He’s the immaculately dressed art dealer who is known for spotting emerging new talents on Instagram, and is set to open his own London gallery, but how does Jean-David Malat think you should start and grow your own collection of art?
RSNG Which business lessons learned in your first jobs in retail still apply to your art dealing today?
JEAN-DAVID MALAT, ART DEALER** ‘My first job in retail was as a salesperson, selling porcelain in Paris in 1998. I learned a lot from this experience, but the most valuable thing that I still benefit from today is that, first and foremost, you need to understand your product. Thoroughly understanding your product will help you to build relationships, which is one of the most important parts of business.’
RSNG What’s been your proudest moment in art and tell us the story behind it?
JDM ‘I would be lying if I didn’t say it was seeing my own name at 30 Davies Street, where I’m due to open my own gallery in June. Apart from that, I was immensely proud when I was invited to curate a show at the Heydar Aliyev Center Baku Azerbaijan, a beautiful museum designed by Zaha Hadid. I got to speak about the exhibition in front of 500 guests – it was so exciting.’
RSNG What three things do you look for when discovering new talent?
JDM ‘There are three things I value: natural talent, commitment and hard work. But apart from those, I am mostly looking at the personal connection I have with the artist, as well as their future potential. The JD Malat Gallery will open with a solo exhibition from a young artist, Henrik Uldalen, who is, I think, a prime example of combining talent and determination with a strong, dynamic character.’
‘Taking chances and listening to your feelings are good tactics when you build your collection’
RSNG The public perception of collecting art is that you need tens of thousands to get involved – is that true?
JDM ‘I am obviously aware of this misconception, but in my opinion it is exactly that – a misconception. Art comes in all shapes, sizes, formats and costs, and some collectors bought their first painting many years ago, when artists were still unknown. Taking chances and listening to your own feelings are good tactics when you start to build your own collection. A work of art you truly love will make you much happier than one purchased solely dependent on numbers.’
RSNG What has been the most surprising reaction to a painting by one of your artists that you’ve witnessed?
JDM ‘The most fascinating moment for me was when I exhibited the first two paintings I ever received from Henrik Uldalen and had them on display at my house in London. Feedback was amazing throughout but I had one client specifically flying in from Turkey just to see Henrik’s painting – he just couldn’t believe it was a real painting and not a photograph, and was quite literally left speechless! The feeling you have in that moment and the pride you experience is incredible.’
RSNG What do you see as your guiding purpose and is that tied into your work?
JDM ‘Everything I do, I do for my family and children, Joshua and Davi – they’re the beginning and end of everything and the reason I get up every day.’
RSNG Do you think conceptual art has started to lose people and that we feel more connected to something that has obvious craft?
JDM ‘At the risk of sounding a little cliché, art and beauty are in the eye of the beholder and are furthermore always a reflection of people’s current moods and lifestyles. At the end of the day, art is personal to everyone and cannot be commoditised. The possibility of new discovery and interpretation, whether it is realistic or abstract, is what keeps contemporary art at the forefront and fascinates people around the world.’
‘I frequently scout platforms such as Instagram for new talent’
RSNG What’s the biggest mistake you can make when buying art?
JDM ‘Thinking about the investment first and putting your personal feelings second. Art always has an emotional component, so listening to your heart is definitely important.’
RSNG Did you run into a particular challenge when first establishing yourself and how did you overcome it?
JDM ‘I was coming from fashion, and the art world was definitely tricky to master. It wasn’t easy for me to understand the transition from fashion to art. Then I met an art dealer from Israel, who told me that many suit sellers struggling to make money in the old days actually expanded their business and became art dealers.’
‘Once I understood this, I started to apply pieces from one industry to the other, and started to draw analogies between the fashion and the art world. I feel like once I understood that there’s always something valuable you can take from your past experiences, I was able to combine my knowledge and make a big step forward in the art world.’
RSNG What’s the key thing to consider when promoting an artist?
JDM ‘The internet, and social media in particular, has given us new ways to share art. I’m seeing the benefits of social media in the promotion of new artists, as artists now have a platform to showcase their work and become recognised by gallerists. Promoting an artist is truly a matter of connectivity, and social media is a great way to showcase artists to other galleries, artists and collectors around the world.’
‘Besides, you also have to go about it strategically and consider which artists you’re selling, too – for example, selling an up-and-coming artist’s work to an influential collector as soon as they show interest can be really helpful in developing the artist’s name.’
‘I was surprised to discover Pierce Brosnan not only has a supreme taste in art but is a very talented painter!’
RSNG Have any of your celebrity buyers surprised you with their artistic insight?
JDM ‘Pierce Brosnan, who was actually one of my first clients in London. I was surprised to discover that he not only has a supreme taste in art but is a very talented painter himself! He is also very passionate about discovering new artists, and loved to share his finds.’
RSNG You discovered Mike Dargas on Instagram – do you still use the platform and where else do you look for new artists?
JDM ‘I do indeed. As I mentioned, social media has become an important resource in the world of art and I frequently scout platforms such as Instagram for new talent. In fact, I discovered Henrik Uldalen – the solo artist for the launching exhibition at the JD Malat Gallery – on Instagram a few years ago. The platform allowed me to carefully study his progress and evolution. Other than social media, I frequently go to art fairs and exhibitions and, most importantly, keep my eyes and mind wide open, to make sure not to miss any talent.’
RSNG In terms of its status as an investment, what are the benefits of art?
JDM ‘In terms of the monetary side of things, art is a very safe way to invest your money – as the art market has proven over the past few years. Furthermore, art is something you can enjoy every day, so it truly is an investment you can benefit from in multiple ways.’
RSNG What are your goals for the new gallery?
JDM ‘First and foremost, I want to create a platform for established and upcoming artists to showcase their works in a space in Mayfair. I want the space to invite people to come in and enjoy and discover art. I am planning on having a few solo exhibitions per year and also to get into good art fairs and build up a reputation amongst a London local audience. Of course, the dream is to expand and open another gallery in buzzing locations such as Berlin, LA or New York – but first we’ll need to make London a success!’
WHAT NEXT? Watch Henrik Uldalen, who Jean-David Malat discovered on Instagram, paint a portrait in timelapse…