On the fingers of one hand: Iwan Wirth on Hauser & Wirth New York
Earlier today ARTINFO and The New York Times broke the story that Hauser & Wirth – Flash Art’s “top international gallery” in Europe – is to open a gallery in New York this September. During the summer they will be converting their building at 32 East 69th Street (which is currently home to the secondary market gallery Zwirner & Wirth) into a four-story exhibition and event space, and opening in the fall with a re-staging of Allan Kaprow’s Yard. Not only is this choice particularly exciting for a happenings enthusiast like myself, it is also an act of inspired art historical chutzpah: for many years this same building was the home of the legendary Martha Jackson Gallery where Kaprow originally staged his Yard environment in 1961. Though Kaprow made a number of reinventions of Yard in other spaces in this country and in Europe during his lifetime, this is obviously the first time that it has been remade in its original home.
I’ll be writing a lot more about Yard here on A Sky filled with Shooting Stars further down the line, but at this point I want to take advantage of the conversations that I’ve had this week in preparing my ARTINFO report. Most specifically, here is Iwan Wirth, the man that Art Review’s 2008 “Power 100” list rated as the most important contemporary art dealer in Europe and the second most important in the world, explaining on the fingers of one hand the thinking behind opening a large-scale primary market gallery in New York in 2009.
A dedicated New York gallery has been on our agenda for quite a long time. We have been actively looking at spaces for almost two years. We came close on a couple of sites but, fortunately, we were patient and did not end up over-investing in real estate at the height of the market. Without having to devote time and resources to a huge building project right now, we are in a fantastic position to focus exclusively on our priorities, which are the artists we represent and the important American art scene.
New York will remain the center of the art market for years to come and there is still remarkable vitality among the galleries, the artists working in the city, the museums, the publications, and a very curious audience. The number of collectors and the quality of their collections, the number and quality of museums and curators — these things are unique. So we feel we simply must be in New York to properly represent all of our artists in a truly international way.
We looked in Chelsea for almost two years but were not able to find precisely what we were looking for. So 69th Street was perfect for this moment. I could absolutely imagine having a Hauser & Wirth space in Chelsea in the future.
Our aim is to present significant exhibitions of work by our stable of artists. Mostly this will be new work, shown for the very first time. One of defining characteristics of Hauser & Wirth is that we aim to unite under the same roof artists from the different generations, from 98-year-old Louise Bourgeois to 28-year-old Jakub Julian Ziolkowski. So we generally avoid discussing our artists as “established” or “emerging” because for us these distinctions – a younger or older artist, or whether the artist is currently highly visible or well known – are not so important. We represent a very high number of women artists and a high number of older artists. In the end, the art itself is our focus.
The news of our decision to open in Manhattan will probably have a very different kind of significance now than it would have had a year ago, and that is both a revealing and positive thing. When I look back at the history of Hauser & Wirth over the past 17 years, I notice a pattern. We have almost always opened our galleries in difficult economic moments: Hauser & Wirth was actually founded during the recession in 1992 and I remember people feeling sorry for me that we had missed the “amazing eighties.” We opened London in 2002/3, in the aftermath of the 9/11 tragedy, at a moment when D’Offay closed and everyone laid off staff. Given that history, I am not afraid of the current difficult climate and actually think we are in a great position to take advantage of opportunities the environment offers now. To do this we must be present in New York.
On the fingers of one hand is based on an original idea by Jacquelyn Lewis.