Photos by Flavia Catena, story by María José Contreras
When we think of women who embody all the values behind Hanna Fiedler, Marine Tanguy - the founder and CEO at MTArt Agency - always comes to mind. Born and raised on a small island off the West coast of France, Marine decided to challenge the elitism of the art world and has now become one of its leading voices, with Forbes naming her one of the most influential faces in the arts under 30 years old last year.
Her energy is shocking. I meet her a couple of days after her return from Morocco - where she's been shooting a campaign for Chloé -, a day after shooting for CitizenM hotels, and in-between another two interviews. When I arrive to her house, she makes some tea and asks me to have a seat whilst she bakes a chocolate cake she's promised to bring to a dinner with friends that night. Read on for a visit to the equally unstoppable and admirable Marine Tanguy, and a conversation on the evolution and democratization of the art world.
Can you share more about your background? What did you study and how did this lead to MTArt Agency?
I grew up on a small island called Île de Ré, off the West Coast of France. It’s very tiny and pretty, and very natural, so you could say I grew up in a rural environment. My mum was a primary school teacher, and I was basically raised by lots of women. My mum was also my teacher and she taught me how to read, which back then was actually very painful because, as a kid, you don’t want to see your mum telling you what to do twice. But she was lovely and she really did get me into reading and writing. I then went to do a prépa, which is basically philosophy and literature. It’s a way to structure the way you think and it’s really handy to learn to come up with different opinions on different subjects, to write, and speak about them. It’s a great system. The issue was that I was told I could only come a professor at the end of it - and I was nineteen and didn’t want to be a professor. I heard that here in the UK, no matter what you were studying, you had lots of possibilities about what to do after your degree, you didn’t have to do exactly what your degree was about; so I thought that was interesting and moved here when I was 19. My first internship was at the BBC, and there I got to see how they put the projects together, lots of people who were really passionate and creative, and I felt that was much more my world. I then started a second degree, but only did two years because I got approached to be a gallery manager when I was 21. And from a gallery manager at 21, I was approached by an investor two years later to open my own gallery in LA. When I opened this gallery I realised there were some top agencies building up the most inspiring talents among actors, musicians, film directors, and I felt that was very interesting that none of that existed for visual artists. So that’s how I got interested in building the first talent agency for artists - making them renown and entirely supporting them through their careers.
I think it’s so interesting that you said you moved to the UK because you felt you had more options no matter what your degree was…I feel this is very similar in Spain; We’re very driven by what a paper says we’ve studied (and hence are capable of doing) and I feel that closes so many doors.
I feel it’s interesting because here it’s more about which university did you go to rather than what did you study. But yes, definitely. I feel there are pros and cons. I think it is nice that you give value to what you do at university in terms of content, but I think it’s also very difficult to know what you want to be at 18 or 19 - and you usually discover this through experimenting a lot - so I think it’s a very frustrating decision to make. If I was going to be a student again, I would be able to study something that was more on point, but that’s ten years later…
You were managing a gallery at 21, opened your own gallery two years later, and finally founded MTArt fours years ago - How’s your relationship with the art world evolved through these years?
I guess initially it was more about the arts and not about the artist. I have realised that my passion, and also my strongest skill, is to get people to realise the potential they have. That’s what I’m more passionate about. I love people who are really ambitious, who have an amazing vision, and want to make it a reality. That’s something that makes me very happy; to see that person getting there. So that’s now my job; to make sure we give the artists the best resources as an agency so they can accomplish the most ambitious projects, such as Saype - who did a 5 thousand square meters biodegradable painting on grass in Geneva. I love seeing them blossoming, I love seeing them achieving what they want to achieve, and I like giving that to artists who want to add value with the content of their work. I think my artists have very strong messages and it’s nice to see that message spreading. But I think I’m less and less about the art - I live in a house full of art and I obviously love art - but I’m now more interested on the maker, who creates that art and why.
Through your work, you're trying to make galleries more accessible to artists from different backgrounds so they can flourish - but do you think arts are more democratic now from the perspective of the audience?
We had a lot of cyberbullying and attacks initially because this is an industry that is built on a conservative world that doesn't welcome change. But our generation is simply not accepting this anymore. I don’t know if you saw last week, but I published an article on the fact that a Sackler Family's £1m gift was refused by the Tate and the National Gallery. That’s really positive. It’s basically saying “not because you are wealthy, you are going to define the history of art, you also need to have some more grounds in order to justify why do you want to get involved in this industry”. I think that a big part of the audience right now thinks that contemporary artists are people who are just drinking champagne, and basically just trying to be elitists, rather than role models and people who are generally very inspiring. I want to see how incredibly inspiring these artists are. Also, I didn’t grow up being part of the art world. The industry itself has been blocking a lot of audiences in, so I think it’s nice that with social media we can claim the arts back. Even now, the world of entrepreneurs, the world of artists, is evolving. You don’t need to wait twenty years to have an opinion about anything, you can have an opinion much early on. So it’s really exciting. I mean, it will take a long time but it’s already changing.
