Contemporary painted portrait of woman

Untitled (2019) by Henrik Aa. Uldalen

Jean-David Malat is part of a new wave of art dealers. Clients include Bono, Kate Moss and Lily Allen, you can buy his art on Instagram, and you’re as likely to run into fashion types as the art crowd at one of his parties. Torri Mundell discovers what makes him tick so fast

From his glitzy Mayfair gallery, Jean-David Malat, a tall, suave Frenchman, discovers and promotes new artists from around the world using social media, a fast-paced schedule of shows and events, and an air of inclusivity. Malat hunts for contemporary artists from ‘outside the box’ to represent from all corners of the world, uses Instagram and innovative events to generate interest, sales and loyalty outside the conventional art crowd, and welcomes new buyers venturing into his gallery. Coming from a fashion background, Malat has been a Mayfair gallerist, first with another gallery, now, since last year, his own, for more than a decade but still palpably mixes the two worlds.

LUX: What do your artists have in common?
Jean-David Malat: The first thing is the relationship that I have with each of them. In the art world, this is important. I believe in them, I collect them personally, and I push them and support them through a network of collectors. And all of them share a kind of energy. At our summer show, we exhibited a mix of our artists, including Li Tianbing, Santiago Parra and Conrad Jon Godly, all of whom are very different artists but who all share this energy.

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LUX: Your approach to marketing is very different to the norm in the gallery world.
Jean-David Malat: Instagram is a really successful, really important strategy for the gallery. We sell
through social media. Many of our clients are following us on Instagram so we can post a photograph of a piece and they will call or WhatsApp us directly and say, “I like this one”. The gallery now has more than 30K followers. It’s good for the artists, too.

LUX: Has this changed the art audience?
Jean-David Malat: Yes, a lot. I think Instagram is more democratic. It is easier to show the world what you do and what you’re exhibiting. I would say more than half of our buyers may never have set foot in a gallery before. We have a strong website that offers a virtual tour, where you can zoom right into the artworks. And if a potential buyer likes a piece, we can create a virtual room to show how it will look. It works well – we do business in Iceland, China, Singapore…

LUX: Will this replace the gallery experience?
Jean-David Malat: Seeing art face to face is still important. People want to see it physically. And the gallery is open to everyone. It’s important to share the space with art students, with art lovers.

Abstract art work with black paint

Untitled (2019) by Santiago Parra

LUX: How do know you’ve come across an artist you want to represent?
Jean-David Malat: I trust my instinct. When I took on Santiago Parra, not as many people believed in him but now he’s very successful. But we take our time before we sign an artist. The gallery is a whole team. We discuss by committee which artists we can help and how. Henrik Uldalen is the only artist I have discovered on Instagram – it’s a great platform for art, but Instagram is not doing my job for me. I still do a lot of travelling.

LUX: What are you looking for in an artist?
Jean-David Malat: I need something that talks to me. The first time I saw Henrik’s work [in 2015], I could see that his work is very emotional. When you look at the portraits, they make you think – and feel. I was intrigued and I went to visit him in his studio in East London. We kept in touch and eventually I started to represent him. Everywhere we go, it sells. At his 2018 exhibition, some people came to the show five times. Some of them cried in front of his paintings. I’ve been in the art world for many years and haven’t often seen emotion like that.

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LUX: Can you say more about your relationship with your artists?
Jean-David Malat: You need to support them. You need to give them attention, solo exhibitions, press and more. We spend time together, we have meals together and travel together. When you are part of JD Malat, you are part of a family. Sometimes, we just need to give our artists some direction in size and subject. You try to guide them, mix commercial with non-commercial advice.

LUX: How did you come across Zümrütoğlu?
Jean-David Malat: He’s a Turkish artist I discovered at an art fair in Istanbul. I loved his work straight away and I approached him a few months later because I couldn’t forget him. He is one of my
strongest artists. His work is very political and not easy. It’s dark, not decorative, and it was a challenge to show his work in London. But we sold to a museum and to some powerful collectors, and David Bellingham from Sotheby’s Institute wrote a lovely essay about his work.

Abstract contemporary painting

Angel of history-III (2019) by Zümrütoğlu

LUX: Have you known Katrin Fridriks long?
Jean-David Malat: For many years – she was one of the first artists I collected. Her work is a bit different; it’s about power, colour, explosion. We had a beautiful show together in March which was very well received and we are doing a new collaboration with Jack Barclay Bentley.

LUX: You’re not against setting up commercial relationships with your artists?
Jean-David Malat: It’s important to have them, but of course we are very careful. We have many offers for collaborations – especially for trainers! – but you need to be picky. I have seen many
disasters between artists and brands. Katrin was perfect for this project because her work is all about natural energy, so there was an elegant connection between her and the brand. She spent months getting it right. It was never going to be simply an image transferred onto a car.

Photograph of snow on trees in street light

Mirage #38 (2019) by Masayoshi Nojo

LUX: How was your move from the secondary to the primary market?
Jean-David Malat: The primary market is much more exciting. I love having direct contact with my artists. And it is always more interesting to sell artists who you support. I haven’t given up on the secondary market – I still get requests from collectors who know me and prefer to go through me for my knowledge and experience.

LUX: Have you encountered any snobbery towards your gallery from the establishment?
Jean-David Malat: Yes, there’s a lot of snobbery in this industry, but I don’t look or pay attention to it and I don’t really care. I just think I am here today in Davies Street and I work passionately with the artists whose work I love. I think that in all industries, there are people who don’t want you to succeed or believe you can. People in the art industry can be arrogant. But we have a different approach to our public – we welcome everyone to the gallery, and I meet them all.

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