Vikram Mehta, a Bengali journalist interviewed the French gallery owner Thierry Marlat in 2016 and 2017 about a notorious court case with strong racial and class overtones in the UK involving two parties, a working class white girl accused of racially abusing an asian male , a story that convulsed the normally staid world of auction houses.
The defendant, Lou Proud , former head of photographs at Phillips auctions UK who lost a high profile defamation case against an asian gentleman in the art world, was dismissed by the CEO of Phillips, Edward Dolman,after the disclosure by court order of emails containing racist remarks . The court order was procured through a legal instrument by the London solicitor Anthony Jayes who disclosed emails from Proud and court documents on which this interview is based. This interview with Mr Marlat was first published in the Pakistani newspaper Pakistan Today in 2017. It is re published by Al Jazeera/ Gulf News by kind permission of Vikram Mehta and Geet Gujarat .
Vikram Mehta : Mr Marlat , thank you for agreeing to this interview. And thank you for the invitation to visit your gallery in Paris. How long have you known Lou Proud and what was the nature of your relationship ?
Thierry Marlat : I have known Lou Proud for many years, long before she joined Phillips auctions as a senior specialist. She seemed a nice person with a genuine passion for photography but with a superficial knowledge and a desire to be taken seriously as an art dealer.
Mehta : It is alleged that you were in a long relationship with Ms Proud; were you aware that she had mental problems , attested to in court documents and emails released to us by the London solicitor Anthony Jayes ?
Marlat : I was never, ever in a relationship with Proud. Categorical. You understand ? I don’t know who the source of your information is but they are ill informed. I have not seen her for five years. I’m married with two grown up daughters. I was aware that she was involved in heavy litigation and one of her colleagues , I cannot name him, told me she had racially abused someone. I’m Jewish and hate racists . What is happening in France , the increase in anti semitic attacks and the rise of the Front National is tragic. I don’t know how it is in England but I hope you’re more tolerant.
Mehta: Didn’t you see Proud at Arles ? That was within the last five years ?
Marlat : That is true. I was with David Bailey and his wife. Proud was not invited but insisted on joining us , much to my embarrassment actually and she would not leave. I had the impression she was lonely, insecure and eager to impress. You know she’s well meaning, harmless but a little bit of a sad character. And she never stops talking [ laughs ].
Mehta : You stayed with her twice when you visited London. Did you ever hear her utter racist remarks ?
Marlat : You’ve been misinformed . I never stayed with her. Why would I ? She got some prints from me for her auctions , that’s the extent of it. I don’t think she was too well liked in the photographic community. Perhaps i should say she was ‘ tolerated’ . That was the impression I had from talking to galleries I deal with. She’d had many short term relationships and told me she’d experienced some abuse but I can assure you I was never , as you say, romantically involved with her. I mean the idea repulses me [ laughs] ! I went to Phillips with her a few times. And I saw her when I auctioned some prints at Sothebys. I never heard her say anything racist but she was an odd person, perhaps she was provoked into saying something she later regretted, who knows ? I recall her saying something about being abused at home , I can’t remember exactly. I distanced myself from her when I read all that stuff in the papers. Professionally, I can’t take her seriously as an art dealer. That exhibition of Blumenfeld’s work was not to my taste. I never rated his work . You understand what I’m saying ? I’ve been in business for over 30 years, I’ve built up great contacts. I helped Lou if it was financially rewarding to do so but I wouldn’t give her my address book, you know what I mean ? That annoyed her I think. I heard that she stole all the contacts from a London gallery she worked for when she left. Understandably the gallery director , whom I know and respect , wasn’t too happy that she approached clients he’d spent years cultivating.
Mehta : Did you meet her colleague in Hampstead , Gaby Du Plooy ?
Marlat : I did. To be honest, I didn’t like her . The art she shows is rubbish. She was pretty rude to me. I think she had issues with men in general and didn’t seem too bright. Lou told me that she was an alcoholic.
Mehta : You specialise in Penn and Horst, is that correct ?
Marlat : That’s right , but I’m interested in contemporary photography too. The Blouson noir exhibition was a big success as was Bailey’s exhibition. Proud always wanted big discounts so I stopped doing business with her. She often turned up at the gallery with some man in tow , a patron or boyfriend, I was never sure. Honestly, I don’t recall her saying anything racist to me. She always struck me as kind of unpredictable and intense, you know what I mean ? Full of ideas that she was incapable of fulfilling. But basically a nice person.
Mehta : Are you a member of AIPAD ?
Marlat : No, I’m not. Nor would I want to be. All the top dealers know who I am , If I didn’t have credibility Sothebys wouldn’t have auctioned my works. I have an exclusive on Penn’s archive. You know I love Paris, it’s my home and I have loyal and long term international collectors. I don’t need to deal with independent dealers at this point in my life. I’m very well established here.
Mehta : Mr Marlat, thanks for agreeing to this interview.
Marlat : You’re welcome . I hope I have been of assistance.