Interview with Marine Tanguy

Amidst the busyness of Frieze London 2022, the inspiring Marine Tanguy carved out time to speak with us for Issue 15 of AMBITION, and for that we are incredibly grateful!  An advocate for artists since a young age, Tanguy is founder and CEO of MTART Agency, the art sector’s leading talent agency which was one of the fastest growing companies in the UK this year and is now valued at £35,000,000. MTArt Agency modernises the way artists are managed in an industry that remains quite traditional, and Marine Tanguy shares powerful insights into being an entrepreneur, overcoming challenges and the importance of being able to switch off to enjoy the everyday.


Where does your ambition come from?

I think ambition, for me, comes down to being passionate about certain ideas. I couldn’t be ambitious just for myself. I’m in a sector of the art world where I would love to create many changes, and when I see these things I want to change, it pushes me to step up and ultimately learn how to execute them. 

As founder and CEO of MTArt Agency, what is the most rewarding thing about working with and supporting artists? 

Artists are some of the most ambitious people I know. They have so much courage, vision, and they work incredibly hard. It can only humble you to work even harder to be in the company of people who are that talented. With artists, they are so different. I get to see so many manifestations of that talent and that vision and ambition. As agents, you never think you do enough for the artists because you believe in them and think that they deserve everything.  There is so much joy when I see people interacting with their art and so many rewarding interactions come from their projects. 

You’ve been in the art world since the age of 21. First managing a gallery, then opening your own. Was starting MTArt Agency always in the plan? 

The answer is no! When I was in LA I got exposed to the talent agency model and I just thought that was really interesting. It was something I had never come across before and it didn’t exist in the art sector. And again, because  I’m very ideas-led, I felt that the idea deserved to see the light of day. If I never had this idea I probably would have stayed running my own gallery and expanded that. But I could see how this idea could solve many issues for artists. There was so much I felt was right about it, which is the reason I decided to take it on. 

MTArt Agency artists have collaborated with the likes of Cannes Film Festival, Aston Martin, Nike, Chloé, and even the Mayor of Paris. Which project or collaboration was the biggest ‘pinch me’ moment for you and your company?

I think, frankly, that ‘pinch me’ moment happens everyday. Everything has magic in it. This is the thing with our job - even on a tough day, we get to be surrounded by the most incredible visuals and projects. We get to meet people who are incredibly interesting. I can’t imagine being a lawyer having a tough day and being stuck in the office until 2am. Even if I have a tough day, like last night, I get to be at a lovely dinner with people who are super interesting. It’s really that visual environment that makes such a difference, as well as the quality and diversity of people we get to meet everyday as well. 

You were mentored by Michael Ovitz who started one of the most successful talent agencies in the world, CAA. What was the most important thing you learned from him that’s helped you with your own career? 

That mentoring was definitely very precious on many levels. He built the most powerful reputations of talents in the ‘80s and put amazing people together, packaging it together for the big studios. We’re about to kick off the World Cup with our artist Lorenzo Quinn who did a partnership with Hyundai and FIFA, and I think that’s a good example of the package that Michael Ovitz inspired me to do. You don’t just do the sculpture and the art, but you actually look at the image rights, he’s part of the campaign and you’re arranging something that’s quite 360.  That’s what I took from that model, that you’re really putting your artists right in the center and building everything around them. I like that because my relationship is more with the artists, who I find super fascinating and interesting, rather than their specific works. I love the works but I feel that they are an expression amongst many of the vision of the artist, and I am more interested in the whole vision. The packaging of ideas is something that really impacted me. 

What sets your company apart from the major Hollywood talent agencies you eventually want to rival? 

They have yet to open a department for visual artists. Right now, sometimes they collaborate with visual artists and they will sign for movie or entertainment deals rather than the 360 management system. So we want to be the agency of reference that can ultimately rival these talent agencies in representing visual artists. There’s a huge potential for many reasons. We think visuals are something that are a much bigger proposition. When you get up in the morning, you see visuals digitally, on the streets as advertisements and so much more before you even walk into a gallery or art fair. There is so much more we can impact visually through the art of our artists, and it’s making the artists at the center of that. The fact that we’re consuming thousands of images a day and the artist barely gets to have a share in that is what I want to change. 

You’re no stranger to social media, having done a Ted Talk on How social media visuals affect our mind. Though it has its pros and cons, how important has social media been for the success and growth of your company? 

I can definitely give you the pros and the cons. I am deeply grateful to instagram because to get visibility in our sector is deeply expensive. You have to pay for a PR agency, and I didn’t have those means when I first started out. To establish a business, there are so many costs. So of course, to go on social media and have a voice and build a community I think is game changing. It’s enabled many voices like mine to see the light of day. That’s incredibly positive, the community, support, and connection aspect. It’s definitely helped my business and there’s no denying it. I would not be here without that community. There’s also the benefit of telling the story with your own voice, rather than 10-15 years ago when the article relied on the dynamic with the press or their own angle on the story. Social media gave back ownership to a lot of people of their story and voice, which I feel is more truthful.

