Daniel Templon 50 years of trailblazing in contemporary art

Article available in French at French Quarter Magazine

Screen Shot 2020-02-07 at 9.58.50 AMDaniel Templon founded his eponym art gallery in Paris in 1966 at 21 with no money or connections but passion, enthusiasm and a bet on the future. His good instincts, his energy and envy to explore new grounds have made the success of his gallery and explains how it became one of the references in contemporary art.

Over the years, many artists now part of art history have exhibited with the gallery (Andy Warhol, César, Ellsworth Kelly, Roy Lichtenstein, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring to name only a few). And it’s not by chance “My gallery has always sought strong individuals, artists who have not only the talent, but also the ambition to confront the history of art.” says Daniel Templon. 

A decisive moment in his path was the year 1972 when he took a trip to America which led him to meet Donald Judd, the famous art dealer Leo Castelli and to introduce many American artists to the French public such as Ellsworth Kelly, Willem de Kooning, Frank Stella, Andy Warhol. That same year he co-founded with Catherine Millet the monthly art magazine ART PRESS. 

Today Galerie Templon represents a group of international artists and promotes a dialogue between generations: established, mid-career and younger artists in its three permanent spaces: two in Paris and one in Brussels, Belgium, and through art fairs worldwide (soon at the Armory show in New York). His story is told by historian Julie Verlaine in her book “Daniel Templon: a History of Contemporary Art” and I am honored that he granted me a moment to share about his path and upcoming projects.

Your gallery has a very personal identity, representing a wide variety of artists. What do you think are the strengths of your gallery and what makes it unique?

Today what makes the singularity of my gallery is probably its longevity, and in fact, the dialogue between generations that my gallery is one of the few that can legitimately promote. Many artists that I have exhibited over the past 53 years have entered the history of art: Donald Judd, Dan Flavin, Carl Andre, Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Rauschenberg, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, Frank Stella, Ellsworth Kelly, Richard Serra, Willem de Kooning and many more.

Among the discoveries of the past ten years, from Chiharu Shiota to Kehinde Wiley, many artists are in turn building international recognition.  My gallery has always sought strong individuals, artists who have not only the talent, but also the ambition to confront the history of art.

Your trip to NYC in 1972 was decisive in your journey. What do you remember from this first contact with this city and with America in general?

At the time going to America was rare. It was an adventure. I planned my trip months in advance. I landed in Bernar Venet’s loft in Soho, which was still this industrial district where there were many artists studios. This is how I visited the studio of Donald Judd, who in turn encouraged me to meet his gallerist, Leo Castelli. Leo was already considered the greatest merchant of the time. He was almost 40 years older than me, but since he was francophone, and francophile, we immediately got along. We remained friends until his passing in 1999. He gave me the opportunity to work with many American artists. I learned a lot from him.

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Jan Fabre ‘L’Heure Sauvage’ Galerie Templon Bruxelles

You have had the opportunity to work with the greatest contemporary American artists. Which ones impressed you the most? 

I have always enjoyed meeting all the artists. Andy Warhol was rather shy and reserved but he got animated as soon as we talked about his magazine Interview. Jean-Michel Basquiat was really a “bad boy” while Keith Haring was solar, always enthusiastic. Ellsworth Kelly was a great man, a fine connoisseur of French art. Roy Lichtenstein was obsessed with his painting and worked hard. They all taught me something about the role of the artist but also often surprised me. Artists do not always resemble the idea that we have of them a priori through their work. I find this dissonance fascinating.

You are a talent discoverer. How did you spot Kehinde Wiley and how did you come to represent him? 

In the 2000s, I started looking for African-American artists. Almost 20 years after the disappearance of Basquiat, who was the first black artist praised to the skies by the international art market, I told myself that it was impossible that an artist of his caliber did not finally emerge in the United States. Kehinde Wiley’s work speaks of black identity, the invisibility of African-Americans in the great history of art and the political power of painting. I was immediately impressed by his large portraits of anonymous young people met in Brooklyn or in the Bronx, which I discovered in 2006-2007. At the time, he was already exhibiting a little in the United States, notably at Rhona Hoffman in Chicago, and Jeffrey Deitch in New York, but I was the first in Europe to offer him an exhibition. I have been officially working with him since 2009.

You supported American artists but also French artists with the creation of ADIAF. Can you explain to us what motivated you to do it?

In the mid-90s, in the midst of the art market crisis in France, I realized that our artists suffered abroad from a terrible lack of recognition. I traveled a lot, especially in the United States, and foreign collectors showed little interest in our artists. The reasons are complex and depend on macro-economic, political and cultural factors which go beyond the simple problems of the art market, however, for me it was clear that we could not just rely on our museums or our cultural diplomacy to catch up. I was convinced that it was necessary to initiate a private dynamic, to federate collectors, and thus demonstrate the weight of our local market and our will to defend our artists on the international scene. I set up the project with my friend Gilles Fuchs, a great collector, who took the chair. Today the ADIAF brings together more than 400 collectors, and organizes the Marcel Duchamp Prize, which is held at the Center Georges Pompidou.

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Philippe Cognée Photo Credit Bertrand Huet

You were in December at Art Basel Miami where you presented several figurative artists including Philip Pearlstein, Kehinde Wiley and Omar Ba. Can you tell us about your selection of artists and the reception given to them?

For Art Basel Miami Beach, we wanted to offer a journey through the representation of the human figure. We started with pop artists such as George Segal and Jim Dine, then the great masters of the return of painting, like Philip Pearlstein followed by Francesco Clemente and Julian Schnabel. Finally, we wanted to open up on current trends with the American Kehinde Wiley and the Senegalese Omar Ba. A fair stand is a showcase for the work of a gallery. This stand wanted to show that the same issues can bring together artists from very different horizons, and above all to prove that we understand much better contemporary art today when we take the time to look at what has been done 15, 20, 30 years ago. The art market often has a short memory and I think that is why the reception of this stand was so enthusiastic.

Kehinde Wiley at Art Basel Miami – Templon Gallery

What are the events for your gallery not to be missed in 2020?

Right now, we have an extraordinary exhibition of Philippe Cognée, one of our most amazing French painters who works with wax paint. He creates large still lifes with wilted or dried flowers, almost abstract.

In March 2020, we will exhibit for the first time a young African artist: Billie Zangewa. She makes embroidered, autobiographical paintings, which explore the condition of the female artist today.

But we should also mention a few projects by our artists in museums, such as the Pierre and Gilles exhibition “La Fabrique des Idoles” at the Philharmonie de Paris which explores their relationship to music for 40 years and which should not be missed, or Gérard Garouste’s retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New Delhi. It is the first time that a living French painter has a retrospective in this country! For those who cannot travel to India to rediscover his work, the National Museum of Modern Art in Paris-Center Georges Pompidou will dedicate a new and important retrospective to him in September 2022.

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