From the beginning, we wanted to create an international community in Paris.
On some evenings, you need only walk through rue Ramponeau in Paris’ Belleville neighborhood to be catapulted, colorful, arty and perpetually moving microcosm. People are laughing, drinking, smoking cigarettes and peacocking – and when you get closer, you will certainly capture conversation snatches full of cultural references, friendly talk and banter. In light of such a scene, there is only one conclusion to come to: there’s a preview tonight at the Balice Hertling gallery tonight and all the regulars are in attendance. In the space of a decade, its owners have succeeded in channeling a cosmopolitan and dynamic energy around the gallery, while asserting its identity through attractive, differentiating programming. Not only because it is the place in which artists such as Will Benedict (nominated for the Ricard Foundation Prize this year), Alexander May, Puppies Puppies and Buck Ellison (whose photo exhibition is still running) have been discovered but also because it revealed the large range of French artists who are now highly coveted in foreign countries such as Neil Beloufa, Camille Blatrix and Julie Beaufils. Combining emergence and strength, the gallery, which has opened a new space, is the lynchpin of the development of Belleville’s artistic sphere. The catalysts of this energy is the perfectly complementary duo of Italian Daniele Balice and German Alexander Hertling. Together, they are aiming at opening Paris onto the international area – and also vice-versa.
Speaking about Balice Hertling is also to speak about your duo. How did the two of you meet?
Daniele Balice – Before opening the gallery, we were already together.I had studied in Paris before I settled in New-York. I came back to France in 2006. I worked as gallery director at the Art:Concept gallery. Along the way, we met along with two curators and an artist in Belleville who were setting up a project-space called Castillo/Corrales. They offered to share the space with us. We could use it every other month – so we began to conceive exhibitions. It was a bit of an accident actually.
Alexander Hertling – I studied in a fashion school and I had been working for the Totem press office before opening the gallery. When Castillo/Corrales gave us this opportunity, we accepted straightaway, without a second thought or a business plan. Two months later, in autumn 2007, we launched our first exhibition. After that, things grew fast and we decided to work on it full-time.
Had any of you already dreamt of opening a gallery?
Alexander – If we hadn’t met, I don’t think I would have never opened a gallery. It wasn’t even our goal when we began organising exhibitions. It was more a curatorial approach, but as we organised personal exhibitions of the work of artists who were not represented by any gallery, they considered us their representatives. Let say that we wanted to do a project together, and chance encounters did the rest.
Daniele – For my part, I wanted to, because I was working in a gallery. I studied fine arts before working for Flash Art magazine. So, I’d always been in the artistic sphere. The wish to showcase your own programming ends up appearing, obviously . Its shape would have been different, though. When you work with a partner, it’s twice the energy in a sphere which can sometimes be hard to put up with. The person who influenced me the most when I decided to commit and open the gallery was Colin de Land. He opened the Vox Populi art gallery in the East Side in New-York in the ‘80s. He also worked with a partner; his wife was the gallery owner Pat Hearn.
What was your first exhibition? How was it received?
Daniele – Although our following exhibitions ewere mostly monographic, the very first one was a group show merely called “Exposition n°1” (Exhibition n°1). Oscar Tuazon, co-founder of Castillo/Corrales, Kerstin Brätsch, Falke Pisano, Pernille Kapper Williams, Bernhard Brungs, Nick Mauss and Reto Pulfer, among others, were part of the exhibition. It was broadly relayed in the headlines of international magazines such as Artforum, Flash Art ou Frieze. They produced very varied reviews, positive or negative ones. And Falke Pisano was immediately invited to the Venice Biennale in 2009. There were paintings, videos, sculptures: a broad range of different mediums and nationalities but all friends. As we were both foreigners, we wanted to create an international community in Paris, right from the start.
This idea of community seems to be one of the main features of the Balice Hertling identity…
Alexander – Definitely, yes. The thing which attracted me the most when we opened the gallery was to have those of my friends who are artists, as guests in Paris. It worked right away, mainly thanks to the quantity of different profiles – artists, curators and gallery owners – that made up Castillo/Corrales. We still spend a lot of time with our artists, because they ask for it a lot and also because neither one of us has any family. Daniele has a guest room in his flat, it allows us to invite a different artist every week.
