Top Dollar

What renowned global dealer David Zwirner has to say about the art world is a very big deal in­deed, writes Stephen Short

Hong Kong Tatler - - Faces -

avid zwirner is con­sid­er­ing what to bring to Art Basel in Hong Kong from the com­fort of his New York of­fice. It’s Jan­uary, and the art-dealer ex­traor­di­naire is also pre­par­ing for a trip to his Lon­don gallery for an open­ing of Luc Tuy­mans (whom Zwirner dis­cov­ered early) the fol­low­ing week. He al­ready knows he’ll show Euro­pean fig­u­ra­tion such as Tuy­mans, Neo Rauch, Michaël Bor­re­mans and ab­stract Os­car Murillo in Hong Kong, along with US min­i­mal­ists such as Dan Flavin (whom his fa­ther dis­cov­ered early) and Don­ald Judd.

But he’s got big game on his mind this morn­ing. The big­gest, in fact—jeff Koons, the world’s most ex­pen­sive living artist and a po­ten­tial lo­gis­ti­cal con­tretemps. “I re­ally want to bring some work by Jeff, but we’re not sure if we’ll be get­ting some­thing in time for ship­ping. And with Jeff, that’s some­times touch-and-go be­cause pro­duc­tion is very com­pli­cated.” Zwirner sold Koons’ sculp­ture of an in­flat­able dol­phin for US$5 mil­lion at Art Basel in Basel last year to a Main­land Chi­nese col­lec­tor. “There is such a great ap­petite for his work in Asia,” he says.

As the man who cre­ates and shapes ap­petites among the art world’s global col­lect­ing cognoscenti, Zwirner has been con­spic­u­ously ab­sent from the re­gion, but is in­creas­ingly con­sid­er­ing tak­ing the plunge. “My next ex­pan­sive move of sorts, I think, has to be in China and it is my New Year’s res­o­lu­tion to try to spend more time in China. We want to do it af­ter some re­search on the ground. I think the mar­ket will ex­pand very, very rapidly in Asia. If I want to grow my busi­ness, it’s dif­fi­cult not to en­vis­age a real pres­ence in Asia. Just open­ing in China be­cause every­body else does and be­cause ev­ery­one says one should is not the right strat­egy, though.” He adds, “I feel be­ing a pi­o­neer in terms of lo­ca­tion is much less im­por­tant than be­ing a pi­o­neer in terms of pro­gramme, so our fo­cus is more about what we’re show­ing than where we’re show­ing it. For me in Asia, the hori­zon could be any­where be­tween two to five years. By 2020, I ex­pect to have a pres­ence.”

Zwirner’s busi­ness is built on his al­ter­na­tive think­ing and his stealthy ap­proach to the art world. Ask the Ger­man-born 50-yearold what brand his com­pany would be, and he’s off the mark in a flash: “Pétrus. Château Pétrus, prob­a­bly 1962. Very rare.” He’s so ex­alted in New York that col­lec­tors who buy from him do so as much be­cause it’s Zwirner as for the work it­self. Movie stars such as Leonardo Dicaprio and Ben Stiller are regular vis­i­tors to his gal­leries, and he can­vasses at the high­est al­ti­tudes. “My wife and I were in­vited to the White House for a Christ­mas party last De­cem­ber, so we were with Obama and his beau­ti­ful wife.” Is the US pres­i­dent a client? “He hasn’t come to my gallery yet,” says Zwirner, but with an ex­pec­tant tone sug­gest­ing that he wouldn’t be sur­prised if some­day Obama does.

Artists Damien Hirst and Takashi Mu­rakami col­lect from Zwirner—“small things”—as does In­done­sian- Chi­nese bil­lion­aire Budi Tek and ten­nis roy­alty John Mcen­roe. “John’s a client and a friend,” says Zwirner, who ad­mits to be­ing a hope­less ten­nis player. “He’s bought Os­car Murillo, Mar­lene Du­mas, and also likes Luc Tuy­mans and Ray­mond Pet­ti­bon. We were neigh­bours on Greene Street in [New York’s] Soho.”

Zwirner has seen, and is one of those re­spon­si­ble for, a growth in the ap­petite for art­work. When he set up on Greene Street in 1993, there ex­isted a small group of so­phis­ti­cated Euro­pean and US col­lec­tors, which has since evolved into the con­tem­po­rary “pur­suit” of an in­ter­na­tional group of the world’s wealthy, from Mex­ico and In­done­sia to Main­land China and In­dia. As such, he says that col­lect­ing has be­come a life­style. “Life­style is such a pow­er­ful ar­gu­ment for col­lect­ing. It’s not just an ex­change of goods— it’s also an ed­u­ca­tion, it’s travel, it’s friend­ships, it’s par­ties. It’s all kinds of ex­pe­ri­ences that can

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