The Gagosian’s grand projects for the late Simon Hantaï (1922-2008)

Larry Gagosian ©thierry Ehrmann - courtesy du Musée de L'Organe / La Demeure du Chaos

Larry Gagosian ©thierry Ehrmann – Courtesy of Organ Museum  / Abode of Chaos

Yesterday, 13 October 2019, the Gagosian Gallery inaugurated in its wide space at Le Bourget, on the outskirts of Paris, a first exhibition dedicated to Simon HANTAÏ, whose estate the international gallery now represents worldwide. Titled LES NOIRS DU BLANC, LES BLANCS DU NOIR, the exhibition focuses on canvases and prints made between 1969 and 1997, years during which Simon Hantaï developed his folding (pliage) techniques.

thierry Ehrmann, founder/CEO of Artprice by Artmarket: “It is ironic that an artist who sought almost all his life to escape the Art Market should return eleven years after his death under the aegis of the most powerful gallery on the planet. No doubt the battle for the privilege of representing his estate was tough… and this time it’s the Gagosian that won. It now has responsibility for giving global visibility to Hantaï’s work which is much more complex than it appears. Because behind the warm and seductive colours, there is a unique and profoundly spiritual work”.

Since his death in 2008, several galleries have exhibited Simon Hantaï’s work in London and New York, and his prices have already increased considerably. However the Gagosian Gallery still sees enormous potential in Hantaï’s market.


Auction turnover on works by Simon Hantaï (2000-2018)


The first auction of an important Simon Hantaï work outside France dates back to 2017 when Sotheby’s New York sold his « M.D.4 (Mariale) » (1962) for $3,252,500. It was his third best auction result and confirmed the market’s growing interest as it represented six times the amount fetched at Aguttes in Paris in June 2008 ($540,000) for the same canvas.

However… that New York sale was exceptional: nearly 90% of Simon Hantaï’s auction turnover is hammered in France with his works primarily changing hands in Paris rather than New York, London or Hong Kong. This, of course, explains the potential that the major international galleries – and especially the Gagosian – see in managing Hantaï’s succession.

In fact, Simon Hantaï’s work has received relatively little exposure outside France, partly due to the artist himself, who after his exhibition at the Venice Biennale in 1982, decided to ‘withdraw’ from the Art Market. He did not show his work again until 1998, after much patient persuasion from his friend and gallerist Jean Fournier.

Émilie Ovaere-Corthay, director of the Jean Fournier Gallery: “Our gallery supported Hantaï’s work throughout his life, and still does today. We respected his personal wishes, including his desire to withdraw from the artistic scene between 1982 and 1998, just when Jean Fournier opened a large space on Quincampoix Street in order to diffuse his work on a larger scale.

After his death in 2008, several Anglo-Saxon galleries expressed interest in Simon Hantaï: Paul Kasmin exhibited his work in New York in 2010, then Timothy Taylor in 2014 and the Mnuchin Gallery in 2015, each time in collaboration with the Jean Fournier gallery.

The big question is the availability of works for sale. The Gagosian will no doubt have access to major works, and it will also have a free hand to place them in important collections on a global scale, via its network of 13 galleries. »

At auction, Simon Hantaï’s ‘best’ canvases are those created when he started using his folding technique, particularly the series Mariale, Mur – Manteaux de la Vierge (1960-1962). The value of large formats (2m²) from this period currently ranges from $2 to $5 million. Canvases from the three series Meun (1967-1968), Etude (1969-1971) and Blanc (1973-1975) usually sell for close to a million dollars, although the smaller works (less than 50cm²) are still fetching less than $100,000 on average.

Auctions turnover on works by Simon Hantaï (2000-2018) by year of creation


Émilie Ovaere-Corthay, again: “We tend to remember the large colored formats, the ‘all over’ patterns that elicit an immediate and physical relationship with the viewer. Their impact is close to the efficacy of the great American Abstract Expressionists.

However, it is important to remember that Simon Hantaï was primarily influenced by Surrealism when he arrived in Paris at the end of 1940. His roots are in fact literary, underpinned by a profound spirituality that grew over time.

The ‘quest’ for the management of artists’ estates by the major international galleries has allowed the rediscovery of lesser-known artists, sometimes misunderstood in their time. But ‘knowledge’ of an œuvre, in the intellectual and emotional sense of the term, is not necessarily related to its diffusion on the market. These are two different things.

From their first meeting at the beginning of the 1950s until today, the gallery has kept correspondence between Jean Fournier and Simon Hantaï, and has meticulously recorded reproductions of his works. Today these archives, accessible to researchers, represent a solid and essential basis for the certification of his works and the redaction of his catalogue raisonné and that is why the Jean Fournier gallery contributes to a better knowledge of his work, in a both a patrimonial and a prospective dimension at the same time”.

As of the late 1990s, Simon Hantaï himself donated many works – representative of the major periods in his artistic career – to the Pompidou Center and the Ville de Paris Musée d’Art Moderne. Several other French museums, including the Fabre Museum in Montpellier and the CAPC in Bordeaux, have also integrated his work into their collections.

The MoMA and the National Gallery of Art in Washington both have a painting by Simon Hantaï, but in general his works are absent from major Anglo-Saxon collections. The primary role of the Gagosian Gallery will be to present this Franco-Hungarian artist outside Europe, and especially outside France, where his works have been regularly exhibited and have received plenty of attention from art historians and philosophers.

In L’étoilement (Conversation with Hantaï) published in 1998, Georges Didi-Huberman was moved to make the following touching observation which somehow captures the mystery of his painting: “Hantai is wary of beauty, I can feel it… it’s in his DNA” .

The exhibition LES NOIRS DU BLANC, LES BLANCS DU NOIR at Le Bourget, Gagosian Gallery
From 13 Octobre 2019 until 14 March 2020:

Simon Hantaï’s Archives:

Galerie Jean Fournier: