Nicolas Hugo is a 27-year-old collector and gallerist based between London and Paris.
How did you get into art? What was the first work you bought?
Well, I actually didn’t want to be an art dealer at first. When I was 18, I bought a 1956 Picasso lithograph. I still have it and it’s the most cherished piece in my collection.
Tell us about your gallery in Paris. When did you start it and what or who defines the program? At what age did you know you wanted to become a dealer?
Originally, I wanted to be an art publisher or a children’s book editor. It was actually during a dinner with my father and an art dealer in New York that it occurred to me. My father went outside for a cigarette and I stayed with the dealer, who told me that she could picture me as more as an art dealer than a publisher. She then told me that Gagosian was opening another gallery in Paris in the next few months and advised me to send them a CV. I did and started as an intern there when I was 20 years old. Then I went on to work in Brussels with Sébastien Janssen, and later with Parisian furniture and art dealer Patrick Seguin. Spending time with both of them and observing their ways of doing business helped me a lot and inspired me to start my own project. When I started my gallery, I was 23. I didn’t have much money back then but was so impatient to start my own project—I dreamt of having my own exhibitions, my own artists, so I decided to start the gallery in my own apartment. The fact that nobody knew me, and that the artists I wanted to represent were also unknown, I thought that the concept of the gallery being in my own home would attract people’s attention. I had no idea of where it could go, or how it would progress—all I knew is that I wanted to do it.
Do you find it difficult to collect outside the artists you represent?
Not at all. I see the gallery and my own collection as part of the same thing, and I can’t really dissociate the two. I try to build bridges between them. The last pieces I bought was a textile work by Marie Hazard, a new artist from the gallery, and an Antoine Donzeaud painting on Paddle8.
What dealers have influenced you? How do you feel about the trend of younger dealers and collectors in the art world today?
My mentor is Sébastien Janssen from the gallery Sorry We Are Closed. I didn’t work with him for long, but he influenced me considerably. I admire his selection, his eye, his humility and the way he always thinks up and organizes exceptional shows without having a conventional gallery space. I’ve always seen him as a bit of a troublemaker in the art world, shaking things up and constantly reinventing himself. As for my opinion of the art world today, I think that we’re in a transitional period. As the emerging artists’ speculation bubble exploded, major galleries have become more important and younger dealers have had to find new ways to survive and to make a difference. I am really interested to see how things are going to evolve in the next 10 years after all of the recent shifts and changes.
I have been hearing good things about an artist you represent, Margaux Valengin. How did you come across her work? Why do you think people are responding so positively to it?
I’m really glad to hear that! I met her when I was working in Brussels, before I’d opened the gallery. I saw the first paintings that she had created and they immediately caught my eye; I knew she was going to be great. She was only 18 at the time. We talked about working together, but wanted to allow us both time to prepare. Three years later, we decided we were ready for Margaux’s first show. People responded so positively to it—I couldn’t believe it. Margaux then moved to London and now is in New York. Since our show, her work has evolved considerably. It is so natural, yet so surprising. It’s a great pleasure to work with her. Our collaboration is a real professional friendship, and I like to think that collectors appreciate that, as well as the work.
I understand you recently moved to London and are now based between London and Paris. What made you decide to move to London? From your perspective, what do you find challenging about the gallery model in today’s market?
My client base was growing more and more in London in the last two years and I wanted to give myself and the gallery a new challenge. Apart from the regular collectors that I work with, 60% of my sales are made through my website, Instagram, or Facebook. The fact is that people are now “following” people—not only on social networks, but also in the sense that art-lovers are following the artists, instead of galleries. Artists are their own brand in a way, and wherever they’re exhibited, people will go there to see their work. I like to think that seeing paintings in different contexts helps collectors develop their engagement with the artwork, so pop-up shows are becoming significant and very popular.
What are you working on right now? Any exciting plans for Galerie Nicolas Hugo for the end of the year?
I’m currently preparing my first pop-up show in London in partnership with Rosie Osborne. It will take place in East London from December 8th to 12th and features brilliant American artists such as Todd Bienvenu, Jonathan Lux, and Kimia Ferdowsi Kline, as well as artists from my gallery such as Théo Haggai and Margaux Valengin.