The British art dealer Jay Jopling had Lunch with the FT on March 2nd, and had plenty to say on his role as a salesman for artists. Jopling and his White Cube galleries are most closely associated with the Young British Artists, Damien Hirst, Marc Quinn, the Chapman brothers, Tracy Emin and his ex-wife Sam Taylor Wood. He is a salesman who makes culture happen.
He described himself as a leveler, bulldozing the barriers between class and artistic classification: “I always liked to collide the establishment with the avant-garde.”
An enthusiast: “The relationship with artists is what drives me… I love going to artists’ studios. The thrill of walking in, seeing something no one has seen – it’s the best thrill.”
He had an early job selling something other than art, fire extinguishers: “He would set his sleeve alight to demonstrate their effectiveness… “If you can’t sell, you lose your artists.””
He gives luck, fun and hard work their proper due: “I was very lucky to be in the right place at the right time. I really enjoyed the artists’ company, we had a lot of fun…That generation came out of art school kicking and screaming and I happened to be in London at the time…What was so exciting then was a guiltlessness to those artists – we were happy not to work within a conventional framework. With Damien, there was very strong personal chemistry, shared ambition, an overriding desire to get things done yesterday. When we met, we left each other at 4am, and at 9am there he was at my house in Brixton. He showed me his plans for sculptures, fish cabinets, the shark, the first spot paintings, and we said, ‘Let’s make them!’ Within three months the fish piece was in a show at Manchester’s Cornerhouse.”
He makes the work of artists comprehensible and valuable to buyers and to create an environment for artists to succeed: “Every artist is different, there’s no recipe for how you represent them. Some enjoy engaging with broader audiences, most are interested in their market performance, others just want to be left alone. Our job is to create the boundaries in which the artist can best make his work – from facilitating to archiving.”
He is constantly navigating the line between art and commerce: “As a dealer, the greatest thing you can have is an appreciation of art, lack of preconceptions – and extraordinary stamina. You’re nurturing artists’ careers, strategizing at a business level, you have to be a showman, and you’ve got to travel exhaustively…The immortality an artist can attain is an immortality unlike any other. It’s important to look forward, to when something can transcend its time, but it’s also a business.”