March 9, 2018
“To be honest with you, I don’t like the idea of putting art in hotels,” says Larry Gagosian, the art dealer.
This is a surprise, because in recent years, his gallery, which has 17 outposts worldwide and reportedly turns over $1 billion a year, has mounted a succession of winter exhibitions by high-profile artists at Eden Rock, a hotel on the French Caribbean island of St Barths, playground of the plutocracy, thereby setting a trend among hotels of this calibre.
Back in 2011, Gagosian was having lunch at Eden Rock’s smart beach restaurant, when the hotel’s owner, David Matthews, approached him with the idea of putting on a show. “I said: OK, but the artists have to like the idea. And I was pleasantly surprised that they were receptive to it.” He reels off a list of blue-chip names: Richard Prince, Jonas Wood, Urs Fischer, Piotr Uklanski, Harmony Korine, Kaws. “Some of them had never been to St Barths, and they fell in love with it. The art world can get very serious. Everything’s become very pressurised. This is a little break from that.”
But there’s clearly a commercial astuteness at work too. Gagosian has a house on St Barths, as do “many, many top collectors”, he adds, singling out Mitchell Rales, the billionaire co-founder of Danaher Corporation and owner of the Glenstone museum in Potomac, Maryland, as an example. “And they like the shows too. They’re fun.” Inevitably he won’t talk numbers — no legitimate business is as discreet as the art world — but one senses the work they’ve shown has sold. So what’s not to like? “I just wouldn’t say it was really a business strategy of mine.”