An incomparable adventure.
I meet the gallerist Gavin Brown in a little road in Trastevere in Rome. I ask him: What brings you here?
About 13 years ago I found myself visiting friends at the American Academy here in Rome. We walked into Trastevere and it was my first experience of this city. Franco Noero and Toby Webster planned to open a gallery in Rome. I said that they could not do it unless they included me. So we opened a gallery in Trastevere in 2004, but it was too much and we closed after three years. All three of us were concentrating on our home galleries and our timing was incorrect.
And then what happened?
I would come back to Rome from time to time, and even if for one day I would come for a meal at Da Enzo (my favourite restaurant in Rome). Last July I was here on vacation with my wife and my children and for some reason the time became the right time. We were introduced to the owner of this deconsecrated church, and by September I signed the lease. It is still a church, with its altar of the seventeenth century, and we will act inside the church.
I am going to show artists and performances. In September we are going to show work of the Israeli artist Uri Aran.
Why, as you are well known and established in New York, did you feel the need for a space in Rome?
I am not sure why. It feels like a compulsion. You don’t know why you have a need. I felt spiritually and culturally the need to put a foot back in Europe, to have an adventure again. My son Max is going to be 25 in August and I was 24 when I arrived in New York and that, 27 years ago, was the beginning of the adventure.
Was it difficult to make it?
It was a lot of work, but I was lucky to find myself amongst a group of people who made that hard work exhilarating.
Did you discover many artists?
Rirkrit Tiravanija. I saw his work in 1990, three years after I arrived. It was a discovery for myself. When I would encounter an art work or an artist meaningful for myself, these are moments that I still remember. I went to New York intending to be an artist, but for instance when I saw a work of Rirkrit I understood that it was more important for me to advocate his work then pursue my work.
New York was the center of the arts?
At that point yes, because things in comparison to now were almost mediaeval. You would send slides in an aeroplane from New York to London and from London to LA. Now we live in a different reality which has partly contributed to New York becoming a more provincial place. Also the centres of wealth have changed.
Where are they?
What previously would have been described as developing countries. China for example is becoming the first economy on the planet.
But where are the artists?
Well, I cannot imagine representing a culture that is not my own. Mine is the West.
Do many interesting artists still live in New York?
Many people come. There is no other city like New York. There may be other cities that are developing faster, with a more future thinking, but there is no other city where you can define yourself as you can in New York.
What kind of art dealer are you?
As I was an artist my focus was by nature on the artists. So, there are many shades of art dealers. Some dealers are focused on the artists, others on customers. I still regard the artists as my primary customers. Others regard the buyers as their primary customers.
How do you find the artists?
They are all over the place. You meet, you hear, you are recommended. My friend Matthew Higgs recommended Piotr Uklański and I started working with him. Elizabeth Peyton was married to Rirkrit and I started to work with her. Martin Creed, I knew him, he was a friend of many of my friends and we both worked at the Anthony d’Offay Gallery in London. I knew a lot of people my age who were friends but had no galleries, and it was obvious to work with them.
Did you imagine that the market would become so strong?
I think it has changed the way artists are. No one could imagine and predict that supernova of extra wealth. I think it has been unimaginable. Even for those who work in the economic sphere. I think the explosion of the art market has been a by-product of this unforeseen explosion in the global economy. This wealth, piles of cash in the upper reaches of our society, and so I suppose art has become the status symbol, the lingua franca for the super wealthy.
Now that you open in Rome do you feel a great difference with New York?
My Roman adventure is such an extreme it is incomparable. I can’t place one over the other. We just opened in Rome at Easter. I have been in New York over 27 years, in Rome I am a tourist.
Has the fact that there is so much more money involved in the art world changed your work?
It has changed everybody’s work. I think it has changed the way artists today make an art work. It is an organic process, you cannot not think about money.
Works of art are less strong?
You could compare Jeff Koons’ balloon dog with the twelve horses of Kounellis. Art reflects its age and its values.
But art was against something?
I don’t think you can go against capital. Some people think that there are no artists in the West anymore.
But how did your work change?
I am not sure it changed. The world has changed. No one intended to expand so much, but the world is pumping more gas, and we see galleries expanding because of circumstances and demands.
Do you still like your job?
I am very much enjoying to be in Rome with the church next door. It is a dream and at the same time I very much enjoy being in New York in the centre of the storm. In New York you don’t know when you will wake up in the morning and find the storm is breaking everything apart.
But besides the possible storm do you think that some of the artists you represent will endure?
I think the storm is unprecedented, in the sense it will involve everything. It will be an interconnected world storm.
Are you worried?
I have anxiety all the time. But I personally cannot do anything. The work of some artists should endure.
Are you taking many risks?
I am a compulsive risk taker. For instance, in moving the gallery to Harlem. It is in itself an enormous gamble.
Is the competition strong?
It is no more a gentle business, it is an industry.
Prices are going to go up and up?
Each May and November in New York at the sales people say, “It is bigger and it keeps going up and up. It keeps getting bigger and we will keep playing.”
May 29th 2015
Gavin Brown is portrayed with Laura Owens. Our thanks for the selected images.