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Gagosian Commotion: Zwirner Poised for Artists Seeking New Gallery (with video and Q&A)

In the financial field, they call it “headline risk”—the negative influence that bad publicity can have on the future prospects of a hedge fund or other type of investment firm. In the event that the headline risk at the high-flying Gagosian Gallery might spook some represented artists, two expanding New York galleries are among those especially well positioned to capitalize on possible defectionsHauser & Wirth and David Zwirner. Both hosted major press events late last month to trumpet their upcoming shows and promote their spiffy new spaces in Chelsea.

Zwirner referred to this possible benefit to his roster in a candid conversation with me (see the Q&A, below) before our short walk from an auditorium where he had narrated a PowerPoint presentation of future shows to his in-construction digs on W. 20th St.:

High Ceilings: David Zwirner shows off his expansive new gallery to the scribe tribe

High Ceilings: David Zwirner shows off his expansive new gallery to the scribe tribe
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

Hauser & Wirth has just opened its own vast new 18th Street gallery in the former Roxy, a gay club and roller rink. You can see the oval outline of the rink on the floor of the main, columnless gallery space, which can accommodate works as monumental as Dieter and Björn Roth‘s “The Floor I,” 1973-1992—the paint-mottled wood from the Iceland studio floor of the late German-born Swiss artist and his son—in the new space’s inaugural show, Dieter Roth. Björn Roth (to Apr. 13):


Dieter Roth/Björn Roth’s “The Floor I,” 1973-1992
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

Zwirner’s in-construction interior features this skylit, columnless gallery on the main floor.


Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

Actually, it looks a bit like a Roth installation:

Dieter Roth, “Large Table Ruin” (with Björn Roth and Eggert Einarsson), begun 1978
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

Both Zwirner’s new structure and Hauser & Wirth’s new interior were designed by Annabelle Selldorf. Both galleries are also celebrating their 20th aniversary this year. (Zwirner and Iwan Wirth had been partners from 2000 to 2009 in Zwirner and Wirth gallery, New York.)

Iwan Wirth Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

Iwan Wirth in his new 18th Street gallery
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

In my CultureGrrl Video, below, you’ll see Zwirner discuss the plans for his new space, which will present “large-scale installations and historical, thematic surveys dedicated to the work of modern and contemporary masters.” His second Chelsea gallery will open Feb. 15 with a show devoted to Dan Flavin and Donald Judd.

In my video, he describes his second show planned there, early works by Richard Serra, as well as his expectations (not finalized and not yet on the gallery’s webpage for upcoming exhibitions) for a May show of new work by Jeff Koons. Both Serra and Koons are Gagosian artists.

Zwirner repeatedly touted his gallery as “artist-centric”—a seeming pitch to artists who might be tempted to switch allegiances. (Similarly, Carl Swanson of NY Magazine reports that Hauser & Wirth “brags that it’s never lost an artist.”) Larry Gagosian fired back later that same week by announcing his own Koons show of new and recent work, planned for May (but not yet listed on his webpage for upcoming shows).

Here’s my video with excerpts from Zwirner’s presentation, where you’ll hear him over-hype Koons as “the most significant artist of his generation”:

In my conversation with Zwirner, he obliquely but unmistakably suggested that Gagosian refugees might be welcome:

Rosenbaum: In positioning yourself as “artist-centric” and with Hauser & Wirth expanding at the same time, in a situation where a perhaps less “artist-centric” gallery has been in the news a lot, do you see a shift taking place?

Zwirner: I would like to amplify our business model as being artist-centric. And since artists have choices, I want to be one of those potential choices. That’s kind of what happened with Jeff: We didn’t seek him out. He came to us. So that’s exciting. But we’re just doing what we’re doing. I don’t have a master plan. I don’t want to be in competition with other people. I just like what I do.

Rosenbaum: But you’re doing more than what you’ve been doing. You’re taking it to another level, in terms of more museum-type shows.

Zwirner: Yes, but that’s something that we’ve been doing. It’s just hard to do here, because we just don’t have the facility to really make it possible for us to get the loans. That’s why we’re building what we’re building.

Art is art. I think I understand art and I like to think about art that was made now and I art that was made earlier. And I’d like to go even earlier. So that’s the growth. It’s not looking around to see what we can bite off elsewhere. It should all grow naturally and organically.

Rosenbaum: But it’s putting yourself out there, in a new, expanded way.

Zwirner: It’s a competive environment, sure!

Rosenbaum: And if things come your way?

Zwirner: We’re ready for them. That’s the idea: I want to be ready.

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