7 Questions for Gallerist Jean-David Malat on How He Cultivates the Careers of Emerging Artists and When the Risks Are Worth It

Malat's eponymous gallery is participating in the Zona Maco art fair in Mexico City, February 8–12, 2023.

Jean-David Malat with work by Georgia Dymock. Courtesy of JD Malat Gallery, London.

Originally from Paris, Jean-David Malat established his eponymous gallery in London five years ago with the aim of fostering young and emerging artists—and has since developed a notably dynamic roster and thought-provoking program. A perennial supporter of the arts and artists, over the course of his nearly two-decade career, Malat has collaborated with a multitude of museums and foundations, through which he has helped advance the careers of several now internationally recognized artists such as Conrad Jon Godly and Henrik Uldalen. With his wealth of expertise and knowhow, Malat has discovered, promoted, and helped establish dozens of previously unknown artists, and continues to do so now through the endeavors of JD Malat Gallery.

Malat is participating in the Zona Maco art fair opening today in Mexico City, presenting a selection of new work by four of the gallery’s artists. We reached out to Malat to learn more about what’s in store both for at the fair and for the gallery.

Jean-David Malat with Kojo Marfo, Lotus (2021). Courtesy of JD Malat Gallery, London.

Jean-David Malat with Kojo Marfo, Lotus (2021). Courtesy of JD Malat Gallery, London.

You launched JD Malat Gallery in 2018 but had been working in the art world for many years already. Can you tell us about your journey?

The first time I set foot in London was in 2000 with just my backpack and few euros in my pocket. I worked as sales assistant in a fashion boutique on Sloane Street. During my time there, I developed a network of creative individuals who worked across the fashion and art industries, which is when I discovered my enthusiasm for art. To feed my curiosity, I began studying postwar and contemporary art in 2005 at Sotheby’s Institute while also working my way up in a commercial art gallery. I began dealing mainly within the secondary art market, but during the formative years of my training, I uncovered my true passion: discovering the work of overlooked young artists. That moment paved my trajectory for promoting new, game-changing talent within the industry. Following 13 years working in the art sphere, I launched my own gallery in 2018 to fulfill my goal of supporting and developing the international careers of emerging artists.

Since the gallery opened, what are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned? Do you have any advice for gallerists just starting out?

The launch of my own gallery gave me the freedom to fulfill my early goals and create a network of artists and a great gallery team based on meaningful and genuine connections. It is not an easy industry. The art industry has a long history, with many traditional mindsets. Some even had doubts about my vision—but it is essential not to let the judgement of others cloud your objectives. If you are driven and recognize the importance of supporting a new generation of artists and collectors, you can make your mark. The biggest lesson I’ve learned is to never stop innovating with new ideas and projects for the artists you work with, and always keep searching for emerging artists online, at art fairs, and at graduate shows. It is a challenge, but always worth it if you truly love it.

What are some of your guiding principles or mission as an art dealer? How is this reflected in the art and artists you show?

My relationships with the artists I represent comes before everything. The connections I have with them and their work is really the center of a much wider nexus within my gallery and its position within the art world. We have a fast-paced program with a monthly changeover of exhibitions. As the gallery roster consists mainly of young and emerging talent based on my belief in their vision, it is my mission to provide them with solo exhibitions presented on a “blue-chip scale” complete with international projects, events, and placemaking through cross-cultural collaborations and contributions from academics and institutions. For instance, last year the solo exhibitions by Erdoğan Zümrütoğlu and Henrik Uldalen were accompanied by catalogues and talks by the art historian and Sotheby’s Institute program director, Dr. David Bellingham, and the chief curator of the National Portrait Gallery, Dr. Alison Smith, respectively. I will do everything I can to make our artists successful. There is a lot of risk involved in this, but it is always worth it.

Erdogan Zumrutoglu, Persona Non Grata III (2022). Courtesy of JD Malat Gallery, London.

Erdoğan Zümrütoğlu, Persona Non Grata III (2022). Courtesy of JD Malat Gallery, London.

The gallery is participating in the 2023 edition of Zona Maco art fair. Can you tell us about the artists you will be exhibiting?

This year I am presenting a leading Turkish artist, Erdoğan Zümrütoğlu, Ghanaian artist Kojo Marfo, British artist Georgia Dymock, and Chinese artist Ming Ying. I have been working with Zümrütoğlu since the inception of my gallery. His monumental paintings are filled to the brim with expressive brushwork and oil paint. Similarly, the young female artists Dymock and Ying demonstrate exceptional talent in oil painting, while also dealing with complex themes linked to contemporary society. Finally, Marfo’s work, which I first discovered during the 2020 lockdown, is totally distinct form of acrylic painting, with stylistic references that break boundaries across history, European, and African art. It will be an exceptional booth, and we have been working on the curation for months. The artists have contrasting yet equally captivating styles, which I believe will resonate strongly with the demand for figurative art.

Georgia Dymock, Two Figures with Cat Tail (2022). Courtesy of JD Malat Gallery, London.

Georgia Dymock, Two Figures with Cat Tail (2022). Courtesy of JD Malat Gallery, London.

Are there specific works or themes that you are particularly excited to be showing?

Each of the artists draws on topics which are contextually relevant in the current climate. The booth will offer a space for viewers to reflect on themes that range from cross-cultural hybridity to the impact of new technologies and surveillance on the human body. I am thrilled to present each artist’s newest series of paintings, as well as be the first to introduce their work to the exciting market in Mexico.

Ming Ying, A flicker of hint (2023). Courtesy of JD Malat Gallery, London.

Ming Ying, A flicker of hint (2023). Courtesy of JD Malat Gallery, London.

What’s next for the gallery? Are there any forthcoming exhibitions beyond Zonamaco or news on the horizon that you can share with us?

Last week in Mayfair, London, I opened “Big City,” by the French artist Yann Leto. In March, I have an exciting program where we will run two solo exhibitions concurrently on two floors of the gallery. While we will present the second solo exhibition by the talented British artist Andrew Litten on the ground floor, we will also host the sole debut by the 24-year-old figurative painter Emily Gillbanks on the lower level. We are also looking to continue expanding the gallery worldwide and opening a residency program in Iceland.

If you were not a gallerist, what would you be doing?

I think I would explore acting and theater further; I actually began acting in France after modeling for few years. I really enjoyed it—especially the thrill of performing live on stage and recounting the great classics.

Kojo Marfo, Beloved 2 (2022). Courtesy of JD Malat Gallery, London.

Kojo Marfo, Beloved 2 (2022). Courtesy of JD Malat Gallery, London.

To learn more about JD Malat Gallery, click here.

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