answer to that. We discuss it often. Everyone discusses it and no one understands why. When I began, it was often passers by who bought art, just because they liked it. However over the last couple of years people seem to be a lot less willing to simply buy art without a direct reason. I do a lot of communication, probably a lot more than other galleries of my size. I’ve sold over a thousand pieces of art over the last 5 years. It’s certain that one of the things which make a big difference to an exhibitions success is the theme. Some shows bring in thousands of visitors.
Q. How do you choose work.
  • A. The sense of meaning in a work & the discourse surrounding it inspires me to show it. Because, having been an english teacher I like words and the meaning in the work gives it a great deal of value to me. The poetry in the work is very important. I like to mix media in the shows too. There are sculptors, paintings, photos, all at the same time. Media can be abstract or figurative.
Q. Do you have many friends who are gallerists?
  • A. Yes, I like to work with a lot of galleries. I share artists with galleries and share information as much as possible. That’s very important.
Q. Is it still good to be in Paris?
  • A. I think a lot of things have changed. There are more ateliers open. People can walk around artists studios and see art in an unstructured manner and many come to see art fairs such as FIAC. Collectors have begun to come to Paris in waves rather than as a steady stream. There are a number of art fairs each year. All of which effect the galleries. I’ve taken part in some but a gallery is better for artists. A lot of people who don’t know a lot about art but who are eager to collect feel compelled to go to big brand galleries which show established names. That’s not the way to start collecting. There is a lot to learn about the process and there is no quick fix. It’s an intellectual as well as emotional/visual process.
Q. Pricing, how do you pick a price for the art?
  • A. Well that depends on a lot of things. It depends on the work, on the artist. The artist and I will discuss that. If I think the price is right I’ll agree with the artist or advise them. Artists don’t realise that they have to have a range of prices. So that people can begin to collect them if they can’t afford a larger piece. People collect not just because of an individual piece but also because they like how the artist thinks.
Q. What’s your favorite part of running an art gallery?
  • A. Unwrapping the art. Discovering a new artist and seeing the work in real life because often you have just seen the pieces on the internet and the real thing is a completely different experience.
Q. What do you like least?
  • A. Being in the gallery every single day. You want to treat people as you would like to be treated yourself so you give each visitor your best and it can be exhausting. You can’t leave that to someone else.
Q. How do you find people to invite to exhibitions?
  • A. I have a long list of guests built up over the years.
Q. Do you collect art yourself.
  • A. Not really. I do have art but I don’t consider myself to be a collector.
Q. How much money do you need to have to open a gallery?
  • A. I don’t think that’s the right question. I think that you have to be in the right circles to open a gallery. It can be very expensive either way. Paying assistants. Putting up posters. Organising receptions. Contacting journalists. Creating communications in different magazines. So it’s very expensive but if you are in the right circles, with people who collect, it’s possible to make it work. Then there is the keeping everything clean and you have to create a book for each artist and each show.
Q. Would you not feel comfortable promoting the same artists all the time, over the years.
  • A. No I like to promote a core group but I also like to add to them all the time. I am very loyal to the artists that I like but the stimulation of the new is very important. The artists like it too.

Dorothy Polly

Painting by Matthew Grabelsky
Title: A weight on his mind

Painting by Eric Turlot

Video clip from the show: Paris-Texas:

Texas artist Ealy Mays :

French artist Eric Turlot:

Dorothy’s Gallery
27, rue KellerParis, 11e
ouverture du mercredi au samedi de 13h à 19h
mardi et dimanche de 16h à 19h
Métro : Bastille
Tel: 01 43 57 08 51

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For lovers of Surrealist Art:

In March 2012, in Dorothy's Gallery, there will be an exhibition called Héritages Surréalistes. Its vernissage is on March 30th 2012. It will be an international surrealist exhibition with artists from 7 different countries. There is a well rounded group with two friends and collegues of André Breton: the Portuguese surrealist Isabel Meyrelles and the recently deceased French surrealist Anne Ethuin, wife of the poet Edouard Jaguer ( a member of the “Main à plume” surrealist group during the French Resistence ). With the sculptors, there are fourteen artists in total.

The exhibition is a collaborative effort between Dorothy's Gallery, Liba Waring Stambollion and Santiago Rebeiro, who is the curator and the founder of the show (which has already taken place in Portugal). It is a show which is showcased and partially funded by Bissaya Barreto.


Liba said...


About Beauford Delaney said...

What a wonderful interview with Dorothy! She has some extraordinary artists and events at her gallery. It's great to see her featured here.

Anonymous said...

Very nice and interresting interview.
The exhibition certnaly will be a great success.