The Geneva art world is buzzing after the recent opening of a new venture by Larry Gagosian, arguably the world’s most successful contemporary art dealer.
The city of Calvin might not yet compare with New York, London or Zurich, but observers say the arrival of the new gallery of the United States entrepreneur, known as “Go-Go”, is a sign of its growing stature in the art world.
The Gagosian Gallery Geneva, a 140-square-metre space located on the first floor of an Art Deco building in the centre of the city, was officially inaugurated on November 18.
The new outpost opened with a Giacometti in Switzerland exhibition of rarely seen sculptures, paintings and other material, curated by Véronique Wiesinger, director of the Fondation Alberto et Annette Giacometti in Paris. It will host three to four shows a year.
Geneva is the tenth gallery that the art dealer has opened since founding the company in Los Angeles in 1979. His portfolio includes three in New York, two in London, and one each in Beverly Hills, Rome, Athens and Paris, which opened two weeks ago.
This expansionist strategy, aggressively growing his business at a time that many other galleries were retracting or closing due to the recession, has led to his top position in this year’s ArtReview Power 100 list.
The big question on many people’s lips, however, is ‘Why Geneva?’
Gagosian and his team remain coy.
“I’m hoping to give the artists I represent more exposure in Europe, specifically in Paris,” Gagosian told Bloomberg in an interview during the Paris launch.
Geneva-based gallery owner Anton Meier told swissinfo.ch Gagosian’s move to Switzerland was probably for “tax reasons, proximity to the free port facility and future clients”.
“His moving here is a sign of Geneva’s local economic vitality,” said Pierre-Henri Jaccaud, owner of the Skopia gallery. “Gagosian has obviously done his studies but there are clear signals: hedge funds moving here from London and other immensely rich people settling in the region.”
One in ten billionaires worldwide lives in Switzerland and 210,700 people out of a population of 7.8 million own more than $1 million (SFr990,000).
“People like Gagosian have always had contacts in Geneva,” artistic director of the Evergreen gallery, Samuel Gross, told Le Temps newspaper. “Today these ties are more official. The idea, I guess, is to get closer to the collectors.”
Local buyers and collectors are obviously a target but contemporary art has become much more global in recent years. The art market is flexing its muscles again with wealthy new buyers, especially from Russia, India, China, Hong Kong and the Middle East, ready to spend and anxious to build collections.
Gagosian will rub shoulders in Geneva with international modern and classical dealers such as Krugier, Phoenix, La Béraudière and Interart, and is soon to be joined by the Flemish art expert, De Jonckheere.
“What is important for me is that [Gargosian’s arrival] creates interest and highlights the local Geneva art scene. Lots of things are happening in Geneva thanks to work over several years,” said Gross, who represents young Swiss contemporary artists.
The creation of the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (Mamco) in Geneva in 1994 is said by many to have acted as a local catalyst. The network of artists and galleries has been further developed via the development of the Quartier des Bains art district from 2001 onwards.
Meier said the Geneva scene was buzzing, but felt it was young and “fragile” compared with Zurich, which still had more collectors, artists and important galleries such as Hauser & Wirth and Eva Presenhuber.
Jaccaud agreed Geneva still lagged behind Zurich but was ahead of Basel and had “an untapped potential.”
“The Zurich market is well structured – probably the third biggest art market in the world – but Geneva is attractive and perhaps underestimated,” he told swissinfo.ch.
“There is potential, but it now depends on the local authorities,” said gallery owner Edward Mitterand, one of the founders of the Quartier des Bains. “We can do much more but it can only happen if the city authorities increase what they have to offer in terms of art and culture.”
Born in 1945, Larry Gagosian studied at California University in Los Angeles; he began his professional career selling posters there in the 1970s. He opened his first gallery in 1979 in Los Angeles.
With the addition of the Geneva gallery, there are now ten galleries worldwide in New York, Beverly Hills, London, Rome, Athens, and Paris.
Gagosian has organised important exhibitions by leading modern and contemporary artists including Francis Bacon, Joseph Beuys, Jean Michel Basquiat, Constantin Brancusi, Cecily Brown, Walter De Maria, Douglas Gordon, Arshile Gorky, Andreas Gursky, Richard Hamilton, Howard Hodgkin, Yves Klein, Jeff Koons, Yayoi Kusama, Roy Lichtenstein, Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso, Richard Prince, Ed Ruscha, Jenny Saville, Richard Serra, David Smith, Andy Warhol, Franz West, Rachel Whiteread, and Christopher Wool.
In 2010 he topped the ArtReview Power list (as he did in 2004). Art Review wrote: "Some of what he shows is extraordinary, but it's increasingly served up with a side dish of arrogance. This is not appealing, but it's the behaviour of power in excelsis, when all competition has vanished from the rearview."
Fellow international art dealer Charles Saatchi famously wrote about Go-Go in his book last year: “I adore Larry Gagosian, but I always hear the theme music from Jaws playing in my head as he approaches. He is clearly the most successful art dealer of the last couple of decades.”