One of the most important galleries in the world has undergone an astonishing development. From the periphery, almost unnoticed by the big players, it has gained influence bit by bit over the decades and today is even seen by some experts as the secret number one in the art market. It did not originate in one of the pulsating mega metropolises such as New York or London. No, it was born in a tranquil provincial town in Austria, surrounded by mountains, lakes, and partly untouched nature - in Salzburg.
The founder, Thaddaeus Ropac, was born in Klagenfurt in 1960. He began his career in 1981 in Lienz and two years later opened the first gallery space in Salzburg in Kaigasse. In 1995, the gallery moved to the historic Villa Kast on Mirabellplatz. And in March 2010, it was complemented by the so-called "Salzburg Halle," an exhibition space of more than 2,500 square meters in an industrial building.
But, wait! An essential element is missing from this chronology. The real spark for success was the start of international expansion in 1990, when Ropac opened a location in Paris, in the middle of the Marais district, east of the Centre Georges-Pompidou between the Place de la République and the Place de la Bastille. Its entry into the Parisian art scene was well-prepared. With his evening events parallel to the Salzburg Festival, Ropac had persistently built up a wide-ranging network across Europe, especially with the German art scene. The geographical location of his gallery worked to Thaddaeus Ropac's advantage. Salzburg is right on the German border, just over an hour's drive from Munich. Ropac broke up the rigid structures in Germany at the time, which only allowed artists to be represented exclusively by a gallery. As an Austrian gallery owner, he was not bound by these structures. He was able to bind influential artists to himself in this way. As is expected today, double representation was still an exception at that time. Thus, by the time he came to Paris, Ropac had already established a dense network in the art world. It came as it had to: Paris became a success. The gallery in the Marais district grew in the following years and was almost bursting at the seams.
Ropac needed more space - much more space. In 2012, he, therefore, dared to take a step that was unique until then. Instead of focusing on another location in the center of Paris, he chose a site far outside the city, in Pantin, a suburb of Paris. To do so, he transformed a former copperware factory into a vast art gallery. A few steps away from the Hermés and Chanel workshops, the venue offers more than 5,000 square meters of exhibition space to showcase large-scale works and installations. A place ideal for works by artists such as Robert Rauschenberg, Georg Baselitz, Gilbert and George, David Salle, Tony Cragg, and Anselm Kiefer.
The fact that the New York gallery owner Larry Gagosian, until then considered the undisputed number one in the market, followed suit a short time later, also in a suburb of Paris, with a similar concept, says a lot about Thaddaeus Ropac's right instincts. But that's not the only reason for the Austrian's success. Unlike most other galleries, Ropac has the image of a gallery for artists. Ropac wanted to become an artist at a young age, traveling to Düsseldorf, Berlin, and the Documenta in Kassel to meet the greats of his time. A friendship developed with Joseph Beuys, who introduced Ropac to Andy Warhol, who was from Slovakia, who established contact with Jean-Michel Basquiat. In other words, Ropac was at the epicenter of the international art scene. When many of his artist friends died in quick succession - Beuys in 1986, Warhol in 1987, Basquiat in 1988, Mapplethorpe in 1989 - Ropac had the right instinct again. He became involved with Georg Baselitz and Anselm Kiefer, who are still represented today and are currently among the top artists worldwide
Paris, like Salzburg, was a stroke of luck for Ropac, as the competition among galleries in Paris was not particularly strong until then, unlike in New York or London. It was only comparatively late, in 2017, that he opened a branch in London. Seoul followed in 2021 to also cater to the rapidly growing Asian art market.
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