Art Angels

November 24, 2021By Heidi EllisonExhibitions
An ink painting by Claire Chesnier. Photo: Origins Studio, Paris
An ink painting by Claire Chesnier. Photo: Origins Studio, Paris

Artists often have troubled relationships with their dealers, but most need their gallery shows to get their work out into the public eye, where, they hope, it will find buyers.

There may be another way, however, for artists to find the help they need. A few years ago, a couple of former French gallery owners, Pascaline Mulliez and Marine Veilleux, started asking artists what they really needed. The answers they received showed that most of them wanted to be given the time to experiment away from the pressures of the art market. The two women decided to create a nonprofit organization to provide them with the practical assistance they need to explore and grow.

Founded in 2017, the association is called L’Ahah, a word they define as “an opening made in a wall to extend or open up a view” (“ha-ha” in English), on the analogy of opening new horizons for the artists in their stable, who now number 13.

Perhaps most importantly for their artists, the association has a large, light-filled gallery space in a former foundry at 4, cité Griset and a smaller one at 24-26, rue Moret, both in Paris’s 11th arrondissement, where they can mount solo shows. It also has a research center in the southern suburb of Ris-Orangis, with five studios and a large space for “experimentation.”

L’Ahah takes an open approach to its mission, limiting the number of members but avoiding too many restrictions on who can apply. Artists of any age or nationality are eligible, for example, and the collaboration between L’Ahah and each artist generally lasts for a minimum of five years, but that, too, is flexible. “A long-term commitment,” says Doria Tichit, L’Ahah’s managing director, “allows us to provide each one with the help they need with their specific problems, needs and desires.”

Tichit and Marie Cantos, artistic director, prefer to see their role as mentoring rather than just providing support. In fact, the pair have been described as the “Charlie’s Angels of contemporary art” because of the way they rush to the aid of their artists, with the important difference that there is no Charlie Townsend giving them orders behind the scenes.

“We want to build bridges between cultures, disciplines and generations,” says Cantos, “and to mix ideas, interests and audiences. It’s exciting!”

Aside from offering them exhibitions and studio space, the association helps its members with translations and the creation of portfolios, interviews, applications, critical texts, exhibition archives, documentary videos, etc., which are posted on social media. Publishing projects are possible through Les Éditions de L’Ahah. The association’s activities are financed by private donors

L’Ahah also holds yearly group exhibitions of the work of nonmembers and offers a number of free activities for the public, including a program of meetings with artists, conferences, film screenings and concerts, all of which are also available online. Free guided tours of its exhibitions are offered on Saturdays at 4 pm.

Exhibition view of "Par Espacements et par Apparitions," ink paintings by Claire Chesnier. Photo: Marc Domage
Exhibition view of “Par Espacements et par Apparitions,” ink paintings by Claire Chesnier. Photo: Marc Domage

The current show at L’Ahah’s Cité Griset gallery, “Par Espacements et par Apparitions,” features the work of Claire Chesnier, whose large abstract ink paintings with subtle gradations of color call to mind the work of Mark Rothko. A member since 2020, she feels she has joined “a sensitive, intellectual family in which both the other artists and the team nourish my reflections and create fruitful exchanges.”

“The Recluse,” an installation by Marthe Krüger, at L’Ahah Moret. © Marc_Domage, L’ahah
“The Recluse,” an installation by Marthe Krüger, at L’Ahah Moret. © Marc_Domage, L’ahah

Meanwhile, at the Rue Moret site, the works of nonmember Marthe Krüger, a German artist, are on show in “The Recluse,” an immersive installation that includes drawings, photographs, wood pieces and sound effects.

Next up at the Griset site is an exhibition called “Dove Sei?” (January 22–March 26, 2022), of works by Italian artist Enrico Bertelli, a member since 2017, who has a “magnificent studio in Paris” thanks to L’Ahah, which has been instrumental in helping him contact contemporary art museums and in making his work better known in France.

What artist wouldn’t love this kind of nurturing and exposure? Charlie’s Angels to the rescue.

Note: For information on a similar effort in London, Unit 1 Gallery | Workshop and the Fair Art Fair app, click here.


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