Meet The Man Behind HdM Art Gallery
LUXUO uncovers how Hadrien de Montferrand puts his own French savoir-faire into the curation of Chinese and European contemporary art.
Renowed French art dealer Hadrien de Montferrand knows a thing or two about Chinese contemporary art. One may question the European man’s appreciaion of Asian culture and art but Hadrien has a familial connection to Asia — his father was formerly the French ambassador to Singapore. With a long term understanding of the Chinese language, Hadrien today works with a plethora of Chinese artists including Liu Xiaodong, Sui Jianguo or Mao Yan alongside their Western contemporaries including the likes of Gioele Amaro, Martial Raysse, Barthélémy Toguo, Manuel Mathieu, and Elias Crespin — bridging the gap between Eastern and Western perspectives.
Before we get into Hadrien’s latest project with the HdM Gallery, let’s explore the art dealer’s background. After graduating in art history at La Sorbonne in parallel with his business studies, he worked for two years for Unilever in China. In 2002, he returned to France where he was appointed head of the marketing department of the largest French auction house, Artcurial and for the UCCA Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing. After five years in Paris, he was sent to China to conceptualise an auction house in Shanghai. In 2008, he became development manager of the Ullens Center of Contemporary Art, founded in 2007 by Guy Ullens and his wife.
In 2009, he opened the first HdM Gallery in Beijing, China, dedicated to works on paper, in partnership with Laurent Dassault. Olivier Hervet joined the project in 2010 and is now also a partner. HdM Gallery now specialises in all disciplines of contemporary art — painting, sculpture, video and installation. In 2018, he opened his third space, in London’s Mayfair art district and in 2022, he opened a brand new space in Paris.
Hadrien de Montferrand speaks exclusively to LUXUO on what to expect at the HdM Art Gallery booth at the upcoming ART SG 2024 alongside how he sources talented artists and advice he would give to aspiring art curators.
When did you first get interested in art, and how did it lead you into the business of being a gallerist?
On the one hand, I come from an old French family and have been surrounded by art since a young age. My grandparents collected French classical art. On the other hand, I knew I wanted to start my own company — I think I was more of an entrepreneur. When I met some artists in China and saw their skills, It became clear that I could do my dream job: start a company of my own and with art which I admire and respect.
Take our readers through the founding of HdM Gallery. What would you decribe as the gallery’s DNA?
HdM gallery was founded in 2009 in Beijing. Our first “unique angle” was works on paper by Chinese artists, and the gallery has retained its Chinese DNA. I started the gallery in China with Chinese artists, and they still represent at least 50 percent of our programme.
What differentiates HdM Gallery from other galleries?
We have a very special team. I have always considered my team as my family. We all spend more time with the team than with our own family. My team is my family and if they are not happy then I have failed. This is why most of our staff has been working in the gallery for over 10 years. I feel this is my biggest success. I also thank them for their trust.
What led you to develop a strong expertise in the contemporary Chinese art market?
I studied Chinese back in 1997. I have always been interested in art. I met artists such as Zeng Fanzi, Ding Yi and Mao Yan which led to the opening of my gallery in 2009. I also held the position of European representative of China Guardian Auctions for five years. I do not know if we are experts but I definitely have more experience than most people on this market.
China has numerous talented artists. How do you find new artists to showcase, and what do you look for when considering to feature new artist to your gallery?
We exhibit the artist I like. I am lucky because I have an amazing team. They make a first selection and we discuss the choices. Most importantly, we try to meet the artist before working with them. The person behind the painting is often more important than the artwork itself. The artist needs to like us and be ready to grow with us. Sometimes we manage to get the artists we want, and sometimes we fail.
How did you source more established European artists which are now part of the HdM Gallery portfolio?
We have a wish list. Similarly with my previous answer, I work closely with my team on the selection process.
Being a gallerist means working actively on positioning your artists. How do you approach that part of your work?
It’s true, it takes a lot of work talking to industry “influencers” which are not the Instagram ones but rather museum directors, curators, etc. Trying to help them understand that we work with very talented artists who shouldn’t be ignored by the big institutions. I like this part of the job because it’s about human relationships. It involves trust and true exchanges.
Today, a substantial part of your business as a gallerist is taking place online. What skills are required in the digital sphere?
Online is key today, but it’s also a trap. Many “new” artists are “born” online and have online success. However, I think we need to meet the artist and have them grow with us offline as well. The skill required is very logical. It is about having good judgement to put aside the online craziness and look at the true values.
Tell us about the latest exhibitions you have curated in Beijing and London?
The next show will be amazing. It’s 15 years of our gallery’s relationship with artists. We are opening a new show with all the artists who have supported us from the beginning. It will enable the audience to see what we have been doing for our artists, but also what the artists have been giving us which the most important factor: their trust.
What is planned for you across 2024?
A lot of great solo exhibitions. Some surprises lay ahead.
Talking about ART SG 2024, what should art lovers and collectors expect to see on the HdM Art Gallery booth?
We will exhibit a solo exhibition of Gioele Amaro — a great Italian artist.
What is your favorite museum in China?
The Taikang Art Museum for contemporary art. They have an amazing collection of artworks. It is a real love for art that motivated the owners. Also, a wish to better understand the creation in China for the last 30 years. I also enjoy Shanghai Art Museum for more classical furniture (which I love).
What is your favorite museum in Europe?
It’s not because I am French, but I really love the Pompidou Center. I have studied there for my Art History Masters. It is a must-see museum for its architecture, its permanent collections and the great exhibitions they produce. I also like two more classical museums — The Wallace Collection in London and The Musée Nissim de Camondo in Paris. Both of these museums are the result of collectors opening their house to the public. It’s the eye of one collector.
What is the best advice you would give to a young gallerist wanting to set up their own Art gallery?
Artist, artist, artist. The rest is detail.
If you were to name one mentor who has inspired you in your life and path as an artist, who would that be?
Simon Murray. He is an English entrepreneur who made me realise that everything was possible.
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