PARIS — Inside his pint-size gallery on the Left Bank here, a towering Kamel Mennour stands arm in arm with budding French artist Christine Rebet before the opening of her show.
“The lead character can be very undisciplined and at times he just doesn’t want to work,” explains Rebet to Mennour, who listens intently. For him, holding an artist’s hand and offering sage advice are essential to running a successful art gallery.
“She was talking about the characters in her animated video,” Mennour explains once Rebet leaves. “She gets so involved with her work, the work itself literally comes to life.”
At 41, Mennour is bringing a wave of fresh talent to a somewhat musty Saint Germain art scene, which is dominated by antique shops and century-old book stores. “I loved the idea that the area is a bit old-school for a contemporary art gallery,” says Mennour, who opened his second gallery on the Rue Mazarine in 2003.
He has a knack for doing things differently. Born in Algeria, Mennour moved to Paris with his family as a child, and later obtained a master’s in economics from the Sorbonne. “Art was a bit of an accident for me,” he says, recalling that his first foray involved helping an artist friend by selling etchings door to door. “My mother was traumatized. She thought I was selling frames for a living.”
Mennour quickly developed a passion for discovering young talent. Take Adel Abdessemed, a 35-year-old Franco-Algerian whose artworks Mennour displayed at the Fiac in October as well as at his own gallery. Abdessemed’s “Practice Zero Tolerance,” a car made entirely out of clay and burnt to a crisp, is a political nod to the riots that plagued the Paris suburbs last year, while “Bourek” consists of a flattened aircraft rolled up into the form of a pastry.
“You can’t be afraid of risks in this industry,” says Mennour, who likes to mix things up, working with everyone from photographers such as Larry Clark and Nobuyoshi Araki to more classical names, including Stephen Shore and Pierre Molinier. And it’s not just aspiring talent he seeks out. He has collaborated with established figures such as renowned French contemporary artist Daniel Buren. Mennour is presenting Buren’s new installation and a handful of works by other artists such as Abdessemed and Rebet this week at Art Basel in Miami.
This story first appeared in the December 7, 2006 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Art aficionados, including luxury magnates Bernard Arnault and François Pinault, as well as Patti Smith, Gaspard Noé, Suzanne Page, Alfred Pacquement, Jim Jarmusch, Bono and Jean Paul Gaultier, are among his clients. And while Mennour is not one to stray too far from home, he admits he’s already short on space. “We hope to bring the two galleries under one roof in 2007,” he says.
As for tips on tapping new artist talent, Mennour believes it’s something that is very personal. “Spotting a new artist is much like meeting your wife for the first time,” he says. “When you see her, you know she’s the one.”