You also owned a gallery in New-York. If you compare it with your current gallery, what would be the specific features of the French cultural sphere?
Alexander – Above all else, our roots are set in Belleville. When we opened, the neighborhood was not as full of galleries as it is today. At the time, there were only the Jocelyn Wolff gallery and the Cosmic gallery – now Bugada & Cargnel. Admittedly, the energy produced by the FRAC Le Plateau directed by Caroline Bourgeois attracted a specific audience, but there wasn’t yet a real “place to be” for the collectors and art enthusiasts.
Daniele – Belleville reminded me of the Lower East Side in New York thanks to its cosmopolitan energy, which is different from the one you feel in the Marais. The space in New-York was opened afterwards. It was more of an office, rather small and far from the city centre. The purpose was above all to stay close to our artists, many of which had been living in New-York for a time. In order to stay, we would have had to grow, since the audience there is totally different from the one in Paris: in New-York, people receive novelty very well but weary very fast.
Alexander – We realized our attachment to Paris above all. You will sometimes be hear that the scene is a bit at the fringe of the artistic circuit, though the audience is nothing but sophisticated and loyal. Collectors need more time before deciding to buy outside of the beaten track set by institutions. But it is healthier, they are more loyal. In London or even in New-York, there’s enthusiasm straight away, but the scene is also much more consumerist. That’s why a lot of spaces are currently closing – even if the press hides it very well. On the contrary, in Paris, everybody develops gradually and fares well.
You represent at the same time foreign artists, a new French generation and some older figures who all fit in this notion of an emergent scene. How did this group come about?
Alexander – We worked right from the beginning with Stephen Willats, who is older, and now with Simone Fattal. Even if the diversity between generations has always existed, we felt that the link to the French scene was lacking.
Daniele – That’s true, we wanted to find a group of French artists. The Italian curator Massimiliano Gioni, also artistic director of the New Museum, advised me to get in contact with Neil Beloufa. The latter is a young artist whose work Gioni had seen the work at Cal Art in Los Angeles. Through him, we met his gang with which we work now, Camille Blatrix and Julie Beaufils, who studied with him at the Beaux-Arts in Paris. Then, those French artists took advantage of our international openness to begin and evolve at the international level. Neil Beloufa showed some of his work at the MoMA in New York this year, Julie Beaufils found a gallery in Los Angeles and Camille Blatrix has just showed at the Wattis Institute in San Francisco.
The gallery seems to be doing well: you opened last summer a new space adjoining the main gallery…
Alexander – We have been lucky that the City hall of Paris provided us the place: we decided to take advantage of the not-so-expensive rent to set up a generous project which would highlight new spheres. The project-space Full House from Los Angeles, which aggregates a typical scene of the angeleno underground, is currently our guest. It gathers a typical trend of the underground of Los Angeles. This is a way to have new communities as guests and the gallery spirit making stronger .
If you were to open a gallery in 2016, what would you change?
Alexander – Our identity would not be the same without the mistakes. We probably embarked too quickly on crazy projects.
Daniele – Success came perhaps a bit fast. We had to find funds rapidly in order to present straight away the work of Falke Pisano at the Venice Biennale. The same thing happened when we took part in Art Basel’s Statement section, in the first years. We showed solo-shows there centered around bigger pieces: that’s not obviously an easy sell, but it is a great opportunity for our artists. And it is beneficial in the long-run.
Looking back, what was your best hunch?
Daniele – To open in Paris, definitely. We aim at debunking the myth that rents are too expensive for artists. That’s not true because there is real solidarity in Paris. We may feel it all the more because both of us come from somewhere else. Indeed, among our international artists, more and more of them move to Paris, like Alexander May et de Will Benedict, who had been living in Los Angeles until now. This is a very positive message. Now, museums and institutions have to tap into this energy and position themselves to relay this.