The exchange of ideas is positive. But cyberbullying is not. I had the bad luck of experiencing my first bullying campaign. Sadly I am in a group of female founders where this seems to be very common. After a certain level of public image, it seems women are going to experience it. The first time I experienced it was in my early 30’s, where I am quite comfortable and confident and have a family, friends and a senior team. I just didn’t look at it and I passed it on to my senior team who were able to address it. If this had happened to me when I was younger, I probably would have been consumed by it, I probably wouldn’t have been able to get out of bed and it would have probably destroyed me mentally. That’s the limit of social media. It’s grown so fast that we don’t yet have the self-awareness or regulations to deal with it, and I hope our kids have a much better perspective on how to deal with that. But if I didn’t have a support system while experiencing cyberbullying, I would have collapsed. It goes back to my Ted Talk - one day the content you look at can be super aspirational, and the next day it can destroy your mental health, and that’s my main concern.

If you could snap your fingers and implement any changes in the art industry, what would they be? 

Diversity, and not just in terms of skin colour and gender, but in terms of socioeconomics too. It’s incredibly hard to get into it. There’s an amazing book called Culture is Bad For You that’s specifically on this topic. Social media has helped to a degree, but it’s expensive to get into art, work in art and have a reputation in art. A lot of the creative sectors have the same issue. It prevents everyone from doing the jobs that they would actually be great at and love.


After years in the industry, do you still have the same passion for it that you did at the start? And if so, how have you kept that fire burning? 

I definitely still feel the same passion for the arts for sure. I’m someone that needs stimulation and learning constantly, and my job is very different this year than it was last year. It keeps evolving as we expand and I’m grateful for this. While I still love the arts and artists and I’m in the same sector, as a person my job constantly enables me to grow socially, emotionally and intellectually. It also gives perspective on challenges. Something that felt challenging two years ago I’d now get over in two seconds today. 

What has been the biggest challenge in your career thus far? How did you overcome it or learn from it?

Genuinely, challenges come through every day. I think something that I’ve learned is that because they come every day, I need to live my life and still enjoy all the little things that are going on. Something that I’m proudest of is back when I started, if something had gone really badly, I would have stayed in bed crying or calling all my besties about it to complain. I would not have wanted to see people and probably would have cancelled plans.  Now I’m able to just continue and also also appreciate all aspects of life. My best friend is arriving this evening and I’ll be able to fully switch off and enjoy her being in London. This is the biggest work you can do on yourself, and something I’ve worked on now for many years. It’s challenging to accept that it’s a sector where there are many highs and lows and all sorts of pressures, but you need to be able to enjoy the everyday and celebrate the wins. I’m sure we all look back on photos in our iPhone and realise how wonderful everything was, but you don’t want to be in a position where you miss so many of those key moments because your mind was elsewhere. It’s a mental strength to just be like, ‘my day stops here.’ Even if it’s a bad day, you close the page on that day and move on to something else that is much more important.

What would you tell your younger self who was just starting out?

I’m so lucky that I had no sense of consequences, risk and failure when I was starting out. Now, there are so many things I don’t do because I know the consequences will be too drastic if it goes one way or the other. But I’m a big believer in experiencing your age. Every age has a reason to exist. At 25 years old I made so many mistakes, but equally, I have been able to take greater risks and be more realistic with a broader vision now. I’m very respectful of every age, as every age has value and a different perspective. You’re not going to respond the same way depending on where you are. You just have to be willing to pick up the mistakes that you make. Every age can come to the party!

What’s your secret to a good work/life balance? 

In a weird way, hair and makeup help me do this. You’re fire fighting all day, then at 6pm you’ll have to go to a networking cocktail party. Doing hair and makeup is a signal to my body that this is a different time of day, and that ultimately I am switching to a different time and have to leave everything behind. It’s about being in the present moment. If you’re at a networking party and you’re not paying attention to what people are saying, you might as well not be there. When I became a mum, I applied the same principles, as the same goes with your child. If you aren’t present, he or she is going to feel it. It’s practising the switch with whatever works for you, be it changing clothes, changing environment, or going for a walk and telling your body you know this wasn’t perfect but you’re moving on to the second chapter. It’s not to encourage women to do hair and makeup, it’s more to find something that signals this switch. 

If you had a microphone and the whole world was listening, what would you say?

I think the biggest thing for me is always equality. It is crazy that we as people have been successful innovators, going to the moon and everything else we’ve accomplished, but we can live in a place like London where there are such drastic inequalities. It’s really hard to comprehend that we’re still at that stage. As we all know, there’s so much complexity in society and how we got here, but it’s more of a wish than giving advice into the microphone. Why are we still here today? We’re moving slowly but surely, but still witnessing drastic inequalities. 

Where will your ambition take you next?

We are super lucky where we are and are excited to build to a global structure. It’s a learning curve. What does that mean to be a global structure? Who do we recruit for it, how do we set it up, and how do we attract talents to join this structure? I have a list of questions that I can’t wait to answer and can’t wait to learn more. I’m excited to be a part of that journey. 

Thank you to Marine for sharing her insight with us! You can keep up with all things Marine here. If you want more AMBITION, subscribe down below!