Dinner Guest: Melannie Chard, M Contemporary Art Founder

Scott Campbell | “Portrait 2”

Alice Garbarini Hurley | You were at Sotheby’s for 10 years and now you’ve opened M Contemporary Art Gallery in Detroit. Tell us about that ride.

Melannie Chard | I started in Sotheby’s London office (my husband is British) and moved to New York. It was totally surreal at first. I was from a small Midwestern town and the Sotheby’s culture was so sophisticated. It was intimidating, but once I got the hang of it, I loved it. Now I’ve moved back to a few miles from where I grew up. It’s a huge contrast but I wouldn’t change it, especially in summer. We have two young children and live on a small lake. I have a garden I plant every year with my dad. My parents, grandma and uncles all live 10 to 15 minutes away.

Is the creative scene integral to the city?
It has always been a huge part of the cultural identity, not just because of the extraordinary collection at the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA), but because so many artists live and work here. I’m amazed by the number who have been here for 40 years or longer – and many others are moving in, for affordable space and a supportive community. People in Detroit are motivated to work with and connect to each other. They aren’t stingy or secretive, which was a refreshing mindset, coming from New York.

What words describe the art world you now swim in?
Tight-knit, collaborative and deep. The emerging and established artists come out for each other’s shows and communicate. With so many great artists in a variety of mediums, there is no shortage of quality work. My favorites include John McLaughlin, whose collage-based work is stream of consciousness but balanced and intricate and Brian Day, a photographer who captures amazing images of the city. I also love Elizabeth Youngblood, who works in ceramics, textiles and paper, with a daunting restraint. Scott Vincent Campbell constantly moves the dial in terms of intention and material. His collage series “Not Good But Well Behaved” is dramatic but very elegant in presentation. I could go on and on.

How is the pace of art collecting there?
I really hope we see a resurgence. A lot of clients I work with are new to art and want to find work that fits their aesthetic and budget while supporting their local community. To have a sustainable artistic city, it is imperative to have both artists and collectors. There is so much happening in Detroit so quickly right now that it seems like anything is possible.

You’ve worked with many of the most notable art collectors in the world. Can you name some?
No. Confidentiality is a huge part of my job so I’m not able to disclose names, but I was exposed to some of the most important artwork in private hands on a daily basis. I learned why a piece was worth millions of dollars. My role at Sotheby’s was VP, Head of Valuations; I was a liaison between clients and experts. I was privileged to see how people collected and actually lived with their art. I remember the first time I saw a Picasso next to a television and a Jackson Pollock in a hallway – but people lived with the work they owned, so it made sense to them.

How do you help an art collector know when it’s time to write the check or hand over the plastic – and buy something?
Art is incredibly personal. I often take a piece into a client’s space before he or she commits to buying it to ensure it’s the right fit, that it talks to the other work in the house, has the right light, and so on. Because I worked for a luxury brand for so long, client service is paramount to my business. Whether you buy something for $500 or $50,000, it should be an experience – and it should be fun.


Good Detroit cuppa?
Great Lakes Coffee in Midtown and Red Hook, right down the street in Ferndale.

Picture book you loved as a girl?
Herself the Elf – about a little fairy and her friends, who each controlled a different element of nature. Herself was kind of the CEO of the fairies. I have the stories on vinyl as well.

Fave mode of transportation?
Detroit is the Motor City for a reason. A car is still the best way to get around.

Good lunch place?
The food is always spot-on at Selden Standard in Midtown. I’m also a fan of Honest John’s, a low-key dive bar with some really good standard fare.

Best local framing option for prints and photos?
I work with Anthony Truchan from Framing by Anthony.

Destination for art supplies?
Everyone goes to Blick’s.

Your notebook or journal?
A yellow legal pad is the best for me.

Mode of reading?
I read a lot but because I commute, I’ve recently transitioned to Audible.com

Dress code?
At Sotheby’s, I was in suits a lot. Back-to-back meetings, etc. Now I go from a studio to a client’s house with a truck full of artwork, so there’s a balancing act between professional, practical and stylish. Detroit is a little more relaxed, so I don’t have to be as buttoned-up every day.

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