seeing out loud

Jerry Saltz on Gagosian’s Genius for Gigantism

A Jeff Koons sculpture representing US singer Lady Gaga is on display during the presentation of her new album
“Now witness the firepower of this fully armed and operational art gallery!” Photo: Maya Robinson and Photo by EMMANUEL DUNAND/Getty

Expansionism, encroachment, defying the credulity of the rest of the world, driven to empire. We’re not talking about Vladimir Putin. We’re talking about this morning’s New York Times announcement that Larry Gagosian will be adding two more spaces to his worldwide occupation. One is on the Upper East Side, and the other will be a pop-up gallery that will operate for a month out of a former Lower East Side Chase Manhattan bank building. It will feature the work of fellow dominion-seeker and art-star Urs Fisher. Thus the elephant’s foot will temporarily stomp down among the neighborhood’s many other smaller, poorer galleries. I hope the tide will float nearby boats and not swamp them.

The part of the Times announcement that jumped out at me, however, wasn’t the news of Gagosian’s opening his fourteenth and fifteenth galleries. It was an inconspicuous feint he made about 821 Park Avenue: “I wasn’t looking for another space … I saw a sign in the window that it was available. I loved the fact that it’s small and isolated on Park Avenue … That’s what made it compelling to me.”

That’s what made it compelling? Well, that — and, oh yes, this “isolated” lonesome outpost on Park Avenue is at 75th Street, one block over from the current Whitney Museum, which will next year become the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s showcase for contemporary art. Far from occupying a little island on Park Avenue, Gagosian is executing a brilliant pincer maneuver. His massive Madison Avenue headquarters is just north of the Whitney-Met, and the new location will be one block east of it on Park Avenue. Multiple approaches are covered, to catch the eye of any interested buyer, seller, curator, or oligarch heading to the museum for a look.

What does it all mean? Only that things are becoming more what they already are. The total square footage in all of Gagosian’s empire — his team reports that the permanent locations constitute 157,500 square feet — far exceeds that of most museums. It’s bigger than MoMA, at least for now. It’s probably bigger than the whole art scene in cities like Amsterdam, Frankfurt, or Vienna. A retail Museum of Larry — the Megagosian — is in worldwide operation. With a half-dozen or so spaces in New York, he’s made our city a principality of this empire of art on which the sun never sets. Someday, when all of this is over, our grandchildren won’t believe it. Unless they are all living in Gagosianopolis.