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Gallerists and artists are struggling along with the rest of the world as we are locked in Isolation. Exhibitions and art fairs are canceled and collectors are holding off their art investments as they are focused on their businesses and families. The uncertainty about when things will go back to normal and our fragile economy is especially difficult for creatives who do not have regular incomes and who are sensitive to the struggles of the world. Within that atmosphere, some galleries are thinking about how they can support their artists. 

"Lagerfeld, The Chanel Shows by Simon Procter" exhibition postponed due to COVID 19 at the Four Seasons Ten trinity Square in London

©Simon Procter "Chanel Rocket Ultra Grand Palais Paris"

We sat down virtually with curator Audrey Trabelsi who is the co-founder of Art Photo Expo to discuss how COVID 19 is affecting their gallery and how she is supporting her artists on a daily basis. Art Expo was created in 2005 in Miami and is now located in Paris. They have curated contemporary thematic exhibitions in Miami, London, and Paris that have received international attention such as the Naomi Campbell retrospective with photographers Patrick Demarchelier, Jean Paul Goude, David Lachapelle, Peter Lindberg, Mario Testino… and their recent exhibition, "Lagerfeld, The Chanel Shows by Simon Procter". Art Photo Expo manages more than 80 artists of 15 different nationalities. They are one of the leading Fashion photography galleries having been the first to bring fashion art photography to art Basel in 2006 and represent some of the most creative and known fashion art photographers in the world.  IRK: COVID 19 is having a huge impact on the art world. Can you tell us how it has affected your gallery?   Yes, it has been difficult. We had to close down our gallery and two exhibitions that we had just started. I was sad because we had started working 6 months before to organize it and, PR, collectors and especially artists were super excited and disappointed. We had more than 20 artists participating that came from all over the world (Australia, Colombia, US, UK...) The major exhibition that we installed in London about Karl Lagerfeld and Chanel was closed with the hotel. We were showing beautiful fashion photographs by the British artist Simon Procter.   IRK: What will this mean to Art Photo Expo long term?  We are not sure, it's too early to think about the long term but for now, it's a loss in terms of sales and income but also in terms of planning and how to reschedule these exhibitions. We had many projects in mind but we can't confirm them right now.

"Naturellement Plaza" exhibition postponed due to COVID 19 at the Hotel Plaza Athénée. © Mat Beetson "Pindan Beach Australia"

IRK: What are you doing to support the artists you represent during this time?  We called them very often to check on them. Some were very worried and anxious.Others were very positive. These artists usually like a calm atmosphere that lets them refocus on priorities. Many are used to spending time alone. It's always as if they were in confinement in their studio but the new thing was that, this time it was not a choice. They like the idea of being free. In order to support some of the artists financially who really need help, we have even purchased some works for our future exhibitions, even if we are not sure when and where they will take place. IRK: Are your artists continuing to create during their isolation and is their creative process changing?  Yes all of them have created and spent time in their studio. Some photographers took the time to sort their storage and find treasures. One of our photographers Thierry Legoues a famous french fashion photographer found an old print photo from the 90" and offered it to a hospital foundation.  IRK: Does the gallery have a strategy to attract buyers during COVID 19 to help support your artists?   I don't know about all the galleries but I personally think it's not the right moment to push buyers. People have priorities and many lost relatives. 

It's complex because we still need to work and support the artists but what I like is to share their new artworks and videos through social media and if someone shows interest in one of our work, spontaneously, we will assist him. IRK: Will you be curating an Isolation exhibition, after this with the works of art being created by your artists? I believe several galleries will organize this sort of exhibition. I even received a proposal from a group of artists. However, I believe, personally, that this pandemic was very traumatic and that maybe people want to move on and forget a little about it.  IRK: Will you be holding any exhibitions this summer? 

"Lagerfeld, The Chanel Shows by Simon Procter" exhibition at the Four Seasons Ten trinity Square in London may open again in July so we hope to be able to make a new start. We showed it in Paris back in February and it was very successful IRK: What is your isolation hope? 

Many artists have contacted us to offer artwork to raise money for foundations and we have helped them to do so. Also, we hope that everyone will be more thankful for what we already have and be happy with simple things. 

