On the eve of FIAC, France's largest international contemporary art fair, the second-latest addition to the Gagosian gallery empire opened its doors in Paris. (Gagosian has since debuted a gallery in Geneva.) I had the opportunity to attend the preview of the gallery's inaugural exhibition, having relocated from Los Angeles to Paris five days before.
I was particularly curious to compare the Paris location to the one with which I was familiar in Beverly Hills. Some months previously I had attended the grand re-opening of the newly expanded Gagosian Beverly Hills, complete with its stunning floor-to-ceiling display of Andreas Gursky's Ocean photography series. That party had been quite different from other Los Angeles gallery openings I'd attended. The eccentric art scene regulars and hipster art student crowd heavily partaking in the free wine were replaced almost solely with Hollywood studio executives, Oscar winners, foreign supermodels, and celebrity chefs. I don't think I saw a single ironic moustache the whole evening. At one point, as I stood in awe of the vast Ocean II piece, a forty-something man in a suit approached me and said, "Everyone here is an actress, so I'm going to be original and ask if you're a lawyer. Are you a lawyer?" Then he asked for my email address.
Besides underscoring the cultural differences between Los Angeles east and west of La Cienega (down to the pick-up lines), the opening party at Gagosian Beverly Hills solidified in my mind the two poles of the art gallery paradigm. On the one hand, there are the galleries like Gagosian whose openings are as likely to be featured in the society pages of Vanity Fair as on the homepage of Artforum.com. It's as much about the invite-only dinner and after-party as it is about the power-brokering. At the other end of the spectrum are the galleries that participate in community art walks, work in concert with local non-profits to host symposia, and whose shows are documented on Tumblr blogs. Galleries like this are mainly centered in Culver City, Chinatown, near Beverly Boulevard, and ever increasingly, in Venice. I hesitate to label these two respective gallery types as "blue-chip" and "emerging" because many opposing-type galleries share artists, as in the case of Gagosian and Culver City gallery Blum & Poe, which I would assign to the latter group. I think the real difference lies not so much in the quality of the art or even the renown of the artists, but in their patrons' tacit definition of art: "collection piece" or "Breath of Life."
My observations of Los Angeles galleries seems consistent, to an extent, with the gallery scene in Paris. Much like its Beverly Hills counterpart, the Gagosian gallery in Paris is located in a decidedly swanky area, called the "triangle d'or." There, a block from the Champs-Elysées, it shares a façade with Christie's auction house. If I had any doubt as to which type of gallery this Gagosian belonged, its address informed me immediately. The eighth arrondissement is home to many such high-brow galleries, while the Marais and Belleville are perhaps more reminiscent of Culver City and Chinatown in character. (Galerie Emmanuel Perrotin, called Blum & Poe's equivalent, is located in the Marais.)
This new location is the first of Larry Gagosian's galleries to open in France, and indeed only his third in continental Europe, following galleries in Rome and, most recently, Athens. Some bloggers have claimed that the Paris gallery is a sign of the city's booming art scene, but I think it more accurately reflects Larry Gagosian's sensitivity to its growing market. (See: Athens.) Lest we forget, a gallery is in business to sell art, and, though its lack of price lists may be misleading, the Gagosian Paris is no different.
Stay tuned for Gagosian Gallery Opens in Paris, Part 2 for more about the gallery's role in the Parisian contemporary art scene.