Essays

Larry Gagosian, Master of Time and Space (and Real Estate)

Gagosian galleries around the world: (top row) Beverly Hills, Athens, London - Britannia, (middle row) London - Davie, New York - Madison shop, Rome, (bottom row) New York - Chelsea, New York - Madison, Paris

Larry Gagosian, the contemporary art world’s eminent dealer and businessman, may not be at the top of the heap any more in terms of cutting-edge relevancy now that the artists he champions are all resolutely blue-chip and arrive to his white walls pre-canonized, but he remains unchallenged in another realm: art-world world domination. No other private dealer, commercial gallery, or traveling salesman can compete with Gogo’s international network of art spaces, along with their attendant artists, minions, and fan clubs.

Happen to be in Italy? Maybe you can catch the latest Cy Twombly paintings on display at Gagosian Rome on Via Francesco Crispi. In Athens, a Greek location. If you’d like to stay in the US, there remains the choice of the gallerist’s three New York City spaces, one on Madison Avenue and two in Chelsea, as well as a Beverly Hills location. Worry not, Asia, because LEAP Magazine reports from Beijing that a Hong Kong Gagosian space is in the works to service that continent of collectors. Going to Paris next month? Well then, my friend, you are very lucky, because Gagosian just opened a brand new space in the city of lights! This October will mark the inaugural exhibition of Gagosian’s Rue de Ponthieu gallery, a location in the cultural center of the city, just off the Champs Élysées.

No multinational corporation occupying blandly branded office towers, each of the Gagosian galleries retains a very specific and discrete identity, both in relation to the overall brand and to the cities the galleries occupy. The directors Gagosian hires, though not necessarily local, are no institutional drones. Rather, they keep a low profile while busily cultivating a position within the local art scenes. The Gagosian galleries tend to represent new platforms for the gallery’s already-acclaimed artists, but the network also creates opportunities to scout new talent. It all makes good business sense. Yet what I find most interesting about Gagosian’s collection of galleries is a more abstract quality: the spaces and places that he has chosen to inhabit.

Gogo’s space in Rome at Via Francesco Crispi 16 opened with an exhibition of Cy Twombly’s works, entitled “Three Notes from Salalah,” on December 15, 2007. The building, a neoclassical structure made up of the ground and mezzanine levels of a former bank, built in 1921, is an imposing mix of grand vertical columns and impressive facade with bare, white cube galleries on the interior. The atmosphere seems fitting for the emperor of contemporary art. The new Paris outpost is a renovated hotel, a two-floor, 3,800 square foot space, just next to Christie’s space in the city. French architect Jean-Francois Bodin helped to renovate the space, having worked earlier on such museums as Musée d’Art moderne de la Ville de Paris and the Pompidou Center. To be sure, all of Gagosian’s galleries come with pre-made pedigrees.

Gogo is slowly colonizing the places densest with the history of art, in the process appropriating some of the cache of each new city and each new space. Like a luxury brand, the Gagosian identity changes slightly with each move, becoming broader, more international, more diffuse. It’s hard to pigeonhole as “New York” a dealer with 12 operations in six countries, and counting.

But where’s Gogo going with this? Does he crave some outward marker of his continued significance, a history of space as well as art? The history books have not always been kind to impresarios, but if you build it, they will come. Kings and despots have always made use of architecture and the appropriation and cleansing of space as a tool to reinforce and memorialize their self-image. Is Gagosian really that different from Charlemagne? Here we have a burgeoning wake of architecture in the trail of a gallerist renowned for his art world territory grabbing.

This is an inkling of Larry Gagosian as performance artist, conquering his way through antiquity with his attendant artist-warriors. In my mind, which might be pushing it a bit, Gagosian is appropriating these gallery spaces into the greater historical narrative of his own contemporary art power. Rebuilding contemporary art world history, city by city and space by space.

What I love about art so much is that it presents this continuous narrative, an ongoing rush of ideas and aesthetics and work and life, all compounded through history. The meta-works by Gogo, the reliquary galleries that he creates, containers made of ancient space that play context to new works of arts, are perfect objects. They encounter the past and digest it; they encounter the contemporary art world and conquer it. Most of all, the process is just badass. Gagosian as spatial architect, gesamtkunstwerk maker.

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