The Art Whisperer of Royal Street
Malcolm Genet looks like he has secrets to sell.
Always nattily dressed, professional and proficient, he can size you up as fast as an artist strokes an oiled paintbrush on canvas.
He gives the impression he knows what you want, what you’re going to buy, if you’re going to buy or if you’re just wasting his time.
With a subtle suggestion he can shape your perspective on any medium. With an conceptual quip he can color your viewpoint of any composition.
He’s a scholar. He’s a collector. He’s an aesthetician.
He’s the art whisperer of Royal Street.
“As a salesperson you can’t change the psychology of the client,” Genet said. “They are what they are. You need to get to know them and who they are. It’s a complex psychological dance. Our job is not to force anyone or push anyone. That’s not why art is here. Some customers are pleasant and fun to be with. Others are obnoxious. It’s a continual potpourri of events when dealing with people.”
As a senior fine art consultant at the Angela King Gallery, on 241 Royal St., Genet has been a perennial presence on the arts avenue for more than 25 years. First at the Hanson Gallery, then at Angela King when she opened her own gallery up the block in 2005, Genet has sold paintings, sculpture and limited edition pieces to patrons around the globe with individual sales topping $250,000.
Even though I have never bought a piece of art from Genet, I still manage to stay on his A-List, and gladly accepted a recent invitation to the Raymond Douillet-Chevoleau exhibit opening on Saturday, Nov. 8.
I’ve been a huge fan of the neo-surrealist for many years. Genet knows that, just like he knows I’ll probably never buy one of the 16 oils on canvas or wood panels on display through Monday, Nov. 24. He also knows I like to take my Art History BA out for a walk once in a while and spar with him about subtext and narrative. I thought the collection was humorous. He thought it serious. We both fell in love with “Family Tree,” where a masked naked family is posed exposed in a graveyard full of skulls on tree branches, and we were both amused with the collection’s clever homage to Belgian surrealist Rene Magritte. Ok, I’ll put the BA away now.
I got to share only a few minutes with Genet, because he works the room like a master. It’s his favorite part, he said, interacting with potential clients, sizing up their style, and pairing them with a work of art. He said 30% of his clientele is local while the rest who frequent the French Quarter gallery live all over the world.
“People don’t expect to see this caliber of art in New Orleans when they visit,” Genet said of his artist roster that includes neo-pop painter Peter Max, abstractionist Mark Erickson, portraitist Charles Thysell, dry-powder pigment artist Terri Hallman, landscapist Richard Currier and the whimsical Mackenzie Thorpe.
“Tourists expect good food and good music, but not good art here,” he said. “We get told all the time we have an unprecedented collection for being in New Orleans.”
According to the Office of Cultural Development, the Angela King Gallery is located in one of the 75 cultural districts in Louisiana, and one of the 22 in Orleans Parish. That means Genet sells original works of visual art in a state and local tax free zone. It’s yet another allure that makes New Orleans such a model marketplace.
“It’s part of the spirit of the place to foster art,” Genet said. “Artists are inspired emotionally by all the enchanting qualities of the city, and they find it interesting and fascinating. The see how locals live their lives with inspiration. Raymond Douillet-Chevoleau asked us to represent him because of his attraction to New Orleans. The folklore and carnival qualities mirror that of France. He really feels at home here.”
While Robert Rauschenberg and Pablo Picasso are among Genet’s favorite artists, he admires Douillet-Chevoleau’s challenging intellectual content and exquisitely painted museum quality work. He said all his gallery’s artists showcase a diverse palette of high caliber innovation.
“We have art that people want to live with,” Genet said. “Our art surprises customers in its breadth of style and reference of depth and technique. Our artists know what they are doing, and they do it exceptionally well.”
And so does Genet, who said he needs to be many things to his collage of clients. Some seek out decorating advice, others need tips on how to display art in their homes. He explains works of art to them, sharing the secrets he divines from the tone and scale of the subject matter, and provides clients an intimate setting in the viewing room where they can illuminate a special piece and talk about it intellectually. Genet said he guides buyers to get to know their chosen pieces better by clearing away any irrelevance, letting them focus in on their tastes and sensibilities to help them connect. He said he also knows when to back off and stay out of it.
Genet ranks a good collector as someone who knows their stuff, looked around a good deal and defined their interest in art. He said some amass works from a particular genre or period. Some like everything and seek to be transfixed by something new and different.
Genet is also responsible for interviewing and writing about the artists for the gallery. He said he likes to find the connection between their training, psychology and the visual content of their work. “The most fun I have is to communicate in words what their special power is in what they do. You can tell a good artist if they can master their technique to the point where they can be expressive with it, provide multiple layers of the human psyche in a visual form that communicates effectually and deeply to other people.”
He said his clients would kill him if he blabbed about whom he sells to, but they include a coterie of well-known actors, politicians and financiers. He said it’s also important to forget about the dollar value of a work of art for a while and focus in on what it says to you. With artwork starting at $850 at Angela King, Genet believes art can be accessible to everyone, including potential collectors with less lofty professions, via layaway. That’s right, you can buy art on layaway. Angela King keeps the desired piece safe from other buyers, as you pay it off in 3, 6 or 12 months.
Genet sees sales strengthening alongside the growing economy of New Orleans and believes the future will be as “active” as the interest he’s received for the current Douillet-Chevoleau show. “The economic climate is attracting people with better art capable incomes,” he said. “But we try to help people with all levels of income to acquire something.”
Angela King Gallery
241 Royal St.
New Orleans, LA 70130