Con­ver­sa­tion Piece

The go-to gallery for Rus­sian avant-garde art, Ga­lerie Gmurzyn­ska adds Christo to the mix for Art Basel in Hong Kong, writes Payal Ut­tam

Hong Kong Tatler - - Life | Art -

G’est in­croy­able. What a show,” coos a stylish Euro­pean col­lec­tor clad head to toe in black in­side Ga­lerie Gmurzyn­ska’s booth at Art Basel in Mi­ami Beach. Min­utes later, Sean Combs, aka P. Diddy, dressed in a hot pink base­ball jacket and sun­glasses, saun­ters in, strikes up a con­ver­sa­tion with a gal­lerist and snaps a few pho­to­graphs. Mean­while, near the en­trance, Nor­man Rosen­thal, the ex­u­ber­ant Bri­tish cu­ra­tor, weaves through the crowd and pulls a friend in­side. “You see, it’s like a mini-mu­seum,” he says, ges­tur­ing proudly at the ex­per­i­men­tal works by the Rus­sian avant-garde. Next to him sits Pablo Pi­casso’s son Claude Ruiz-pi­casso, the booth de­signer, en­joy­ing a pause be­fore the next wave of col­lec­tors de­scends.

This col­li­sion of celebri­ties, schol­ars and his­toric names in the art world is char­ac­ter­is­tic of the Swiss gallery, which mounted one of the most im­pres­sive ex­hi­bi­tions at the Mi­ami fair in De­cem­ber. Ti­tled The Fu­ture is Our Only Goal, it was a cel­e­bra­tion of the 100th an­niver­sary of the 1917 Rus­sian Rev­o­lu­tion.

For the booth, Ruiz-pi­casso man­aged to con­jure the spirit at large around 1917, a time of great op­ti­mism in the Rus­sian art world. “They did very rad­i­cal things at that mo­ment,” he says, re­fer­ring to the artists on view, in­clud­ing Kaz­imir Male­vich, Alexan­der Rod­chenko and Mikhail Lar­i­onov. “I wanted to please them with some­thing they could not have done but they would have liked.” So he plas­tered the booth’s walls with en­larged archival Rus­sian pho­to­graphs. He turned some images up­side down, in­clud­ing a scene of an aer­o­bics-like fit­ness ses­sion so women’s legs are seen as al­most fly­ing above art­works, adding a play­ful el­e­ment to the space.

“You have to cre­ate some­thing a lit­tle dy­namic that pushes peo­ple to come in,” he says of the de­sign, which fea­tures sev­eral di­ag­o­nal walls that con­verge, cre­at­ing nar­row, in­ti­mate spa­ces per­fect for view­ing the del­i­cate crayon draw­ings, pho­to­graphs and ar­chi­tec­tural stud­ies on dis­play. “The de­sign of the booth also keeps peo­ple in.”

The same could be said of the gallery, which has built an in­sider club of fans that con­tinue to sup­port it. “A lot of cre­ative peo­ple ap­pre­ci­ate our ap­proach. We have had a strong re­la­tion­ship with Karl Lager­feld for the last 30 years and we’ve worked with a lot of great ar­chi­tects like Zaha Ha­did,” says Is­abelle Bscher, who runs the gallery with her mother, Krystyna Gmurzyn­ska. “And Puffy is also a friend... He is a great col­lec­tor. He has a great eye.”

Founded in 1965 by An­ton­ina Gmurzyn­ska, an émi­gré from Poland who first set­tled in Cologne, Ga­lerie Gmurzyn­ska has built a rep­u­ta­tion among West­ern mu­se­ums and col­lec­tors as the go-to gallery for Rus­sian avant-garde art. The gallery has forged longterm re­la­tion­ships with artists and their fam­i­lies, which gives it ac­cess to his­toric works from es­teemed es­tates. “Next year for Art Basel [in Switzer­land], for ex­am­ple, we are plan­ning a show fea­tur­ing Don­ald Judd and Male­vich which will be fan­tas­tic be­cause we did a show with Judd in 1993 where he came to Cologne and ar­ranged all his sculp­tures and paint­ings him­self,” says Bscher. “Now we are do­ing a ver­sion of that show with his son Flavin Judd. It’s these kinds of great re­la­tion­ships that you nur­ture over time that make the gallery special.”

Gmurzyn­ska will be pulling out all the stops for its ex­hi­bi­tion this month at Art Basel in Hong Kong, with a solo show fea­tur­ing Christo. “He is the most fa­mous artist of our time,” says CEO Mathias Ras­tor­fer. Among Christo’s most no­table works was The Gates, a mas­sive in­stal­la­tion of bil­low­ing saf­fron­coloured fab­ric in New York’s Cen­tral Park that he cre­ated in 2005 with his late wife. The gallery will be show­ing his early works from the 1960s, in­clud­ing a wrapped store­front and cush­ion piece. Gmurzyn­ska is also bring­ing the artist to Hong Kong to give a talk. Ras­tor­fer says this is a rare oc­cur­rence: “He doesn’t want to be part of art fairs. His mis­sion in life is to present [large-scale, site-spe­cific] projects, raise the money for them and ex­e­cute them.” Now 81, Christo is among the most vi­sion­ary artists of our times, in­spir­ing us to see the world in a new light.

If Gmurzyn­ska’s pre­sen­ta­tion of his work is any­thing close to the stan­dard of the Mi­ami ex­hi­bi­tion, the city is in for a treat.

SHOUT IT OUT Claude Ruiz-pi­casso con­jured the spirit of 1917 Rus­sia in his booth de­sign for Ga­lerie Gmurzyn­ska at Art Basel Mi­ami

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