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The new Galerie Emmanuel Perrotin opened last week in New York with an inaugural exhibition of work by Paola Pivi. The gallery’s celebratory dinner and after-party at the iconic Russian Tea Room was the party everyone was talking about for days afterward, with carnival games by artists like KAWS (ball throw), Daniel Arsham (ring toss), and Takashi Murakami (claw machine).
Prior to the over-the-top opening, we spoke with Perrotin about his New York debut for Whitewall‘s fall 2013 Fashion Issue, out this week. Find here a first look at the article.
The Parisian contemporary art dealer Emmanuel Perrotin has developed a reputation in the art world for unmatched charisma and dynamism. In one instance, he hired a private detective to stalk the French artist Sophie Calle, paying homage to her 1981 work La Filature, in which she hired a detective to pursue herself. It was a uniquely spirited attempt to persuade the artist to join his Paris-based Galerie Perrotin—and it worked.
It wasn’t a surprise then when, halfway through a conversation during Frieze New York last spring, Perrotin paused to recall a recent effort to convince another artist—whom he dreamed of working with—to do a show with him. “I said, ask me anything you want, and she’s telling me she is a huge fan of this famous rapper, who she dreams of doing a project with,” Perrotin recollects. “So the day after, I call my friend (who knows him) and send her an e-mail saying, no problem, you have him!”
Of course, the artist’s territorial New York gallery said no to Perrotin’s wacky offer, something he gives as a reason for his latest venture: a 4,300-square-foot new gallery space in New York, set to open this fall on September 18. In an act of defiance, Perrotin felt he could get the artists he wanted far more easily if he went ahead and opened his own gallery in the city.
With galleries in Paris, Hong Kong, and, for a while, Miami, Perrotin has grown to become one of the most influential contemporary art dealers, representing a diverse roster of artists that includes Elmgreen & Dragset, Bernard Frize, and KAWS. Now, with a New York gallery under the directorship ofs Peggy Leboeuf—the former chief director of Galerie Perrotin—he intends to present a full-year schedule of solo and group exhibitions for the U.S. market.
Significantly, Perrotin has settled on two floors of a heritage building on the Upper East Side for the space, rather than joining the masses in Chelsea. “What I like on the Upper East Side are the shows,” Perrotin explained. “When you visit galleries on the Upper East Side, you visit one by one and it’s a destination.”
Perrotin started his career at just 21, organizing exhibitions out of his Paris apartment. Since then, he has always had a taste for the new, launching the careers of both Takashi Murakami and Maurizio Cattelan before anyone else looked twice at them (he can even be credited with giving Damien Hirst his first commercial gallery show in 1991). Never one to conform, he publicized the 1995 opening of an early Cattelan show by dressing, on the artist’s request, as a pink phallus with rabbit ears for the duration of the evening.
An artist Perrotin is currently hailing as “the next big thing in New York” is the Italian-born Paola Pivi, who will have the inaugural exhibition in the new space come September. Entitled “Ok, you are better than me, so what?” it will be Pivi’s first solo show in the city, a long way from when Cattelan introduced her to the dealer at the 1999 Venice Biennale. Remembering her piece untitled (airplane)—an old warplane turned on its back—Perrotin said, “I was looking at her and I was like, just a second, either the gallery is totally nuts to help you produce this or you are a genius. Let’s do a show together.”
Over the years, Perrotin has not only located a live leopard for Pivi, but also lined a gallery floor with 3,000 cups of cappuccino. This time, he promises to organize something even more hyperbolic for her forthcoming exhibit. The nature of the work is being kept under wraps, but he vows to follow the dreams of his artist and promises that, whatever happens, the show “will be very spectacular.”
Striking a balance between the needs of the artist and those of the gallery is not uncommon for the dealer. Whether he is communicating with journalists or negotiating with collectors, Perrotin admits, “That’s my job, to be a diplomat sometimes.” This diplomacy means that he has maintained successful relationships with his artists for many years and, furthermore, is critical of some dealers’ tendencies to prioritize sales figures over creativity. “Dealers can try and make the artists push the price over the top by ensuring they don’t produce too many works,” he laments. It’s something he finds “very sad.”
Currently, Perrotin is investing all his energies into the new gallery, with hopes of achieving similar success to his Paris and Hong Kong spaces. In true Perrotin style, he remains undeterred by the language barrier in New York. “I’ll never learn to speak very good English because then I won’t be able to get into nightclubs,” he jokes. “You know my trick to get into nightclubs? I say to the bouncer, ‘I’m very sorry, sir. I know it looks show off, but I’m a member of Daft Punk. You don’t know my face but you play my music every night and it would be very unfair if I don’t get in’—and it works!”
Perrotin isn’t joking, however, when asked if he saw it as a necessity to open a gallery in a cultural capital such as New York. After pausing, he concludes: “It’s not an obligation. It’s a fantasy, a dream.”