‘Don’t Look Back’: Art Dealer and Collector JP Loup Explains How He Trained His Eye and What He Can’t Wait to Buy Next
Artnet Auctions presents this week “Allure and Americana: A Collector’s Eye”, a diverse and extraordinary collection of 20th and 21st century photography. Including historically significant works like that of Edward Weston Naked on the sand, Oceano (1936) as well as contemporary highlights like Sunflowers, after Vincent Van Gogh (2004) by Vik Muniz, the range of photographers, subjects and eras add to the idiosyncratic eye of singular collector JP Loup. Based in Chicago, Loup has spent his life interested in art and antiques, and as a dealer has sold works ranging from 19th century Impressionists to contemporary paintings by emerging artists. The works included in “Allure and Americana” represent Loup’s only foray into the realm of photography and as such exemplify his very personal and distinct aesthetic inclinations.
Originally from France and a descendant of a successful French shoe retailer, Loup immigrated to Chicago in 1965 with little more than a few traveller’s checks and a training visa to work for Florsheim shoes. Speaking very little English, Loup began his career in Florsheim performing menial duties – acting as a porter, cleaning the floor, returning shoes to the storeroom. He also began reselling small antiques on the weekends to make ends meet, and eventually became so successful that at his peak he was one of the biggest advertisers in the art world – the only person who had a center distributed in the the wall street journal and up to eight pages in National geographic.
We recently spoke with Loup to find out more about where he started, what drew him to the photographs at this auction, and what he plans next in his career as an art collector and dealer.
Can you tell me a bit about your background in art and antiques? Where did you start?
I started very young because I didn’t make a lot of money in shoes. I used to go to a street here in Chicago, Wells Street, where all the antique shops were. And what I would do is I would buy, say, a cup and a saucer – very cheap things, maybe $4 or $5 – and place an ad in the Grandstand or in the Sun-Times. The ad cost me $5 and I would give out my home phone number. And on Sunday, which was my only day off, I sold the things I was going to buy on Wells Street. I went from there to art. I started with art glass because I always liked it. I became a traveling salesman, buying art glass: Gallé, Durand, Walter, I mean, etc.
So the art glass was really your entry.
I was a sole proprietorship, and I worked by myself, and I traveled to France to pick up goods, then I imported them here and I did antique shows. It was like a Johnny Cash song, “I’ve been everywhere, man.” I was earning a lot of money, but life was hard, because I was never home. That’s when I started with the artwork. I started buying lithographs, still in Europe, and I sold them here through advertising, mail order.
Ernest Haas, Route 66, Albuquerque, New Mexico (1969)
Do you remember those first lithographs?
The first were unknown artists, but then my father, who was based in Cannes, was very good friends with Aimé Maeght, one of the biggest art dealers in the world. Have you heard of the Maeght Foundation? It’s him. He represented Giacometti, he represented Chagall, Miró, Dubuffet… he was an enormous force. At first he gave me Chagall, Mirós, Dalís. And I started selling them.
And how long did you work with Maeght?
Until his death, I then worked with his son, Adrien Maeght. I also worked with other people, like Fernand Mourlot. He was a friend of the family who did all the Picasso prints, and they were very popular, as you know. I imported hundreds of Picassos; so they would sell for $500 or $1,000 max; today they would be $10,000 to $30,000.
While you were working on these types of artworks, were you also collecting for your personal collection? Do you remember the first coin you collected?
Yes. I remember the first glass artwork because I still have it. But the first painting I bought, I can’t remember, because I bought hundreds of them.
Your collection includes many types of artwork.
Very diverse, absolutely. You see, I have a problem: I buy what I like, I don’t buy to invest. I can buy anything for $200, and I’ve bought things for over a million dollars.
What do you think attracts you to certain things rather than others?
So it’s really about hunting?
Yes. It’s just what I like. For example, I bought Chinese art when it was very popular and lost my shirt. I lost millions when the market totally crashed.
Vik Muniz, Sunflowers (after Vincent Van Gogh) (2004)
The Artnet auction includes everything from historic works by Edward Weston to portraits by Kate Moss to contemporary images by Vik Muniz – truly a group of 20th and 21st century photographs. Can you tell me about your background in creating this collection?
About 10 years ago I sold my paintings, sold everything, and got into photography because it shows something real.
Do you follow specific photographers? Specific topic?
This is the picture; it’s my eye. I’ve done this all my life.
Do you have a favorite piece among the photographs?
There are many that I like, but there is not one that I like more than another. There’s a painting I kept, it’s a photolithograph, a watercolor by Jim Torlakson from California. It is a photorealistic work, very fashionable 30 years ago. It’s my favorite job, and I’ll never sell it.
You mentioned art glass, lithographs and paintings. What are you currently focused on collecting?
What I’m going to do now is I’m going to buy a painting from an African artist who is very popular – I don’t want to mention the name because I don’t want anyone else to know. He is already doing very well, with canvases selling between $200,000 and $300,000. I hope to get a masterpiece from him before he grows up.
Is there anything you regret selling during your career?
I can’t even consider regret, because what I sold… You know, when I was going to Japan every week and buying art, I was buying art at most strong in the dollar, and I was funded by some of the biggest merchants in the world. I would buy art for $1 million to $10 million, and these works today, by Monet, Cézanne or Picasso, are worth more than $50 million. No, I don’t regret. Do not look back. I never lost a minute of sleep.
Albert Watson, Kate Moss, Marrakech (Frontal Nude III) (1993)
Do you have any advice for young artists? Do you like to support young artists?
Never give up. Young artists do what they want to do, they don’t want to do anything else. And I notice that it’s very hard for them, because a lot of them are starving, which is where the term “starving artist” comes from. And only 1 in 10 or 100,000 succeed. I bought art from a young Jamaican artist, Kendrick McFarlane, studying at the Art Institute here in Chicago. He needed money and he came here and asked me if I wanted to buy a painting. I liked his work, so I bought a painting and kept it.
And for young collectors? People like you?
Go with your eyes. And of course, sometimes you’re going to win and sometimes you’re going to lose. But when I choose young artists, I usually see the talent.
If you could own one piece of art or an antique in the world, what would you like to have in your collection?
nightjars by Edward Hopper, right here at the Art Institute. This is my favorite painting in the world. Because you can walk into that painting and feel like you’re there. I mean, the mood, it’s an amazing painting. It’s not that big. Every time I go and see him, I wish I could take him home. I would never sell this work. I would rather be homeless and keep it under my arm.
Check out these photographs, along with works by Dorothea Lange, Sally Mann and Joel Meyerowitz in the Allure and Americana: A Collector’s Eye auction, live through November 17, 2022.
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