Storm warning on the Krystel Ann Art agency in Guadeloupe

Aaaah, the good old days! – Photo: Facebook page of the Regional Council of Guadeloupe

Krystel Ann Art was once praised, it is now very decried by some artists from Guadeloupe.

From left to right: Joël Nankin, Jean-Marc Hunt and François Piquet – Photo: Facebook page of the Regional Council of Guadeloupe

Four years ago, some media (especially the “big” ones) announced to anyone who would listen that Guadeloupean artists would be taking part in the 58th Venice Biennale, which ran from May 11 to November 24, 2019; Kariculture (“small” media) was not informed of this “big” artistic event, nothing serious for us, so we did not take part in misinforming the public… Visual artists Joël Nankin and Jean-Marc Hunt and sculptor François Piquet are the three artists chosen to represent our archipelago in Italy. They are accompanied by the Krystel Ann Art agency and the Kouleur Sens association, two structures created in 2016 and run by Olivier Tharsis and his wife Christelle Mérabli, who have been living in Portugal for several years.

“Our artists, finally spotted to be part of this world art festival”, said some, overjoyed at this “recognition”… Others even said: “What’s a ‘Hexagonal’ doing among the artists representing Guadeloupe? This place should have been given to a native-born Guadeloupean, for once, local artists are in demand abroad”… In short, a lot of ink and a lot of saliva flowed to honour and comment on this “happy” event.

Georges Brédent, vice-president of the Regional Council of Guadeloupe in charge of the culture commission at the time, very smiling, even made the trip to the City of Bridges to take part in this international celebration of contemporary art. He certainly did not travel in economy class, and he did not stay or eat in a boarding house! In the name of Culture, the Guadeloupe Region did not count its money in Venice, while those who ask here for a little financial help for their companies are ignored…

But just before the Covid crisis that stopped cultural life here and elsewhere, tongues began to loosen. Indeed, it is now being said loudly and clearly what some people have always known: our three artists have, in fact, never taken part in the Venice Biennale; they are “unknown to the battalion” for the event’s official organizers. What a slap in the face! While some laugh at this misadventure, others are very angry; “it smacks of a scam”, they say.

For the record, nearly a hundred countries took part in the 2019 Venice Biennale. The Caribbean islands present were: Antigua & Barbuda, Cuba, Grenada, Haiti, the Dominican Republic (with the largest delegation of Caribbean artists, 9). As for France (since Guadeloupe is still French…), it was represented in the French pavilion at the Giardini by only one artist, Laure Prouvost; no sign of our Guadeloupean artists. By the way, note that Martinican artist Julien Creuzet was chosen by the selection committee to represent France at the 60th Venice Biennale in 2024.

For a few days, settling of scores have been taking place through screens on social networks between artists who left for Venice in 2019 and the agency in charge of overseeing their participation, not in the official Venice Biennale but in the “Off”, i.e. one of many exhibitions organized at the same time in the city. Let us specify that the three artists from Guadeloupe showed their work at Palazzo Mora in an exhibition entitled “Personal Structures – Identities”, along with three other artists from the Dominican Republic, Spain and Brazil. According to the directors of Krystel Ann Art, 200,000 euros were needed to carry out such an operation, but they only received 48,000 euros from the Regional Council régional and Departmental Council of Guadeloupe, as well as from the Directorate of Cultural Affairs. We do not know who paid for the expenses of the three Dominican, Spanish and Brazilian artists… In the same press release published by this agency on August 16 on its Facebook page, we read: “(…) Anyone who would have raised other funds in the name of this project did so for his or her own personal benefit. Today, we have proceedings underway with individuals who have acted in a serious way to extract undue sums from us. We will continue to demand that those responsible for acts of violence, defamation and attacks on the integrity of our company and our staff are held to account. Anyone who continues to stir up the crowds by pretending that we have been given a 6-figure budget for the operation we have undertaken in Venice will be prosecuted for defamation and damaging the reputation of our company. The same will apply to those who claim that we embezzled a million euros with elected officials in Guadeloupe”. Everybody to the bunker, it will explode!

Have our artists applied for an individual grant to accompany them on this journey? How much money did they receive from the Regional Council and the Departmental Council of Guadeloupe as well as from the Directorate of Cultural Affairs of Guadeloupe which represents the French Ministry of Culture locally? Do these officers in these public administrations monitor grant applications to them so that there are no duplicates on the same project or do they distribute money because they are their relatives, friends and allies?

