Hauser & Wirth opens an auspiciously unassuming gallery in Manhattan
Story by Alyson Sheppard / Photography by Eddie Brannan
Berlin is the city for emerging artists. London is the city for flourishing museums. And New York City? It’s the best place for all the art market players to come together. At least, that’s what the directors of the popular line of European galleries Hauser & Wirth believe. This fall they expanded their exhibition space across the Atlantic with the hopes of making a new impact on the art scene: Hauser & Wirth New York.
“There’s no other place in the world for art like New York,” says Marc Payot, partner and vice president of Hauser & Wirth. “This mixture and concentration of all aspects of the art scene — amazing galleries, museums, curators, and collectors in the same place — cannot be matched.”
Hauser & Wirth galleries opened in Zürich in 1992, then London in 2003, and today serves as a global representative for dozens of reputable and promising contemporary artists from Anri Sala to Zhang Enli. In fact, London’s Financial Times has described them as “a marketplace of ideas” for modern visionaries. In September, they opened their New York gallery in an unassuming townhouse on the quiet Upper East Side, deliberately choosing to stay away from a huge, trendy warehouse downtown.
“We really wanted to focus on content, not just make a power statement,” Payot says, referring to popular galleries that seem to focus more on square footage than artistic substance. He has worked with the company for the past 10 years, and recently moved his family (wife and two little girls) from Switzerland to become the resident director of the New York art space. He admits that adjusting to life in the city has been a challenge, but is excited at the new opportunity for expansion.
“The difference between our galleries in Zürich and London and our New York gallery is the difference between being on the peripheral of the art world and being in the center,” he says. Payot believes they could not get any bigger in Europe. “The next logical step to serve the artist best was to move here.”
The four-story gallery opened its doors with a reinvention of Allan Kaprow’s massive installation Yard, which originally appeared in the same classic building — 32 East 69th St. — in 1961. Filling the backyard with over a thousand climbable black, rubber tires, the curator, Helen Molesworth from the department of contemporary art at the Harvard University Art Museums, re-imagined the lively spirit of the original performance piece. She also simultaneously curated different reinventions of Yard at multiple locations around the boroughs.
From the 1950s up until 1970, this same townhouse homed the daring Martha Jackson Gallery, which was known for giving women artists such as Louise Nevelson their first solo shows. Then it became a property of Hauser & Wirth, and they continued to display art under Martha Jackson’s personal goal of being “an art dealer whose primary role is that of a mediator between the artist and society.”
The building also served as a venue for Manhattan dealer David Zwirner, whose collection is moving to Chelsea. It was just a few years ago that the Hauser & Wirth company started planning this all-new space, and decided now was the best time to make a long-term commitment to New York, regardless of the current financial situation. They commissioned Annabelle Selldorf, principal architect of Selldorf Architects, to design the space.
“Like Kaprow and every artist we represent,” says Iwan Wirth, president and owner of Hauser & Wirth, “we are devoted first and foremost to an ongoing exploration of ideas and the possibilities of art as a transformational part of contemporary life. We consider our work to be a journey in the company of artists and all who are interested in what they have to say.”
And while the Hauser & Wirth catalog is marbled with rich international artists, only Americans are spotlighted in their first season in New York: Allan Kaprow, Paul McCarthy, Ida Applebroog, Eva Hesse, and Roni Horn. Payot did not realize this commonality, and laughed at its prospect.
“Well, I never thought of it like that,” he says. “Actually, yes, it looks like we focus on American artists in New York because our first season is 100 percent American. But that wasn’t necessarily on purpose; we have a really international program.”
Coming up in November, the gallery is exhibiting a dozen spectacular McCarthy drawings, which are massive at 10 feet by 10 feet each, all on a completely new theme for him: Snow White. In January, Applebroog is exhibiting her collection, Monalisa, followed by Hesse in March, and Horn in May.
Hauser & Wirth could expand in the coming years to more locations around the city, including one of those elusive industrial buildings downtown, depending on what they deem as the local artists’ needs. Payot is confident: “New York is still, in our opinion, the absolute most important place in the art market.”