Marine Tanguy spent years acquiring experience in the art world – first as a gallery manager and then as a gallery owner – before deciding to leave the white cube behind to create her own agency: MTArt. We spoke to Tanguy about the story and strategy behind MTArt and the different ways her agency is helping emerging artists stay committed to their practice.
First of all, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I was born and raised in Ile-de-re, where I lived for the first 17 years of my life. There wasn’t much going on there when I was growing up. I had a lot of spare time, which I spent learning about artistic movements. I was particularly interested in the late 19th century and early 20th century movements. I was also fascinated by all the major patrons of these periods – like Peggy Guggenheim and Gertrude Stein – and the idea of having all the “greats” of a generation exchanging ideas.
After completing my first years of college in France, I decided to move to London. I moved because, at the time, France was a place where it was very difficult to establish a solid career in the art world at a young age. Upon moving to London, I did an internship at the BBC for this program called “The Culture Show” where I was surrounded by people who were passionate about art. That internship made me realize that I wanted to work in the arts.
In terms of art dealing, while I was working at the BBC I was asked by a gallery to manage their stand at the Pavilion des Arts et du Design (PAD). Then, when I was 21, I was asked to manage The Outsider’s Gallery, the first gallery to discover Banksy. At 23, an investor from Los Angeles asked me if I wanted to open a gallery with him. At the time, I was quite unhappy as a gallery manager. I felt like I was just a pretty girl talking about pretty paintings, and I also felt disconnected from the things that initially drew me to the art world. Unfortunately, gallery owner still left me unsatisfied because I was still unable to interact with artists the way I wanted to.
Artist David Servan-Schreiber working in his studio. Image courtesy of MTArt.
How did you come up with the business model for MTArt?
While I was managing the gallery in Los Angles, I ended up meeting Michael Ovitz, a big art collector and one of the original founders of CAA, the agency that supported Steven Spielberg and many other prominent directors when they were just launching their careers. I found the CAA’s model very inspiring and decided to return to London with the idea of creating my own agency to help support emerging artists: MTArt.
MTArt finances our artists’ studio costs on a monthly basis. We help them establish their reputation though cultural partnerships, guide them in making their work more accessible to a larger demographic, organize studio sales and visits, and take care of their PR. We never direct our artists creatively, but we do really insist on motivating them and making sure that they not only sell their works but also set a solid foundation for a fulfilling, long-term career.
Public installation for MELT Festival set-up in a church. Image courtesy of MTArt.
When you decided to create MTArt, what did you believe were the obstacles preventing emerging artists from being able to make a living off their practice?
In a city like London, it’s very expensive to create. Studio rental fees are incredibly high. Art school fees have significantly increased in the past ten years. These financial factors mean that, unless you belong to the upper-middle class, becoming an artist is an insane career move.
The art world tends to prioritize income over talent (this applies to both artists and art professionals). I think that, just like startups, artists should have support systems that empower them to bring all their ideas to life, even if some of these ideas seem financially “risky” in the short term.
Would you consider MTArt’s activities as a revival of patronage?
Yes, I feel like MTArt and our investors are a form of patrons for the artists we work with. When you are young and trying to do thing, time is the most expensive resource. So having someone invest in your time allows you to work on projects on a long-term basis.
Artist Scarlett Bowman’s studio. Image courtesy of MTArt.
Who are the people that have invested in MTArt?
The agency is supported by seven investors who are business people but also collectors, so we definitely have “smart” money in our hands. Our investors were very much drawn in by the idea of supporting artists and supporting content that has a social dimension to it.
We also consider the people who buy work from our artists as investors. We always tell our collectors that buying work from an artist that is emerging is a way of investing in who this artist can become because it enables them to continue creating for 6-7months. We always introduce collectors to the artists directly, which enables them to become advocates for the artists.
We have also worked on a lot of public art projects financed by companies. These projects are very much linked to corporate social responsibility. The corporations who work with us are attracted to the idea of investing in something that is both socially meaningful and visually impacting for for local artists, the community and their employees.
How do you select the artists that you work with?
The initial batch were artists that I’ve known for ages. Having this personal relationship made it easier for them to sign a contract with us. Now we receive about 100-150 portfolios a month. But we’ve learned that the best way to get great artists is though personal relationships.
David Servan-Schreiber holding one of his works. Image courtesy of MTArt.
How do your artists work with galleries?
Our artists can work with any gallery they want. The way we justify this is by thinking about the artists’ long-term growth. Artists give us one work per year, which doesn’t cover the cost of all the tools we provide them throughout that year. However, when they do evolve and become major artists, then it will. This way we are aligned to the long-term growth of the artists. Therefore, there’s room for both the agency and galleries to work with the artists and help them become successful.
What do you expect from the artists you take under your wing?
We want our artists to be innovative technically and shape a unique visual voice, which can only happen through experimentation. We expect our artists to create meaningful works that can engage many people as possible. We also want them to constantly challenge themselves, be ambitious and to be creatively adventurous in their practice. Last but not least, we expect them to be trustworthy and to openly communicate with us. Trust is essential.
Artist Rob Branigan sitting in his studio. Image courtesy of MTArt.
If you had to change certain aspects of the today’s art world to accommodate emerging artists, what would you change?
I just want to create a more sustainable income for artists by developing new sources of revenues within the agency model. I would also encourage more collaboration between people inside and outside the art world. I think the institutions, galleries and all other art-related structures could engage a much broader audience if they made more of an effort to connect with individuals outside of the art realm.