Larry Gagosian is 62 years old, youthful-looking, handsome and healthy. From an Italian point of view, he resembles the typical successful American businessman and could be confused with a mature model for Tommy Hilfiger or Ralph Lauren.
Gagosian runs galleries in the sexiest cities of the world: New York, Los Angeles and London. A couple of months ago he took an office in Moscow and this weekend he unveils a massive new gallery in the center of Rome.
A few years ago, he opened an office in the beautiful Palazzo Borghese, an operation that is now working on Cy Twombly’s forthcoming catalog raisonné, and where works by Ed Ruscha were exhibited when the artist was representing the United States at the 2005 Venice Biennale.
During his stay in Rome, Larry Gagosian said that he wanted to establish a real exhibition space in the city. And Rome, as though it needed extra art gossip, started talking about the opening of a Roman Gagosian Gallery -- and hasn’t stopped since.
When in Rome, you do as the Romans do, and thus it has taken Gagosian more than two years to realize his dream. In the meantime, he has been busy marking his territory, working on projects with MAXXI (the new museum dedicated to art from the 21st century) and the new Carlo Bilotti Museum (devoted to the late collector, whose space is also in the Villa Borghese), and promoting his stable of artists, which includes Francesco Clemente, Damien Hirst, David Salle, Jenny Saville and the late Willem de Kooning.
Mystery and intrigue have surrounded the opening of Gagosian Gallery in Rome. At first the location was secret, then the date of the opening was confidential, and finally it was both the inaugural exhibition and the name of the artists involved that were unknown.
Whether this lack of information was designed to create suspense or whether it was simply a sign of indecision is anyone’s guess. In any case, the Roman art world has been talking about it constantly. And as always, when information is scarce, fantasy takes over.
Rome is the most beautiful city in the world, and it is fantastic to have breakfast on the terrace of the Hassler Hotel, the most prestigious five-star hotel in the city, with its fantastic views. Still, many wonder why the most powerful gallery in the world decided to open a new outlet of its highly successful, prestigious, flamboyant, glamorous, multinational enterprise in Rome?
A few punters believe that Gagosian’s plan is to sell blue-chip art to Roman collectors, despite the fact that they are known to prefer visiting London, New York or Basel to do their buying, rather than shop for the exact same wares at home.
Further speculation, this on the internet, has Gagosian setting up secret deals with the Vatican, a crazy idea. But the following "gossip" is more realistic. Gagosian is here due to the strategic geographical position of Italy, as a bridge to the art market in the southern Mediterranean and the Middle East, now with more oil riches than ever and paying close attention to contemporary art.
Alternatively, Gagosian is in Rome all the better to buy Italian art, for example, by artists from the Arte Povera generation. Gagosian Gallery has already held exhibitions of works by Pino Pascali and Alighiero Boetti, and other contemporary Italian masters are ready for their major moment on the international stage. The curator and art critic Achille Bonito Oliva, for instance, named Gino De Dominicis and Mario Schifano as potential Gagosian stars. Interesting enough, all these artists are no longer with us.
With a gallery in Rome, Gagosian can keep an eye on the market for artists already in his orbit (such as Cy Twombly, who lives here). He can more easily acquire works by dead artists, or those whose reputations are firmly established, such as Giulio Paolini. And perhaps he can also discover some young and exciting Italian talent.
And, from the standpoint of Italy, Gagosian will also be able to work in Europe with artists who otherwise have exclusive contracts with his competitors’ galleries in the States or in England.
In any case, with the opening scheduled for this week, details of the Gagosian Gallery in Rome are no longer secret. Located at Via Francesco Crispi 16 in the center of the city, between the Via Veneto and the Spanish Steps, the gallery occupies 750 square meters on the ground and mezzanine levels of a former bank, built in 1921.
The gallery was designed by the Roman architect Firouz Galdo in collaboration with the London firm of Caruso St. John, who was appointed architect for Tate Britain this year and also designed the Gagosian Gallery spaces in Kings Cross and on Davies Street in London. One outstanding feature of the new gallery is an oval space measuring 23 by 13 meters with a ceiling height of six meters.
The inaugural show, "Three Notes from Salalah," is an exhibition by Cy Twombly.
"I am delighted to open a gallery in Rome, a powerful source of inspiration for artists of all times," Larry Gagosian said, in a press release. "We look forward to becoming part of the cultural life of this extraordinary city."
For his conquest of Rome, Gagosian has chosen a neoclassical building with impressive columns and a glorious façade that evokes classical glory, all antiseptic white -- old but not too old, just enough to remind us that the Roman Empire is now one with history, but that the Gagosian Empire is still on the rise.
LAVINIA FILIPPI is an art critic based in Rome.