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A monumental 17,000-word profile of mega dealer Larry Gagosian in The New Yorker by the award-winning author Patrick Radden Keefe is making waves with its revelations about the (usually) uber-private mega dealer. Keefe first sets the scene, dropping in on Larry (78) at his sumptuous pad located in Amagansett, “the best town in the Hamptons”.
“Gagosian sat down on a leather sofa in the living room, his back to the ocean view, and faced a life-size Charles Ray sculpture of a male nude, in reflective steel, and a Damien Hirst grand piano (bright pink with blue butterflies) that he’d picked up at a benefit auction some years back, for $450,000.”
The piece dives straight in, pointing out that Gagosian is “dubious of art dealers who refer to themselves as ‘gallerists’, which he regards as a pretentious euphemism that obscures the mercantile essence of the occupation”. It’s fair to say also, stresses Keefe, that “one way Gagosian has transformed the art business is by normalising poaching”. His response? “Gagosian scorns any suggestion that luring artists away from other dealers is unsporting.”
The question of succession also looms large. “Gagosian has no kids. Having built this global colossus, he is now besieged by speculation about what will become of it when he’s no longer in charge,” says Keefe who discusses the starry new board assembled last year (Sofia Coppola et al) to oversee future plans. “That’s not really what drives this,” Gagosian says. “I don’t see it, per se, as succession planning.”
There are fascinating personal details. In 1969, Gagosian pleaded guilty to two felony charges of forgery, stemming from his use of someone else’s credit card. “There was a brief, ill-considered marriage, in Vegas, to a college girlfriend, Gwyn Ellen Garside. They divorced after sixteen days. It was ‘stupid’ to marry so young, Gagosian says now,” writes Keefe. Meanwhile, 28-year-old Anna Weyant, Gagosian’s girlfriend and a rising art star, casually drops in (her hair wet from swimming, she greets him warmly).
Numerous friends and colleagues pitch in on why Gagosian makes the art world go round. The UK painter Jenny Saville highlights his motivation. “Even if he’s having dinner, or if he’s on holiday on a boat, it’s not a holiday. All the fun dinners—they have a reason for being fun,” she says. Keefe also dissects the defining relationships in Larry’s life, highlighting what he sold to late media titan Si Newhouse and why his mentor, the legendary dealer Leo Castelli, matters so much to him.
And what about ethics? “In recent years, Gagosian has also been doing a lot of business in the United Arab Emirates, a country with an appalling record on human rights and an appealing quantity of collectors,” writes Keeffe. “I asked Gagosian if there is anyone he would refuse to deal with on ethical grounds. He said that he might not do business with a ‘convicted murderer’, but that he doesn’t want to draw such lines when it comes to lesser allegations. ‘If the money is correct, if the transaction is correct, I’m not going to be a moral judge,’ he said.”