In conversation with Noel Guyomarc'h

Interview  /  History   Curating   Gallerism
Published: 23.12.2015
In conversation with Noel Guyomarc'h.
Sanna Svedestedt
Edited by:
Edited at:

Contemporary jewellery is the result of exploration, of a vision, of an artist’s reflection about the world, the environment, the field itself, and its history, no matter the materials and techniques used.
Hello Noel!

In 1996, you founded Galerie Noel Guyomarc'h in Montreal, which means that in 2016 you will be celebrating the gallery’s 20th anniversary. What was it that led you to open a gallery for contemporary jewellery twenty years ago?

I worked in a jewellery boutique/gallery from 1989 to 1995. I was hired as a sales person; I didn’t know anything about the field. Initially, I saw jewellery as something decorative, until I met local artists such as Barbara Stutman, Anne Fauteux and Josée Desjardins, who introduced me to contemporary jewellery. I also did a lot of research on my own. Meanwhile, the boutique became a gallery, and we began organizing exhibitions with Canadian and international artists. Unfortunately, the economy was not very strong, and the owner decided to close. But I was very optimistic, convinced that there was a need for a gallery in Montreal. The only other gallery devoted to art jewellery, run by Jocelyne Gobeil, had closed in 1994. In December 1996, I opened my gallery.
What are some of the major changes that you have seen in the jewellery scene over the years?
I have been very impressed by the number of artists, and the interesting work they produce. There’s a great diversity of artistic vocabularies, of aesthetics and concepts. There’s a lot of exploration of unusual materials. Artists are inspired by their environment, their personal background, by early and more recent jewellery history, and the artwork itself is changing very quickly. With social media, it’s possible to discover new trends, new work, new artists at an incredible pace. As a result, developing one’s career is very demanding and challenging.

 Lawrence Woodford
Ring: Valley of Flowers, 2014
Silver, pink quartz, African garnet
6.3 x 4.5 x 3 cm. Photo: Anthony McLean

Can you name a few of your favourite exhibitions that have been presented by the gallery, and what made them special?
Over the years, there have been many wonderful exhibitions that I am proud to have presented. I have been really pleased with most of the solo exhibitions by the gallery’s artists. But the real breakthroughs came about as a result of the collective exhibitions that were curated either by invited artists or by me. The first one I curated, Le Corps Habité, in 1998, was very conceptual, and included local and international artists. The works on display were jewellery or wearable art pieces that explored the topic of the body, the interaction between the body and the work, how it modifies our behaviour. Then, in 2002, I curated Materials and Colour, which was presented in a number of galleries throughout North America. This exhibition was a huge step, since that’s when I started to work with international artists on a regular basis. I presented exhibitions showing the work of artists from a number of countries, in particular from France and Spain. An extraordinary exhibition, Golden Clogs, Dutch Mountains, curated by Andrea Wagner and presented at the gallery in 2008, introduced Montrealers to jewellery from the Netherlands. For Natural/Artificial, the first exhibition in the gallery’s new space, Luzia Vogt brought together a number of international artists. Dialogue, a show of work by emerging artists from the international scene, was curated by art historian Valérie Côté and me, and presented at the gallery and in Toronto during the conference of the Society of North American Goldsmiths. And last June, Ramon Puig Cuyàs, one of the gallery’s artists, was guest curator of Silence Please!, an exhibition in which he shared his thinking on current artistic production, bringing together works by artists from diverse backgrounds.
Heejoo Kim
Brooch: Untitled, 2015
Enameled copper
15 x 9.5 x 5.5 cm

Considering the experiences you have had over the years - if you could go back and give yourself a piece of advice for the start-up phase, what would that be?
When I opened the gallery, I didn’t realize the amount of work that would be involved: the relationships with clients and artists, planning the exhibitions, taking care of the promotion and advertising…. And today with all the new tools, websites and social media, it’s more work than ever. And since there are so few galleries that specialize in contemporary jewellery, I receive many submissions, most of which I have to reject. That aspect of the work is very difficult, but each time I try to be as honest as possible and explain the reasons behind the rejection. It’s also not easy to develop a clientele. The educational aspect of this job is ongoing, on a daily basis, even after 20 years.
How many artists are you currently working with and what qualities are you looking for when you search for “new” talents?
I work with 50 artists on a regular basis. From time to time, a new artist arrives, another artist leaves the gallery, depending on the quality of the work or their capacity to produce. A few of these artists have been with the gallery from the beginning. Contemporary jewellery is the result of exploration, of a vision, of an artist’s reflection about the world, the environment, the field itself, and its history, no matter the materials and techniques used. It involves exploring new shapes, new forms, new aesthetics. When I spot these elements in new artists, I am interested in working with them. Of course, the qualities of the work and good craftmanship are also important!

What are the future goals of Galerie Noel Guyomarc'h?
Of course, one always hopes to continue promoting and presenting work that one considers exceptional and that enhances the field of contemporary jewellery. Defending and attesting to the work’s relevance is something I do on a daily basis. Many exhibitions are already planned for the next 2 years. But in recent years, the market has really changed. A number of events aim to promote jewellery and to stimulate interest in this art form. Increasingly, members of the public and the collectors are turning to these events, which offer them a range of impressive works. Thanks to artists’ websites, specialized websites and social media, jewellery now benefits from incredible visibility, but remains a challenging field for those of us who work to promote it on a day-to-day basis. I believe that in this new context, the role of galleries needs to be redefined.   

Kazumi Nagano
Brooch: Untitled, 2015
14ct gold, nylon thread, silver 950
6 x 5.5 x 4 cm. Photo:Ryota Sekiguchi