Since the 18th century, art and commerce have regularly been at odds. The term ‘high art’ originated to differentiate between the disciplines that were for aesthetic purposes, and those that had a utility or functionality. Writers in the 1700s grouped painting, sculpture, music, architecture, and poetry into ‘fine art’ and everything else into ‘craft’. The distinction between high and low art has forever been in contention. Artists, critics, and thinkers have consistently and fiercely debated the need for such a distinction, as throughout time these disciplines have been intrinsically tied together in a cycle of convergence.
For those versed in art history, there is a sprawling number of movements and moments throughout the last few centuries alone which have seen these two disciplines come together in much-celebrated harmony; be it during the graphic design and illustration boom of French and Japanese artists in the 1800s, the arts and crafts movement at the turn of the 20th century, to Pop Art in the 1950s and 60s - the list goes on. What ties all of these movements together is a point at which ‘fine’ art infiltrated mainstream culture, a point where art’s popularity and accessibility was democratised and popularised by the artists involved.
Today, we find ourselves at another intriguing crux between art and advertising. The rise of social media over the past decade has resulted in an ‘always-on’ world that every person can curate, a world in which people are seeking out experiences, purpose and meaning from brands - before they purchase products. Advertisers know they can no longer set their own agenda, and that they are increasingly expected to behave in a way that moves society forward. Sound familiar?
This was a trend which entrepreneur Marine Tanguy identified in 2015. She could see a way for art to play a bigger role in our daily lives and how artists would be the fascinating stars of the future.
‘Grace of the Sun’ by MTArt Agency artist Robert Montgomery with Octopus Energy and Little Sun for COP26
A Fascinating New Agency Model
Marine entered the fine art world at the age of 19. Whilst working for the BBC Culture show, she was asked to manage a gallery’s stand at the Pavilion des Arts et du Design and by 21 she was managing Outsiders Gallery (owned by Steve Lazarides) in Soho, London. It wasn’t long before she moved on to open De Re Gallery in Los Angeles with investor Steph Sebbag. There she was mentored personally by celebrated businessman, investor, and philanthropist Michael Ovitz - the founder of talent agency Creative Arts Agency. It was during this time in the art world that Marine began to question this dichotomy and the limitations of the traditional gallery model.
She felt that the art world was too traditional in the way it managed its talent and that the visual sector - including urban spaces, the advertising sector and the digital world - were poorly leveraged by visual arts professionals.
“The agency’s two goals were (and still are) always to back talent. Not just through the art world but in the visual mainstream,” explains Marine. “Michael’s mentorship was invaluable. In the 80s, CAA won the coveted Coca-Cola contract from McCann because of the value of its proposition and ideas - they’d put the most powerful talent agency in the art sector (that was working B2C) together with a creative agency that was working B2B. But in 2015 I could see the opportunity for a new iteration of this model.”
has an enviable portfolio of brands on their books including Glenfiddich, Bumble, DKNY, Chloé, Vuse, L’Occitane and InterContinental to name a few. The business supports three parties: artists, collectors and brands. And what makes its model so fascinating is how these three (historically distant) disciplines interconnect.
Thanks to Marine’s background in the fine art world, the company is backed by some of the world’s most influential art collectors and investors - including the likes of Saul Klein, Frederic Jousset, Nicolas Barnabe and David Amsellem. It is this side of the business that allows MTArt to support the development of the artists on their roster and create meaningful brand partnerships that elevate both parties. They can leverage the profiles of their artists, their access to public spaces, as well as their understanding of how to shape culture and translate that into a process that works for brands.
MTArt Agency artist Claire Luxton's 2021 immersive art installation with Intercontinental, 'The Elegance of Worldliness', celebrates the brand's 75th anniversary
Heading up the brand side of MTArt is Yann Mathias, director of innovation and impact. A fellow at Central Saint Martins, the RSA, and Zinc VC, Yann brings to MTArt a background in business development, strategy, innovation, and creativity.
Marine tells us why Yann was the person she wanted to lead on the commercial and brand partnerships front. “He’d led his own business for 20 years - The Design Laboratory, in which he’d been advising brands like LVMH, VF, Vans, the Fat Duck, Luxottica, Adidas, Intel, Bacardi and others on the most extraordinary projects,” and ultimately, as Marine tells LBB, “he was able to gain his clients’ trust”.
