When contemporaries describe Gagosian, they tend to summon carnivore analogies

Thursday, August 17th, 2023

Patrick Radden Keefe channels Tom Wolfe as he explains how Larry Gagosian reshaped the art world:

It was the Friday afternoon of Memorial Day weekend on Further Lane, the best street in Amagansett, the best town in the Hamptons, and the art dealer Larry Gagosian was bumming around his eleven-thousand-square-foot modernist beach mansion, looking pretty relaxed for a man who, the next day, would host a party for a hundred and forty people. A pair of French bulldogs, Baby and Humphrey, waddled about, and Gagosian’s butler, Eddie, a slim man with a ponytail and an air of informal professionalism, handed him a sparkling water. 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 four hundred and fifty thousand dollars. On a coffee table before him was a ceramic Yoshitomo Nara ashtray the size of a Frisbee, decorated with a picture of a little girl smoking and the words “too young to die.”

Gagosian is not a household name for most Americans, but among the famous and the wealthy — and particularly among the very wealthy — he is a figure of colossal repute. He 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. He has always favored a certain macho bluntness, and calls himself a dealer without apology. With nineteen galleries that bear his name, from New York to London to Athens to Hong Kong, generating more than a billion dollars in annual revenue, Gagosian may well be the biggest art dealer in the history of the world. He represents more than a hundred artists, living and dead, including many of the most celebrated and lucrative: Jenny Saville, Anselm Kiefer, Cy Twombly, Donald Judd. The business — which he owns without a partner or a shareholder or a spouse or children or anyone, really, to answer to — controls more than two hundred thousand square feet of prime real estate. All told, Gagosian has more exhibition space than most museums, and he shuttles among his outposts on his sixty-million-dollar Bombardier Global 7500 private jet. He’s been known to observe, with the satisfaction of Alexander the Great, “The sun never sets on my gallery.”


When contemporaries describe Gagosian, they tend to summon carnivore analogies: a tiger, a shark, a snake. His own publicist once described him as “a real killer.”

The languid calm that he exuded on the eve of the Amagansett party was that of a predator between meals. At seventy-eight, he remains tall and broad-shouldered, with a full head of white hair that he keeps trimmed close to the scalp, like a beaver pelt. Gagosian has blue eyes, which often flash with mirth — he has a quick, salty sense of humor — but they can just as suddenly go blank if he feels threatened or wants to be inscrutable. In conversation, these abrupt transitions from easy bonhomie to enigmatic hostility and back again can be jarring.

(Hat tip to Byrne Hobart.)


  1. Bomag says:

    Isn’t the art world the original cryptocurrency?

    When something like a Warhol sells for 100 million plus, I have a hard time believing there is that much inherent value in the thing. Economists talk about scarcity value, but I suspect there are more scarce and more valuable things around that don’t bring that price.

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