Opinion

Who Was Robert Shapazian? Reflections On Art + Money

Shapazian with his goddaughter in 1993. (via Artinfo)

When Christie’s recently became a sponsor of Hyperallergic, I knew little if anything about Robert Shapazian, whose important contemporary art collection was advertised on this site and sold this week.

The founding director of the Gagosian Gallery during its early, non-world domination phase, I’m discovering (late) that Shapazian was a fascinating character who I wish I had met. The collector/gallery professional had a front-row seat to witness the transformation of the art world from “a relatively quiet and private place” to the contemporary scene, where “branding is the mantra of our time.”

The interview was conducted on the occasion of the group show entitled The Art World, which took place in late 2007/early 2008 at Feinkost Gallery in Berlin.

His observations about money and aesthetics are particularly insightful:

… money has become an extremely important ingredient. Its prominence has even influenced “aesthetics.” The way we “see” certain works is subtly affected by our perception of their monetary worth and adulation. Anyone who does not acknowledge this is blind or disingenu- ous. Museums are involved in numerous relation- ships that link money and works of art. This is part of our time. It is also a primary criterion of “the modern.” After all, Courbet and, thereafter, the Impressionists were very conscious of the market, of presentation, garnering attention, and increasing sales. All this is more intense now, post-Warhol.

Andy Warhol's “Dollar Sign” (1981), which hung in Shapazian's living room (via Artinfo)

Read the whole interview here (PDF). Artinfo has a good obituary about Shapazian that gives you a fuller picture of the man and his legacy.

To get a sense of the man’s personality, you may also enjoy this interview he did with artist Anna Boghiguian for Bidoun Magazine, where you find some more insights into money and art, though the insights (in this case) are facilitated by Shapazian but provided by Boghiguian:

I’m very interested in money, though at one time I thought it was unnecessary to make money. I suppose living in Canada makes you think that art should be for free. Who you are to ask for such sums of money? And of course, now this concept that you belong to the market to have a price is appearing in Cairo. You have to belong to the art market. Well, I’ll tell you something. The only thing that matters to me is to have money. And, being an Armenian, money is very important. Armenia as a nation, rootless for decades, has developed a sense that money gives protection, that it’s a wall of protection. This is true for many displaced persons.

Makes me wonder if the art world is dominated by displaced persons looking for protection.

Hat tip @ursalette

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