The pair first crossed paths when working on a project with Method, where MTArt Agency artists’ work was appearing on cleaning products in supermarkets across the UK. Yann was collaborating with the brand, and approached Marine to get involved: “She never thought the artists would agree to be in the supermarket on a cleaning product, but it was a huge commercial success resulting in over a million products sold. It democratised art,” says Yann.
Besides results, what is perhaps most interesting for brands are the minds that they get behind a project when they work with MTArt Agency. Yann explains that the key to its partnerships is how the team matches brands and their briefs with artists.
“At a traditional advertising agency the creative team on the job will often be just a few of many on a team that will also include account directors, strategists etc. The model here allows us to put more creative minds on a project, right from the beginning. We brainstorm with all of our artists on every brief. The next step is to match brands with artists who share the same values and vision. MTArt then becomes the connectors between the artists and the brand, translating the needs of those brands and applying a strategy. The artist doesn’t need to do anything else from that point - we do the strategy, so they can focus on the art. Working this way, the creative outcome is huge as it’s much more in-depth and relevant to the brand.”
It’s why brands like Gucci and Octopus Energy have collaborated with the agency: the emphasis on trust, credibility, and engagement. With art that, crucially, goes beyond the scope of a typical advertising campaign.
“We live in a world which is polluted with communication,” adds Yann. “Every individual is exposed to visual messages across multiple media channels for the majority of the waking day. If brands want to cut through the noise, they simply have to come up with things that are connecting with their audience on a deeper level.”
A brand partnership between Vogue, Gucci and MTArt Agency artist Tiffany Bouelle
Marrying Art, Science and Innovation
Whilst MTArt Agency is breaking down long-established barriers between art and commerce, Marine and Yann tell us the business’ main objective is redefining culture and shaping it with artists at the forefront. As Marine reminds us, “83% of communication is visual and we need artists to lead that change”.
In the past six years MTArt Agency has achieved exponential growth by disrupting the art world and investing in artists. “We built a strong B2C brand,” says Marine. “And it was built on our core values of inspiring audiences with art and embedding the work into cultural relevancy. The B2B was able to thrive once the audience relationship and partnerships had matured.”
“We’ve built a community across the media, including social and traditional media, that are interested in the art,” she adds. “These conversion rates are much harder to ensure if you’re strictly a PR or advertising company, but we’ve built a trust with a personal audience in a way that’s unique to B2B.” What brands are often looking for when working with MTArt Agency is the opportunity to tap into its community and collectors who respond to and resonate with each artist’s work, and are eager to purchase related products. “Brands are tiring of social influencers, and want to put the onus on cultural influencers instead,” says Yann.
MTArt Agency collaborated with Bumble France for its ‘Les femmes et l’art’ pop-up gallery celebrating female artists
What’s more, the MTArt model does not just rely on creative ideation. Both Marine and Yann stress the importance of marrying art with innovation and data.
“We know that marketers are under more pressure than ever to demonstrate the performance of their work and the return on investment for their spend,” adds Yann. “KPIs are common currency for marketers and what we do here is marry art and innovation. As Marine explained, we can offer greater performance indicators and conversion rates due to our B2C beginnings but we also have a backbone in research and development of new technologies. At the moment, I’m completely obsessed with studies that indicate dinoflagellate plankton (a natural organism with bioluminescence) could be the future of lighting cities. We’re looking at how we can use materials like this.”
The goal is to empower their artists - and the brands they work with - through a mix of technology, innovation and purposeful goals.
“I present the technology to the artists for them to start thinking differently,” explains Yann. Some of these innovations include NFTs, the Metaverse, and Crypto: “Our role is to stay ahead of what society is interested in. In many cases an artistic discipline can be applied to new developments - to enhance understanding and appeal. We can help brands do that.”
Yann tells LBB we can expect to see the agency signing with more and more digital talent too, as the world and brands are asking more for the installation-led digital art that can respond to trends and cultural changes. “These artists wouldn’t be able to show in galleries, because it’s not their world, but we are giving them the canvas and platforms for them to be able to shine and be recognised for something else,” says Yann.
But of course, it’s not just technology that has created a modern form of artistic investment at MTArt. For example, they were the first business in the art sector to achieve B Corp accreditation. Sustainability, innovation, and diversity are the bedrock of this brand and, perhaps, the foundation of a new movement of art and agency.
Artist David Aiu Servan-Schreiber collaborated with Glenffidich on a bespoke bottle and packaging for the whiskey brand's Grande Couronne 26 Year Old as it launched exclusively in Selfridges