This case is not only about the cost – considered “very expensive” by some – of Guadeloupean artists’ participation in this famous “Off”. Indeed, one of them, Joël Nankin, claimed never to have collected his works after the “Off”. On August 15, on a large fluo pink banner, he posted on Facebook: “Olivier Tharsis, Krystel Ann Art, give me back my paintings 2018-2023”. He stated that his “missing” works have a valuee of 60,000 euros and that, as a professional painter, he has tried everything to get them back amicably, without success. This publication led to many comments. We learned that these works should have been returned three years after the 2019 Venice Biennale if they had not been sold. We understand that the artist’s dispute with this agency dates back to 2018 during the exhibition “Éclats d’Îles 1”, a series of three exhibitions of works by Guadeloupean artists in Paris initiated by the Regional Council of Guadeloupe in collaboration with Krystel Ann Art and stopped in 2019.

Kariculture did not deal with this news because we had not been informed by the regional authority and the agency, we got used to this habit…

But where are these works? This is the great mystery of this matter. In a report by the local public television, the curator of this exhibition organized alongside the official Venice Biennale, Marci Gaymu, stated that she saw these works packed to be shipped to France, so why did they not arrive at their destination? Would they be held as “hostages” to repay a debt? Would they have fallen into the hands of traffickers? We remember what happened to Martinican artist Mounia whose paintings had been stolen and damaged, in 2008, after an exhibition in New York…

For her part, Krystel Ann Art wrote in its press release dated August 16: “Anyone who continues to post publicly on any type of network that we have stolen their works is liable to prosecution”. Yes, but, where are these works? Without some clear answers, people will continue to make assumptions.

On August 17, another artist who participated in the Italian adventure also posted on Facebook his dispute with Krystel Ann Art and Kouleur Sens. His name is François Piquet. We learned that, if everything went well with this agency during the Éclat d’Îles 2″ exhibition in Paris in 2018 (financed by the Regional Council of Guadeloupe) and during the Venice Biennale in 2019, the exhibition entitled “Figures d’Outrefers” which was to start in 2022 during the Route du Rhum at Fort Fleur d’Epée in Guadeloupe before leaving for France did not take place because, he wrote: “The Kouleur et Sens association, run by Olivier Tharsis and Christelle Mérabli, never made available to me the necessary funds (and already received) to carry out the exhibition. I could only see the misappropriation of these subsidies (and I weigh my words) by the Kouleur et Sens association (…). Faced with this situation and the end of any relationship of trust and professional collaboration with Krystel Ann Art, the Kouleur et Sens association, Olivier Tharsis and Christelle Mérabli, I want above all to recover my works that were “on hold” in Europe for “Figures d’Outrefers” (…). This artist even speaks of a “collective action” against this agency and this association as well as these two executives, because other artists would have “procedures in progress” against them… How many artists did not receive their works following the exhibitions that Krystel Ann Art was responsible for?

Olivier Tharsis’ response was swift since on August 18 he posted a right of reply. These three sentences stood out : “(…) there are artists with whom we have no problems. We understand that the call for collective mobilization is a method to intimidate us on the one hand, and to make those who refuse to join the plot doubt, on the other. It’s better to unite against those we think are weak than to come together to demand real change, real transparency, real respect”.

Will these settling of scores on this social network lead to a satisfactory outcome for all involved?

One thing is for sure: it would be advisable for art agencies and galleries working to promote local artists and their work to take stock of their activities annually, so that we know, for example, the number of local, national or international events organized or in which the artists have participated, the number of works sold, the number of collectors who are part of their “clientele”, the amount of funding, in short, any information that would help to remove the vagueness that surrounds these events carried out with public funds.

It is clear that because of the lack of visibility suffered by our artists, becoming an “exhibition organizer” is, for some time, a profession that is on the rise. Money is paid by the two main local authorities of the archipelago and the DAC to these people who, often, take no financial risk when they create an event…

The “vagueness” also exists in large communities and suits some people otherwise the rules regarding grants would have been clear and would prevent multiple applications for the same project. A few years ago, Kariculture had the opportunity to contact an agent of the cultural service of the Regional Council of Guadeloupe for a grant. This woman never answered us but she never forgets to deal with the file of her artist companion as soon as he organizes an event…