The Galerie Lazarew is a new gallery in the Marais, Paris which promotes urban art. The gallerist Alexandre Lazarew has collected art for forty years and I was intrigued why he had decided to open a gallery. He kindly welcomed The Flaneur and agreed to answer some questions about life, art and the street.
Why did you wait so long before opening your gallery?
Because I did not even imagine becoming a gallerist until 3 years ago. I have been (and I still am) a passionate art collector for 40 years, and my passion was really to buy art and meet artists. 5 years ago, I got interested in collecting street artists. I met several guys who told me that street art was shit and that’s what really pushed me to open my gallery; like a child, I just wanted to prove they were wrong and that a lot of unknown artists, inspired by the street, had a lot of talent.
Has the art that you collected changed dramatically since you started?
Yes! I went from narrative figuration to new realists, then to street art and to emerging contemporary artists. But I am still very attached to artists I met at the beginning, like Télémaque, of whom I just bought another work, or Villéglé , whose work from the 60s I never want to sell.
How has your attitude about art changed over the years?
As we say in French: L’appétit vient en mangeant (“Appetite comes with eating” ie “The more you have, the more you want”!)
How do you find the artists that you show? Are they usually mid-career or just emerging?
All my meetings with artists were very spontaneous and quick. They must meet 3 conditions:
– be a great person
– be talented
– be unique
Apart from that, I don’t have any other constraints (regarding their age, nationality, medium). Most of them are emerging, others have been working for a long time in the shadows, some of them used to be quite famous and have come back with new work after a long time. I want to show works that no one has seen.
How do you divide the roles of collector and gallerist? Do you sell works from your collection? Do you add works to your collection from your shows?
When I opened my gallery and had not yet planned anything, I exhibited my collection for a month. This was not a good idea! Since then, I really separate the two. I never sell a piece from my collection in my gallery, and I continue to buy art from other galleries. But I always buy a piece from the artists I exhibit… because as a collector, when I really like something, I want it!
Forty years is a long time to collect art; can you have it all on display at once?
No: I have more than 300 artworks, all kept in several places. I don’t have enough room for them. I even have one on my ceiling!
Have you ever bought a piece that you regret?
Yes, of course. But it is part of the game.
Street art is an ultra-contemporary style. What first introduced you to it?
It was just by chance. I met several people, I started to read a lot about it, I saw things on the street.
What do you say to people who regard street art as graffiti?
I have a very clear point of view about street art. I think a lot of street art is made for the street, and not for galleries. With all the buzz on street art these days, I guess a lot of street artists, whose work is very interesting on the walls, decided they could also get their slice of the pie by selling works on canvas. But putting a work that was made for the street on a canvas is not relevant; you lose the strength, the symbol, the message.
I don’t know if you have the same nuance in English, but in my gallery I don’t want to show pure street art, but rather, urban art.
This means artists who come from the streets and/or are inspired by street culture and/or pick some element from the streets in order to make something else. It is important that the artists I show have a legitimacy on the walls of galleries.
For example, Shaka has painted a lot in the streets. But street art is only one of his influences (you can see it in the gesture, in the colors, the subjects), and he has so many others. What he does on canvas is not what he does in the street, which I think is interesting.
Do you find that there is a national style amongst contemporary artists or is the art world completely international?
I think there are common international issues and ideas , but very different ways of tackling them.
Are you an artist yourself?
Do you prefer being a collector or a gallerist?
I think I don’t want to choose. I am a gallector! Being a collector is a part of who I am; I realized being a gallerist is a real job, which I am very excited about.
What are the best things about being a gallerist?
Feeling at home. Choosing the people you want to work with. Meeting more and more artists. Being at the very beginning of something that we hope will continue to grow. Sharing our enthusiasm with the people who come in. The most satisfying thing is when people come back and tell us: “Everytime I come to your gallery, I am surprised and delighted by your choices.”
Could you give some tips for someone wanting to start their own gallery?
Be ready to do it, however hard it is (be ready to even sleep in your gallery!). Be a little crazy… and totally passionate!
If someone is thinking of buying art is it best to start with a print by a famous artist or an original work by someone unknown?
Personally I hate editions. I always bought original works. If I don’t have enough money, I prefer to buy an original drawing by a great artist. But this is very personal. The most important thing is to buy what you want to buy. Don’t buy because someone told you you had to, especially if you are not convinced. I always say to people who are hesitating: If you have a “crush” on a fantastic piece of art and some extra cash: buy it. Don’t try to guess if it is the right time, or if the artist will be famous, or if your partner will like it, etc.
How has the art market been affected by the global financial problems?
Honestly, I don’t care. The art market has never been higher for famous artists. On the other hand, it can be very hard for young galleries who show emerging artists. But art definitely remains a more tangible, delightful and and valuable investment.
Thank you very much.
You can visit Gallery Lazarew at
14 rue du Perche – 75003 Paris
01.44.61.28.73 / 06.98.83.90.86