Interview with François Rastoll, gallerist at the Galerie Rastoll

- 06/05/2023

Muse Square: Can you tell us the story of your gallery ?

François Rastoll: I used to work in another gallery for two years. It was mainly dedicated to Japanese photography, but the director of the gallery left me a part to manage the French artists. After two years, he moved and that’s when I decided to take off and had the opportunity to take this space, which was on the same street as the previous gallery. It will be 8 years in July this year. I was already managing exhibitions for other artists, and being a photographer and painter myself, I have been doing exhibitions for 30 years so I had some knowledge of the subject.


Muse Square: What brought you towards photography ? 

François Rastoll: At first I hated photography, I considered it as a sub-art, I thought it was useless. One day I had an exhibition of paintings, and I didn’t have anything to put in the basement, so I put up photographs, with no intention of selling them or anything. I realized that, in the end, photography was quite interesting. I started to look into it a little bit more and I really enjoyed it and got into it. 


Muse Square: What do you think about Paris as a city to exhibit ?

François Rastoll: Paris remains an important place in art, whether it is in photography, painting, sculpture, contemporary arts, and even in new media. There are many exhibitions that are proposed and that can be quite interesting. For me it is always interesting to show an artist in Paris before showing him elsewhere, and paradoxally to do exhibitions all over the world. When one has exhibited in Paris, it gives an additional and complementary proof, but it is still necessary that the place where one has exhibited is sufficiently known, recognized or interesting,. Of course, if an artist has exhibited in Paris in an MJC (Maison des Jeunes et de la Culture), it has less impact than if one has exhibited in a gallery. So the place and its prestige are definetly to consider.


Muse Square: What do you like about being a gallerist in Paris today ?

François Rastoll: What I like is the diversity and the possibility of proposing several different projects of different style. You don’t have to have a single style in this gallery. To offer only one style of photo, painting, sculpture. You can propose different things regularly because there is a curiosity that you find in Paris, and that exists of course in several places, but that is quite particular because we also reach a foreign clientele.

Being in the Haut Marais, the gallery district, it remains a prestigious place for galleries. When you have a gallery like mine, which is only 30m2, it’s still very advantageous because you have visibility, each gallery giving the possibility to other people to come from one opening to another.

We have a lot of tourism, my gallery is next to the Picasso museum so I have a lot of visits, or tourists who come and therefore people who want to discover things, especially French artists since they are in France. This has allowed me to reach more people, a wider diversity. Parisian buyers are not necessarily Parisians, but people who come to Paris.


Muse Square: How would you describe the art market in Paris in your domaine ?

François Rastoll: It’s quite vast, depending on who you’re targeting. I have a market of first-time collectors, first-time buyers, which means that I have quite a wide range of prices, both low and high. We have a clientele that comes for that: to discover new artists, to discover people who have never exhibited or who are exhibiting for the first time in a gallery. It allows them to commit to an artist, eventually to start promoting them and to follow them afterwards. I have a market that is very flourishing on this, and we see that the market is opening up since the end of last year: it has evolved enormously, it has allowed us to go back to the years before Covid.


Muse Square: How was the post-Covid effect for you ?

François Rastoll: It was very difficult. Artists, galleries, and the whole cultural world had to reinvent themselves in their way of communicating, in their way of approaching people. People had become accustomed to going from point A to point B and back home. There was no longer any notion of “flâner”: we no longer strolled around, we no longer looked at shop windows or did window shopping. When it was time to buy shoes, we went to the store and then we we returned home. We had to get people to come back and say, “Yes, you’re going to go to the shoe store first, but when you go to the shoe store, come and see us later.” So we had to find new ways to communicate and get visitors to come back into the galleries. We had done that before Covid, we had started to democratize the entrance and the ease of getting into a gallery. It is always said that it is not easy to push the door of a gallery, but it was precisely in the process of democratizing and after the Covid, we had to redo it all over again. It is still not acquired at 100%, but we are slowly getting there.

It’s true that the art world can be intimidating, especially when you don’t know much about it.