Our exhibition at the Plaza was about Nature and the environment. This theme was already very important but I feel like something happened during the Corona and we all really saw the earth breathe again. I'm sure artists will remember that, in their creation. 

Also, I feel like art has never been so important in people's lives. During confinement, everybody spent a lot of time developing their art skills and enjoying music, books, cinema, and more. I hope that people will continue making time for art.

"Lagerfeld, The Chanel Shows by Simon Procter" exhibition postponed due to COVID 19

© SIMON PROCTER "The Palace Mirrors Chanel Haute Couture SS 2017"

IRK: You have been curating exhibitions for 15 years? How has the art world changed in that time and have you always had a passion for the photography medium? 

Photography has finally become legitimate. In the last 20 years, the works of many photographers are known and recognized, exhibited, and published and were sold as Art pieces. Although nowadays I also sell street art, sculptures, and paintings, photography has been my passion for the last 15 years. Photography is easier in terms of comprehension and often more affordable in terms of price. We see many more young collectors starting an art collection thanks to photography.

IRK: What inspired you to open a photography gallery 15 years ago? My husband and I were living in Miami and we had been to Art Basel and we noticed that there was no photography. My husband ran an advertising agency and was working with photographers such as David Lachapelle, and Mario Testino so we decided we would bring fashion art photography to Art Basel. My husband’s only stipulation was that I take care of the artists as he knew that I was very curious and a good listener. I happily took on that role and we both share the other responsibilities of running the gallery. I am really grateful to him that I am working in this creative field.  Our first exhibition was a huge success and the photographers were so grateful that we were giving them an opportunity to be seen as artists. Then in 2008, we produced the Naomi Campbell retrospective. Naomi was incredible and contacted many of the photographers herself telling them exactly which photos she wanted in the exhibition. The exhibition included the world's leading photographers. Gilles Bensimon, Patrick Demarchelier, Arthur Elgort, Jean Paul Goude, Steven Klein, David Lachapelle, Peter Lindberg, Mario Testino, Albert Watson ...This event was covered by media from around the world and hosted more than 35,000 visitors in 4 days and over $ 2.5 million in media coverage.

"Lagerfeld, The Chanel Shows by Simon Procter" exhibition postponed due to COVID 19

©Simon Procter "Karl Cambon"

IRK: Is there still a learning curve for collectors to understand the value of photography?

Auctions at Christie's, Sotheby's have shown great indicators and it's easier today to have records on the artists even if some are not sold enough in these types of auction houses, as they are very talented.  I only sell artists that are serious about their editions so that collectors can be sure that the artwork is worth the price that they are paying. I have had to give up some artists who have sold at YellowKorner and Luma for lower prices. I have had to explain to some of my artists that if I sell their work for 14 thousand to a collector it is not fair for them to sell their work elsewhere for 500 even if it's not exactly the same image and the paper is different.  When a collector is hesitating I usually ask them if they love the photo as that, in the end, is the real reason to invest in art.  IRK: Not long ago photography was being debated as an art form but that has definitely changed as museums such as the Tate Modern and Moma have opened wings to photography and entire museums such as the Luma in Arles are being dedicated to photography. However, some of the established art world still considers Fashion photography to be too commercial and therefore does not have a place in the art world even though it is one of the most creative photography fields. What are your thoughts on this? Is Fashion Art Photography a high art form? When will the establishment catch on? I really think it has changed. Fashion was a dirty word in the art world even if some artists like Man Ray or Irvin Penn already had all the legitimacy., this has changed a lot and we have fought to have all these photographers recognized as great artists. Our first exhibition during the Art Basel in 2007 already featured masters such as Mario Testino, David Lachapelle, Peter Lindberg, Patrick Demarchelier .... it was a great success, and sales of limited edition prints started to climb. I think that there is still some reluctance from some institutions and collectors but the photo market is constantly growing. IRK: As many of IRK's readers are photographers can you tell us about your portfolio review process?  We received many portfolios and we always take the time to respond and encourage them. It's hard to say yes or no but we really try to curate exhibitions where we have renowned artists and emergent ones. So my advice is always to try and never give up. IRK: If you could give our creative readers advice to get them through this challenging time what would it be?  I advise all to live their passion and listen to their creativity. 

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