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Marie-Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre
Founder and Director of Spirit Now London


This year is finally coming to a close and most of us have been caught in a whirlwind of radical changes, reflections, awareness, and a certain "re-set". It has felt like a great leap into the void, a step into growing uncertainty, as we have had to adapt to unprecedented upheavals and have been forced to break with many of our old habits.

 What resources can we pull on to manage these pivotal changes?

 The first lockdown has now been followed by a second. When I was little, my father used to threaten to lock me up in a tower if I wasn't good. Even today, time goes by so slowly in my lockdown tower. We can no longer run, leave our homes, travel, encounter other people’s faces, shake hands, touch each other’s skin... It is obviously a time for reflection, a pause to question our limits, our deep desires, our truth. Is this a time for us to ask ourselves life’s big questions? You have to find in yourself the strength and discipline to structure the day and not give in to laziness, reading, reverie... Is idleness creative? Can we let our day sift through our fingers like sand or should we actively engage to participate in the world?


What is truly needed now?

With my group of patrons and lovers of art and culture, Spirit Now London, which I founded in 2015, we normally meet every week with a museum director, an artist, a collector or a personality of culture to share a unique moment that stimulates us and nourishes our spirit. We take the time to listen in a privileged setting to our guests who share their passions, their inspirations, their ideas. We dine with them and take advantage of these unique moments together. I remember so many unforgettable experiences that we have shared at SNL. I particularly remember this wonderful evening in Venice with my SNL circle for the opening of the Venice Biennale. We were invited for a sumptuous dinner in the magnificent palace of a Venetian friend, and our guest of honour was Ralph Rugoff, the director of the 2019 Biennale. I remember many other magical moments, which we spent with creators, with artists such as Idris Khan, Matt Collishaw, Oliver Beer, Phillida Barlow, Cornelia Parker, and Gavin Turk (who took part in the game of creating a collage with each of us). Etched in my memory is also a fascinating conversation we organised for our members between Antony Gormley and neuroscience professor Idan Segev on the topic of “Brain and Creativity”.

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The photo of Miles Altridge “Like a Painting”               An artist book on death from the series  

that I bought after a visit with Spirit Now London           “Eros and Thanatos”, published by 

                                                                                                            Céline Fribourg

Today, however, we can no longer meet. How can we keep in touch with this passionate cultural community? How to make anyone’s voice heard in the midst of multitudes of Zoom, connections, FaceTime…?

In this new era, SNL decided to create an indelible memory of our exclusive moments. We asked several of the artists we met to create a video with us that re-immerses us back into their world, with a special personal message for our community. Some members of SNL (publishers, directors of foundations, brand creators, etc.) have also embraced this format. Now is a time that enables us to bring to light these pillars of artistic and cultural excellence and, in so doing, enables us to rediscover the strength of our bond as a group. It is also a time to rethink our relationship to art, to culture, and to the performing arts. We can of course continue to visit exhibitions, reduced to silence due to having to close their doors to visitors, through virtual guided tours. Perhaps this format enables us to enjoy the works even more in newly calm empty spaces. Last week, our SNL community was treated to a remote online tour of the magnificent exhibition, "Unbreakable: women in glass" in Venice, by Nadja Romain, co-curator of the show. Camera in hand, she was a wonderful guide for an experience that, despite being virtual, was unforgettable—it felt like we were there, in Venice, with her. We will recreate this novel experience at the end of November at the Musée de l'Orangerie in Paris with its director Cecile Debray for the new “Chromatiques” exhibition by Agnès Thurnauer in dialogue with Monet and the masterpieces of the Walter / Guillaume collection. My sincere belief is that SNL will keep making its voice heard in these challenging times. We will continue exacting cultural excellence for our members through our network of exceptional speakers and guides. We are here to create "haute couture" culture for our precious community.

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                          Artist: Eva Jospin                                       A copper totem by the artist Alice Anderson

How did this all start?

 I’ve always loved art. The first time I got actively involved with the art scene was in Geneva in 2005.  I was invited to join the Board of the Musée d’Art et d’Histoire of Geneva and sought to bring in a young generation of patrons. It was fascinating to discover, as an insider, the challenges such a museum faced and to contribute to supporting its public programme. When I moved to Paris a few years later, I was invited to join the Board of The Amis du Palais de Tokyo and of the Tokyo Art Club, as well as a circle of Ambassadors “Vivre en Couleurs“ for the Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain. I am also attached to the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris where I sit on the International Committee, which contributes financially to facilitate the acquisition of works for the collection of the Museum. In London, I was invited to join the Commissioning Committee of the Hayward Gallery, one of my favourite public galleries. Through these opportunities, I was privileged to meet fantastic artists all around the world. 

I moved to London in 2015 and sought to continue organising high-quality art events as I used to do in Geneva and Paris. Spirit Now London began with the idea to develop a unique programme that would focus on some of the most inspiring personalities in the cultural world. From the beginning, we were lucky to have mentors such as Palais de Tokyo’s Director Jean de Loisy and Ralph Rugoff, Director of the Hayward Gallery in London. Today, Spirit Now London is a philanthropic organisation with a solid community of benefactors, collectors and friends, who want to play an active role in supporting public institutions and the emerging art scene. More recently, I’ve been interested in bringing art and science together and have started to include scientists in my programme.

With SNL we were particularly proud to support the French artist Hicham Berrada’s exhibition in the project room of the Hayward gallery in 2019.  I also had the privilege with some of my Spirit Now London collectors, who joined the Commissioning Committee of the Hayward Gallery with me, to be able to participate in the selection and support of a large outdoor sculpture for the Southbank Centre. It is crucial to support emerging artists at the beginning of their career — that is when they need collectors most, in order to keep working and producing works. To collect is a commitment. It is the spirit of our club.

With Spirit Now London, we seek to create journeys for our members, unforgettable experiences that cannot be bought with money alone. We are also early spotters and supporters of a number of young and talented artists such as Alice Anderson, Annie Morris, Hugo Wilson, Georges Rouy, who subsequently have gone on to gain prominence in the wider artworld (one of whom has recently been nominated for the Prix Marcel Duchamp). 

My husband and I have a joint foundation (Fondation Jean-François & Marie-Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre) founded in 2009, which aims to promote access for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to education and culture. The foundation also aims to support contemporary artistic creation and heritage preservation. For instance, we used to provide a scholarship at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts de Paris (Prix Agnès B) where we discovered many talented artists including Claire Tabouret, Eva Nielsen, Hicham Berrada, Marc Johnson. In February 2021, our foundation will launch a program on biodiversity and environment at the College de France.

In those uncertain times, I feel more than ever that it is important to keep building a “spirit of giving”.

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  With Oliver Beer in his studio                                                    Oliver Beer at work

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 With the artist Gavin Turk in                                      Ralph Rugoff, the director of the   

                 his studio                                                     Hayward Gallery,presenting to SNL 
                                                                                           the artist Hicham Berrada      

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