It’s intimidating because it’s quite elitist, well when you take it in its elitist form. It’s certain that when you come to exhibitions where there are blocks of writing explaining what you must see and what you’re going to see. When you’ve seen the exhibition, if you haven’t seen it, you might have the impression of being stupid, so it certainly doesn’t work. That’s not my approach. My approach is rather to say “Do you like the images, or do you like what I’m showing you ? If you like it, let’s talk about it. You don’t have to buy.” There is no obligation to buy in a gallery, but come and discover, because it is through art that evolution is made.


Muse Square: Have you previously collaborated with other galleries ?

François Rastoll: Absolutely, in particular with a gallery in Barcelona called the Projekteria Gallery. It is a partner gallery, it had brought artists here during 1 month, and I went to Barcelona to exhibit artists. I also have partner galleries in Japan and other places. We don’t always do exchanges but we have exhibition opportunities like that to work with them.


Muse Square: Can you tell us more about the collaboration process between you and your peers ?

François Rastoll: The process of collaboration with a gallery is a bit like the process with artists or with a festival. It is first of all a story of feeling. Before knowing if I’m going to exhibit the works, I have to know if I want to live with the artist. That is to say that when you mount an exhibition, the preparation lasts 1 year. I prepare my program one year in advance. I need to appreciate the person first. I always say that they have to become friends somewhere, before their project. Many of the artists who come to my place have done workshops or masterclasses with me, so I’ve accompanied them. We took time, for more than 5 months we worked together so it allows a more pleasant way to approach the subject. Also, it’s not because they propose a style that I don’t exhibit or that I don’t do, that I get stuck and that I say no to them. I still warn them that if they do something that I don’t usually exhibit, I won’t necessarily have any customers for what they propose. I think you have to be very frank and honest when you work together. Knowing how to say what you are capable of doing, what you can bring, but also knowing how to say “Be careful, I don’t master that, it’s not my clientele or I don’t have access to this type of media to help you in the communication”. For me, it’s more about partnership in the broad sense. It’s how we can find together the way to make artists and the name of the gallery that receives and as the one that comes shine.


Muse Square:  Do you wish the same with Muse square artists ? Do you wish to meet the artist first ?

François Rastoll:  Not necessarily, but you have to be realistic, the artist can’t always travel. If it’s an artist who lives at the other end of France or abroad, I’m not going to make him come for a one-hour meeting just because I prefer to talk directy to people. In this case, there has to be a note of intent, I’m not interested in the CV, I’m not someone who has done long studies, so to me, that’s not what characterizes an artist, nor the number of likes on social networks. I rather look at the note of intent, the project, how the artist wants to present it, his ideas. I will show them the space that can be made available to them and I ask them what they imagine to do inside, and if I can bring something or not. I usually say “there it will not work, but your idea has something and we can go elsewhere with it”. So there is not necessarily a physical meeting from the first day. It can be on videocall, even if I just receive a well-written note of intent, that’s a lot. We have a lot of people who present projects where there is not even a note of intent. Very often, artists come with a CV showing me the places where they have exhibited, but that’s not what interests me, what I sell are images : photos, paintings, sculptures, not the story of the artist. That I can only sell once the visitor is interested in the work, it doesn’t work the other way around, it’s not the CV that is going to make people like or dislike the work they have in front of them.


Muse Square: Do you think that collaboration could help resolve the isolation problem that some galleries face ?

François Rastoll: Yes, probably. We can always do more, we can always do better, and then there are always things that we don’t imagine and that exist, that others do. I am never closed to anything. I know what I am capable of doing and what I am not capable of doing and if someone brings me a solution or a network to which I do not have access, and in exchange I can bring him my knowledge, I do it. I am specialized in scenography, I wrote a book published by Eyrolles called “Scénographier une exposition de photographie”. For me it is always the same, it is a story of exchange. I’m not only specialized in scenography, I’m mostly known for scenography, I’m doing very high quality editing. Working with peers is always very interesting.