Behind the Mirror: Challenges Faced by Cultural Landmarks


Every day, I remember that I am working in a world-class gallery.

A few days ago, I walked in, greeted my coworkers, and went to put away my coat and start the day. As I pulled my head out of the coat closet, I turned a bit to the right, and my gaze caught the surprising sight of an original painting by Joan Miró just… sitting on the floor. It was likely pulled out of storage for reference and hadn’t been put away yet, but that piece is likely worth upward of 100,000 euro.

Aimé Maeght, founder of the Galerie Maeght, was personal friends with many of the artists. The books that the related printing house publishes are often forwarded by personal stories by Aimé (now passed), Adrien, or Isabelle (his children), who fondly remember their relationship with the artist whose work is encapsulated within. People come to see Isabelle Maeght, looking to maybe absorb a drop of her wisdom. Appointments with her are near-impossible to achieve, and she is, without a doubt, the patron saint of the gallery. I have not been permitted to touch the hem of her robe, so to speak, and it’s likely I never will. The gallery (and by extension, she) is a cultural monument, a living piece of the art history of Paris. The pieces held within its walls are a living library, and if the worst were to happen and they were to disappear, we would be left with a huge hole in history of art.

Thus, the gallery does not truly have any competition in its industry sector because it IS its industry sector. They do not have to worry about other galleries copying their product, especially when worth is defined by having the originals.

Instead, Galerie Maeght is having more trouble keeping their customer base. To put it bluntly, they’re dying. The clientele that frequent the gallery and value it the most highly are the people who were young during the period from roughly 1930 to 1960. We have younger patrons, yes, but they are often shocked by the prices of the prints and the art books. It’s the older patrons who carefully leaf their way through stacks of Derriere le Mirroir, which the gallery published as a way to showcase different artists.

As a cultural figure, the gallery seeks to preserve its image as being reserved and classic. At the same time, they are trying not to alienate anyone, which can be difficult when you’re located in an area inhabited by millionaires, surround by luxury shopping, and selling pieces whose prices start at 1,000 euro. Anne-Sophie, who is assistant to Mme Maeght and also in charge of much of the gallery’s marketing communications, explained to me that the gallery genuinely wants to be a place where people feel like they can come to explore, face-to-face, the history of art at their leisure. My coworker, Alexane, phrased it as “cool grandparents,” and Anne-Sophie smiled and nodded. This is why next week, I will be creating a new display of original pieces under 150€ and planning new posts for the Instagram page. “Il faut avoir vers quatre ou cinq hashtags.”

Even there, the company approaches many roadblocks in trying to advertise their products and exhibitions. The artist’s rights too their own work take top precedent, especially here in France where the rules are strict and strongly enforced. We cannot use the framing on Instagram to re-frame in any way the work, including elimination of blank space. We must also, as people who respect art, not use other pieces as background and thereby imply an inferiority. This also has to work within the company’s personal confines of attempting to maintain a reserved, classic, and yet welcoming image.

It’s a tangled knot, but so far it is fun to untie. Really, I’m helping shape the path of a cultural monolith. I hope to see where it goes.