As anyone who knows Paris well will be aware, it probably has more art galleries per square kilometre than any other city in the world. So it is a brave individual who chooses to establish something new and different in ‘the city of light’. This, however, is exactly what art lover and communications expert Rachel Hardouin chose to do early in 2018, having honed her credentials working with some of Europe’s best-known and most innovative advertising agencies.
Rachel had a very good idea of what she wanted to achieve when she opened Galerie Rachel Hardouin, a space of discoveries and encounters, as an appointment-and-invitation art gallery on an upper floor not far from the Gare du Nord.
Recognising that too many artists and photographers see their creations rejected or censored because of convention or ‘acceptability’, Galerie Rachel Hardouin is a new concept of an intimate immersive gallery which provides space for exhibitions, installations, performances, conversations and gatherings between like-minded people who are willing to explore the more risqué aspects of art. The generic title of the gallery’s exhibitions is ‘15 curiosity + experiences’ ; 15 referring to its address in rue Martel (a nod to when initiated nineteenth-century gentlemen, off to spend a few hours with their cocottes, would say ‘Just off to 15’ and everyone would know what they meant).
Raised in Haute Normandie, Rachel Hardouin moved to Paris in 1989 to work with the advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi. She was fascinated by every aspect of the way the company combined advertising and art – the design, the words and images, the purchase of art, the production, the commercial follow-up, the editing, the correction of the pictures, the strategic planning, the media planning. This was where she learned the link between communication and art, the skill of making images, the art of dialogue with images, the art of defending ideas and causes through imagery.
Drawing on this experience Rachel joined CELSA, a high-level study in communications at the Sorbonne, specialising in communication and international brand strategy, after which she joined the Ogilvy and Mather group to work on the launch of DisneyLand Paris. She spent time working with DDB Needham and a subsidiary of the Publicis group, specialising in global communication and the digital environment of brand management. Then in 2007 she struck out on her own with a communications consulting agency, Rachel Hardouin Conseil, an agency positioned to support creative brands originating in France.
In March 2018 she invested in a loft in a modernist building located at 15 rue Martel, to develop the activities of her agency and to create her unique gallery. As Rachel explains, ‘Artists make me discover new processes, new techniques, new ways of expression – it’s an ongoing exchange and it’s very exciting. I want to create a space of discoveries and encounters that uses the intimate setting to explore intimate interactions and relationships.’
She is particularly keen to explore our links with the history of erotic art, confronting the creative vision of intimacy in both Western and Asian art, lifting the veil on repressed and fantasised intimacy, where explicit desire mingles with the modesty of our feelings.
She also concentrates on exhibiting the work of women artists. As Rachel says, ‘I am very moved by their gaze and their relationship with intimacy. It is a stronger language, less stereotyped than that of men. They can reach more sensitive and subtle layers.’
Galerie Rachel Hardouin has opening hours, but visitors must book in advance, which makes it possible to maintain an intimate space, and often to meet the artists. While this concept of a ‘floor gallery’ is fairly common in Asia and the United States, it is still a marginal concept in Europe, so this Paris gallery is leading the way here too.
As Rachel explains, the gallery’s vision explores what the eighteenth-century French philosopher Denis Diderot meant when he wrote ‘La nature ne fait rien d’incorrect. Toute forme laide ou belle a sa cause’ (Nature does nothing wrong. Every ugly or beautiful form has its own reasoning). Exploring experimental styles in painting, photography, graphic design, sculpture and ceramics, the gallery’s exhibits explore the fragility of our sensitive existence, linking us with the Renaissance heritage and the spirit of Diderot.
Some of the artists exhibited at Galerie Rachel Hardouin
Trained in Sydney, Nadja Laganza was a fashion photographer for fifteen years, and now works mainly in photography and ceramics, describing herself as ‘a witness of time’. ‘Don’t let me sleep’ is a photographic series made at the Maison Hospitaller of Cergy Pontoise, a treatment centre for people with mental disorders, recording the interactions between patients and their environment.
Ludovica Anzaldi is of Sicilian origin, and moved to Paris to study photography. A graduate of the Speos School, Ludovica advanced her training with a Master in Artistic Direction at Penninghen, Paris. In June 2019 she unveiled a collection of 25 portraits of women, ‘Human Range’. Each woman is shown in relation to her own desires. Anzaldi describes the series as ‘A story about plural beauty without false pretence; a cry of love in a world of conflict.’
Solène Ballesta graduated as a Bachelor of Photography at the École de Condé in June 2014. The same year she received the Picto Award for Young Fashion Photography. Solène lives and works in Japan.
Lucas Levon is a multidisciplinary artist. He explores drawing, painting, sculpture, tattooing and music, exploring sex, ego and frustration. His ‘Dirty Dark Book’ project aims to expose these difficult issues to the initiated public.
Jean Desmier is a Paris-based artist who works with drawing, prints and photography. He describes his ‘Roman Photo 73’ as a libertine photo-novel of 43 works using a variety of techniques.
The photographer Alexandra Yonnet has presented ‘Adult Gardens’, a series of self-portraits behind a mask, exploring Oscar Wilde’s statement that ‘We are less ourselves when we are sincere; give us a mask and we will tell the truth’. Always from the front and close-up, her face hidden behind a symbolic shield, the model-photographer exposes her nudity without delivering to the lens the essential expressions that usually betrays the face. The mute body, open to the world, is freed from the palette of emotions, unveiled; here she is free, protected by her choice to remain anonymous.
Xavier Devaud studied at the Beaux-Arts in Rueil-Malmaison before becoming a theatre designer and then a social worker. He became a full-time artist in 2011, and his first solo exhibition was held at the Espace Landowski in Boulogne Billancourt. For the Galerie Rachel Hardouin he produced a series of more than three hundred drawings and poems on the theme of the fragile link between the city and nature.
In autumn 2021, as part of the Paris 10th photographic exhibit, the gallery presented the work of photographer-reporter Véronique Durruty. A striking tribute to the work of Patti Smith, Véronique created a monumental disarticulated cross representing the key aspects of the work of the rocker-poet. The work incorporates automatic drawings expressing erotic thoughts and dreams.
The photographer Olga Caldas paid a beautiful tribute to the artist Marie Morel, exploring the spaces of her Petit Abergement workshops, swimming in the Mediterranean, forests, flowers and sensual aromas. Olga brings together many photographs that she assembles in photomontages, with unpredictable connections and unexpected paths. Her photographs upset, disturb, disorient, and question age and sensuality.
The minimalist French artist Quibe is well-known for his single-line ink drawings depicting sensuality in its most basic forms. Galerie Rachel Hardouin has shown his ‘Le baiser original’ (the original kiss), demonstrating how the variety of gestures around kissing connects us with the art of relationship, tenderness, passion, appeasement.
Silvio Cadelo’s paintings have questioned the situation of women since the Renaissance period. At the Galerie Rachel Hardouin, Cadelo presented a large-format installation in homage to Pier Paolo Pasolini and his famous 1973 text on the spirit of the fireflies. You can see more of Silvio Cadelo’s work on the honesterotica website here.
The Galerie Rachel Hardouin acts as the Paris agency for Varenne’s original works. It has organised three Varenne exhibitions, ‘Erotic Dreams’ (a collective exhibition) and ‘Water and Woman’ in 2018, and a new series of paintings, ‘The Woman and the Animal Man’, in 2019. You can see more of Alex Varenne’s work on the honesterotica website here.
Galerie Rachel Hardouin is at 15 rue Martel, 75010 Paris; more details can be found on its website, which you will find here.