Meet Gerard Marti, the owner of Robert Kidd Gallery, who’s bringing edgy art — and Mick Fleetwood — to Birmingham
By Danielle Alexander
Photography by Darrel Ellis
In January 2015, Gerard Marti found himself walking around Somerset Collection in Troy in search of jackets, sweaters and socks. The native of Marseille, France had just purchased the Robert Kidd Gallery in downtown Birmingham, and although he was not new to gallery ownership, Michigan winters certainly took him by surprise.
“The snow was piled high, and it was freezing,” recalls Marti, who couldn’t help but question whether he had made a mistake selling his other gallery in Hawaii and moving to Birmingham, which he did after hearing that Robert Kidd was up for grabs. (He says there was no reason to stay in Maui, since he’d gotten a divorce and his kids lived elsewhere.) “The first three months at the gallery were empty. No one was coming in. But then spring came, and people started walking around town again, eventually stopping by. It honestly took about a year to really get going and for people to realize I had changed the concept of the gallery a bit.”
Nearly six years since he took over the gallery (which was founded by Cranbrook Academy of Art grads in 1976), Marti’s “concept” has garnered fans worldwide, drawing art lovers to the two-level space filled with paintings, sculptures, pop art, photography and prints by both emerging contemporary artists and modern masters, from Jef Bourgeau to Chloe Rox to Kevin Tolman. Thanks to Marti’s decision to merge his passions for art and pop culture, guests can also browse and purchase work by musicians, including Bob Dylan, John Lennon, Miles Davis, Steven Tyler, David Bowie and more.
“Times have changed since the original owners opened Robert Kidd, and Gerard has really transformed the gallery into an event and activity space that involves a lot of different art disciplines,” says Birmingham-based photographer Laurie Tennent, who’s been showing her work at the gallery for 25 years.
Marti can relate to those whose work is featured at Robert Kidd as he himself is an artist, regularly contributing eclectic paintings, jewelry and more to the gallery’s offerings. After attending art school in Paris, he also became a songwriter, sound engineer, record producer and video director for EMI Records. In the early ’90s, he took a vacation to Maui and fell in love with the island. “The place was so nice, and I thought that if I could just find something to do there, I could live there,” he says. “With it being a tourist area, I saw a lot of art, and I happened to know a lot of artists, so I thought to myself, ‘Why not open a gallery?’” Along with his now-ex-wife, Marti launched a gallery there (and, soon after, in Los Angeles) that specialized in artwork by pop culture legends.
Among these is Mick Fleetwood, whom Marti became good friends with while living in Maui, and whose fine-art photography is on display at Robert Kidd. “Gerard became the motivating person that would sit on my shoulder and say, ‘You can do this,’” says the Fleetwood Mac co-founder, who was originally hesitant to show anyone his photography. (His technique: using a macro lens to capture close details of subjects like flowers and butterflies.) “He kept badgering me, and after taking his advice on developing photos, I was finally able to get over the heebie-jeebies. It was like being a musician, writing a song and not feeling confident enough to play it to a band member. [With Gerard] being an artist himself, people just trust him.”
Prior to the pandemic, Fleetwood photographed the Sissinghurst Castle Garden, one of the most famous gardens in England; those images, as well as a Mick Fleetwood scarf collection, will be released at the gallery next year.
Marti is also embarking on a new creative venture with Fleetwood: The Mick Fleetwood Coffee Company. The beans will be imported from places that Fleetwood — a self-proclaimed “coffee freak” — has either lived or traveled to (everywhere from Hawaii and Ghana to Sumatra), and the roasting will be done by companies in Detroit and Chicago. The coffee will be available online this month and in local Kroger, Meijer and Whole Foods stores early next year.
Aside from branching into coffee, Marti has found other ways to keep busy while events at the gallery are on hold due to COVID-19. For one, he and Tennent have partnered with the City of Birmingham on “City Bloom: Birmingham,” an installation of Tennent’s botanical portraits alongside the Rouge River Trail that will run through October 2021. “The installation is one way people can still see art if they don’t feel comfortable stepping in a gallery yet,” says Tennent.
Despite the pandemic and the decrease in foot traffic this year, Marti says the gallery’s sales have been steady. Still, “that French guy who owns the cool gallery” — as he says he’s known to locals — is eager to resume normal activities at Robert Kidd, which used to hold bimonthly events with up to 150 people. “When things do begin opening up again,” he says, “I most definitely look most forward to the wine, the cheese and people coming out to view art again.”