Opinion

A Few Choice Words from Gagosian

Gagosian isn't known for returning phone calls.
Gagosian isn’t known for returning phone calls. (image via -Curly-‘s Flickrstream)

Wall Street Journal art market reporter Kelly Crow is probably one of the only journalists whom Larry Gagosian will talk money with — or talk to at all, really. The megadealer is known for rarely agreeing to interviews, so it’s always interesting to read what he has to say when he does grant them.

The occasion for the piece is the opening of Gagosian’s latest, and twelfth, space, “a hangar-like warehouse,” in Crow’s words (17,760 square feet), on the grounds of Paris’s Le Bourget airport. Opening an art gallery adjacent to an airport seems weird, at best — a kind of symbolic apotheosis of global capitalism and elite wealth, or something — but a quick search reveals that Le Bourget bills itself as “Europe’s leading business aviation airport,” so it’s pretty clear who the intended patrons are. Gagosian tells Crow that the space is open to the public but coyly adds that he’s “intrigued” to see if any clients fly in to visit. Ha!

Although the conversation is pretty pared down, Gagosian does offer some notable insights and comments about both the art market and himself. Here are a few of the juiciest ones:

  • On maintaining a gallery in the country on the front lines of the European economic crisis: “It’s almost become a badge of honor that we have a gallery in Greece. We keep the price points in Athens lower — under $1 million — and we maintain relationships with collectors there who want to sell things.” I love that “lower” means under $1 million.
  • “The art market is global now, and there’s becoming more of an international consensus about what constitutes good art. It’s not like we calibrate people’s tastes. Some people think you’ve got to sell pictures of palm trees in L.A., but that’s ridiculous.” That added emphasis is mine. Enough said.
  • Answering the question of where he sees strong emerging markets: “Brazil. We just did the ArtRio fair in Rio de Janeiro, and it was one of the strongest fairs we’ve ever done—way beyond what I expected. I was on the fence about it because if you add another fair to your calendar, you’ve also got to send your people there and insure the art and throw dinner parties and all that. You also need to have the art, and artists produce at the rate they want to produce.” Or do they?
  • “I’m not in the luxury-goods business. I sell unique objects. I wish I was in luxury goods because then I could just call the factory and say, ‘I need 10,000 more of whatever.’ But I can’t — because then it’s not art, it’s something else.” It’s interesting — but maybe not surprising? — to see a high-end dealer like Gagosian say that art is not a luxury good. Denial? Wishful thinking? Go figure.
  • “Only a few are buying works of art over $100 million apiece now, but I’m seeing the middle of the market moving up. Is a $10 million, $20 million picture considered midrange now? That’s still a lot of money, but a lot of collectors are buying at those price levels now.” Like he said, not a luxury good — just $10 million middle range.
  • And my favorite, when Crow asks him what museum piece he’d love to sell:  “There’s a Pablo Picasso over at the Museum of Modern Art that I’ve always wanted, the one with all the women in it, ‘Les Demoiselles d’Avignon.’ It’s a great work of art, and knowing that it’s pregnant with his unbelievable career makes it all the greater.” The thought of “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” in private hands makes me have a panic attack. Don’t let him near the Picasso!!
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