When thinking about international business in reference to Galerie Maeght, the first thing that comes to my mind is bubble wrap. Lots and lots of bubble wrap. It is kept shoved into a drawer near the framing table, and the rest of the stores of it are kept in the basement, rolled into huge cylinders. One almost crushed me–how sad would it have been if I was hurt by bubble wrap?
It’s used when shipping pieces as small a 10 inch by 12 inch piece of art to a life-sized statue of one of Malevich’s sportifs. A crucial part of protecting the beautiful works that we so value, this simple material is one of the most visible signifiers of Galerie Maeght’s position in the global theatre.
The gallery is deeply intertwined into the history of cubism, abstract, modern and contemporary art. It holds extensive collections by Baya, Miró, Calder, Kelly, and Giacometti, to name a few. These works are in high demand by museums around the world, and many people come to our gallery to see the wealth of art that the gallery has to offer. Galerie Maeght usually works with artists who live and work in Paris, as it is easier to provide materials, ship and frame works, and stay in contact, but the artists who work with the gallery are often still international. In addition to all that, there is the Jules Maeght Gallery in San Francisco (pictured above), all the way across the Atlantic and the continental United States. Galerie Maeght is, deeply, a global organization, and that creates interesting issues as well as opportunities.
First, our clientele come from around the world. This creates a host of new problems that must be navigated to properly receive these customers and to (hopefully) make a sale.
Different cultures have different ideas of how customer service should work in a retail-based environment. I often come back from my lunch hour only to hear my coworkers complain to me about the americans who came in and told them about their entire day. “I don’t want to know!” they exclaim. And while that’s a more amusing example, at times it can mean a lost sale if a customer feels they are receiving too much or too little attention. There are also language barriers, which can be especially frustrating if a customer is looking for something specific but cannot articulate what it is in a second language.
Even if a product is chosen, we much concern ourselves with its transport. If a customer buys a fairly cheap poster, we often just roll it into a plastic bag. But if they are traveling by plane, the piece must be properly protected, and that requires a cardboard tube. Each tube costs us about 3€. This isn’t very steep when compared to a 600€ signed print, but with a 15€ poster, this begins to add up. Should the customer choose to ship, that adds an even higher cost. This also means that, effectively, we cannot frame their piece for them. Shipping a rolled-up print is much, much cheaper than shipping a whole frame. And while this is better for the customer, it means that we both lose the money that we would have made off of framing and are required to entrust that another, unknown company will properly frame and display our product.
Payment is also complicated. Of course, our sales to international customers are affected by currency exchange rates, but it’s even more complex than that. It often takes several days for a high-value purchase to be processed. While this is not much of an issue for our France-based customers, our international customers may not be here long enough for us to wait for the payment to go through before giving them their purchase. This can cause aggravation and impatience.
Under the same umbrella of currency, having the Jules Maeght Gallery in San Francisco means that Galerie Maeght must continually monitor the exchange rates between the euro and the U.S. dollar. This country-based difference also presents issues in terms of following legal rules of protecting intellectual property. We often sell prints from artist exhibitions from the San Francisco location, and vice versa. Laws regarding intellectual property and art ownership are much stricter in France than in the U.S.; what happens when that piece of artwork crosses that border? I hope to find out more about this. The two galleries also cross-advertise on their social media platforms, which I have and dealt with when writing posts for the company’s Instagram page. This means that the Paris gallery is still looking to appeal to customers in San Francisco. With nine hours of time difference between the locations, when does the company post? How does it mark its location?
But, as is often the case with global business, the benefits far outweigh the risks.
International customers mean that word of our gallery spreads far and wide. Many people come to the gallery after having visited 15 or 20 years earlier, and they usually bring friends. People come because “my mom bought a Miró here back in the 1980s” or “my aunt gave me a gift from this gallery and I absolutely loved it.” Despite strange timing and location-tagging issues with social media, the gallery’s social media presence has still alerted many people its location and products, and brings in more foot traffic.
The San Francisco gallery gives Galerie Maeght an invaluable eye into the industry of modern and contemporary art in the U.S. This collaboration also diversifies the artwork that can be offered by the gallery in Paris, and thereby provide more options and satisfy more customers. This close connection is a valuable competitive edge over purely Paris-based galleries, especially when serving american clientele, who are popular in the prestigious 7th arrondissement where the gallery is located. This also provides extra value to the artists who exhibit both in the Paris and San Francisco locations, as they can know that their artwork and ideas will have an even greater reach. This is yet another incentive for artists to partner with Galerie Maeght.
Art is, at its core, communication of emotion. We create visual art as a way to express what words and music fail to convey. An understanding of the artist’s native tongue or culture is not forcibly required to understand what they are trying to say, and in this way, art is fundamentally global. It only makes sense that Galerie Maeght, as a purveyor of these cultural gems, should be global too.