That’s so true, but at the same time that’s a double-sided sword. We know we have a voice, but do we know how to use that voice?
Yes. Many artists are struggling with social media. I understand that putting yourself out there is not the easiest, but I think that if you ask “am I inspiring other people? Am I a role model?” It does require you to put yourself out there. You can’t expect people to admire you if you are not putting you outside of your comfort zone.
Going back to what you were saying about the world of art being very elitist and not accessible - What do you think are some of the biggest misconceptions you’ve encountered with regards to art management?
Well, I think it’s like the fashion world; If you only follow my Instagram stories, you will probably think I’m just having cup of teas in very beautiful environments. Of course building relationships is important - it's absolutely key in order for everything to move forward, from partners, to investors, to artists - but it still requires you to do a lot of behind the scenes work. I think anyone who’s succeeded in any industry has worked incredibly hard. The success of the artists that we’ve seen rising from our crew, it’s taken years and years and years of incredible hard work and ambition. The thing is that people nowadays think they can just have an opinion, so they will be like “I think that art is crap”, but they won’t look at the context, they won’t engage with the work, and they will just think it’s a game. I think giving value to an artist takes time and expertise, and it would be nice to see more respect towards it. There are still all these jokes around contemporary art or art in itself, but for all of us it took so many years of reading, researching, understanding. So that respect towards the professional side of things would be really nice.
You were recently involved in the London Is Open campaign. I’d like to know what’s your opinion on the involvement of public institutions in the arts?
I think public institutions give leverage and credit to the arts. Arts don't have a strong presence in the UK's education programs, and a big part of the budget is cut in terms of public funding. But I believe that public funding shouldn’t be the only thing to rely on. Of course it’s sad that it’s cut, but I don’t think you should ever rely on just one person. What I would see as a valuable public contribution would be giving arts the respect they deserve, giving them a louder voice. People will listen to the public space. But I still think there’s so much we can do with the private sector. For me it’s really important to show public and private together.
What’s the most important piece of advice you’ve been given in your career?
That’s so difficult. I receive advice every day.
What piece of advice could you give then?
I think for me is about being true to yourself, which takes a long time. What are your values? What do you care about? And why do you do what you do? I find that once you figure this out, life becomes so simple; you make decisions very quickly because it just feels natural. You’re also able to work 24/7 because you don’t feel compromised. Trying to succeed for the wrong reason, which is social status, or just even pretending to be someone else, because you think that’s what pleases other people, always ends up bad. When you don’t pretend, you have more energy, you can push yourself much harder, you can ask your body and your brain to deliver more. So don’t listen too much to what the industry is trying to tell you that success is and try to work it out yourself.
You’re in the middle of a very successful moment, doing lots of campaigns, holding a lot of responsibility, and you’re about to become a mother - which is another full-time job -. How is it possible to succeed at all of them?
If I’m honest with you, it completely depends on who supports you. It’s interesting. We raised money half a year ago and one of my investors pulled out when he knew I was pregnant. I remember being very disturbed that day thinking that was so unbelievable, but, at the same time, when I think about the reaction of the other investors and partners - they were all very supportive -, I’m glad he’s not on board anymore, because he wouldn’t suit our values. So yes, do it with a supportive partner, supportive friends, and a supportive community of people around you. I have two groups of people; the entrepreneurs, and the artists, who are always super passionate and positive; and then I have another group of people who tells me this is going to be the end of the world...but it happened the same way when I was starting my own company; there were also people who told me that it was going to be the end of the world, and that it was going to be very though. But you cannot look at life that way. Of course it's a lot of hard work, but if you start thinking about life that way, you will never get anywhere. I'm excited, I'm thinking how much meaning this is going to give to my life, having the chance to pass this amazing life to another person. I think is about putting things a bit in perspective. It's not going to be easy, but we are very privileged and this kid will have an amazing life. Everything that adds meaning to your life is going to be hard, and it's going to make you get a few grey hairs....but it's not going to be the end of the world.
Marine is wearing the Helmut top in blue, the Bernhard trousers, the Frederick top in black, and the Theobalt skirt.