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Yvon Lambert, Paris. On artistic recurrences

Yvon Lamberts returns to Marais, this time not as an art dealer but as a bookseller and modern publisher. «I want to do something more humanistic»

The closure and the return of Yvon Lambert Paris

Five years ago, on 31 December 2014 Le Figaro announced a shock for the art world: the closing of Galerie Lambert, 108 di Rue Vieille du Temple in Paris. It had been opened by the French art dealer Yvon Lambert in 1966 and found premises in Marais in 1986. The news arrived three years after the closure of the Manhattan branch, which couldn’t survive competition from the US art market. «It is not a political decision, but the effect of time, the realization that the art world is different from the one I loved. I want to do something more humanistic, less focused on money and obsession with prices,» commented Lambert back then.

Lambert, now 83 years old, and his daughter Eve own Yvon Lambert Libraire Éditeur, a bookshop in the center of Paris, in Rue des Filles du Calvaire, 14. A return to the quarter of Marais, this time as a bookseller and modern publisher. The bookshop sells art books, limited editions, specialized publications, objets d’art, and art collections. Océan, by the American David Horvitz, is a collection of watercolors worth 1,500 euro, published and sold by the Lambert imprint in a limited edition of 50 copies. The protagonist is the Pacific Ocean seen from the beach of Roncho Palos Verdes, California, during summer 2017. All of the copies are signed by Horvitz, the artist from Los Angeles, considered the equivalent of the Fluxus group timewise, and author of the project entitled Mood Disorder—a high-resolution photo that circulates freely online. The picture portrays the artist in the foreground, dressed in black, head bowed and in his hands, with the sea in the background. In 2012 Horvitz uploaded the image to the ‘mood disorders’ Wikipedia page and since then the photo has been used for articles and posts about the subject.

Still a gallery

Yvon Lambert, publisher and bookseller, has not cut ties with the artists he has represented throughout his career. Today, the bookshop is also a showcase for established and up-and-coming artists, both French and international—the ninety-year-old sculptor and photographer Paul-Armand Gette, the photographer Ann Ray, the playwright Pierre Guyotat – and it hosts openings, exhibitions and installations. More recent ones include that by Vittorio Santoro, the Swiss-Italian visual artist, already featured at the Lambert in New York in 2011. Nathalie Du Pasquier, from the Memphis group, the art movement founded in 1980 by Sottsass, has exhibited three times at the Yvon Lambert Gallery. Co-founder of the movement that turned its back on post-Bauhaus design to embrace pop art, the designer from Bordeaux has worked in partnership with Hermès, creating a range of scarves.

Yvon Lambert

Rewind on Yvon Lambert. It all began when he was barely twenty and decided to open a small shop in his home town (in 1936), Vence, in the south of France. He started to exhibit a collection of drawings entitled From Modigliani to Picasso. He then made his career in Paris, the city he moved to in 1965, by opening a gallery in the center, in Rue De Seine. «Back then I loved geometric art. I exhibited the works of Jean Arp, Jean Hélion and Léon Arthur Tutundjian, an Armenian artist. At the time, Saint Germain was the ‘trigger’ for a career»

In 1968 he set up shop in a new space in Rue De l’Echaudé, not far from De Seine, where until 1972 he presented and sold a new generation of artists. His encounters with the Americans was the result of frequent trips to New York and the general desire among Parisian gallery owners to expand into other markets. Lambert could appreciate the Americans, including also Carl Andre, Cy Twombly, Lawrence Weiner, the minimalists Robert Ryman and Brice Marden. For Cy Twombly (a painter from Virginia, who died in Rome in 2011) Lambert got Roland Barthes involved in the promotion, knowing he was a fan. «I had to fill my room and desk with photos of Twombly’s paintings, I begged him on my knees. In the end he accepted, and I wrote an essay about him»

An anecdote that still links Lambert with Twombly is the Phaedrus case: on 19 July, 2007, the French police arrested a Cambodian artist, Rindy Sam, for kissing one of the panels of a triptych by Twombly, Phaedrus, on display at the Contemporary Art Museum in Avignon. The panel was an all-white canvas worth two million euro, but stained by Rindy Sam’s lipstick. The Cambodian defended her gesture as an act of love inspired by the power of art, and was sentenced to pay a fine of one thousand euro to the owner of the artwork, Yvon Lambert, plus 500 as compensation to the museum in Avignon, and the nominal payment of one euro to Twombly.

In 2000, Yvon Lambert returned to the south of France and inaugurated Collection Lambert in Avignon, a personal collection presented in Hôtel de Caumont, an 18th-century building used for public events. The exhibition then expanded to the nearby Hôtel de Montfaucon, doubling its display area from 170 square meters to 330. The collection opened with 350 works by contemporary artists for a total value of 63 million euros. In 2010, Lambert threatened to withdraw the collection due to the lack of restoration work on Hôtel de Montfaucon, and one year later he donated 556 of his artworks to France in exchange for the restoration—the most generous donation to the French state since Picasso’s in 1974. 

Since 2015, Hôtel de Caumont has hosted temporary exhibitions, while Montfaucon is the permanent home of the collection, which today counts a total of 1,200 works by artists including Cy Twombly, Sol LeWitt, Donald Judd, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Anselm Kiefer and Nan Goldin.

Valerio Piperata


Yvon Lambert Gallery

14 Rue des Filles du Calvaire

Paris, France

[email protected]

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