Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Larry Gagosian Speaks – About Maguire and DiCaprio and What It Takes to Visit Richard Prince’s Studio

It’s notoriously difficult to score an interview with close-mouthed mega-art dealer Larry Gagosian -- so difficult that when the Wall Street Journal published an article about him last April, the fact that he had actually spoken with the reporter was almost bigger news than what he said.

Larry Gagosian
But he was compelled to answer questions under oath in Cariou v. Prince, the closely watched case that last March found him, his gallery, and artist Richard Prince liable for infringing photographer Patrick Carriou’s copyright.  That case is now on appeal, and this report is based in part on documents filed with the court on October 26, 2011.

Gagosian’s deposition, taken in October 2009, and documents that are part of the evidence have a couple of eyebrow-raising tales.  He testified, for example, that Tobey Maguire and Maguire’s best buddy Leonardo DiCaprio were interested in Prince’s “Canal Zone” paintings – the series that would later be found infringing – and “my recollection is they were going to buy one jointly.” 

“Is that unusual?” Cariou’s lawyer asked him. 

“Extremely,” Gagosian replied. 

The joint purchase was never consummated.

Gagosian also revealed that he only rarely has a written contract with his artists -- he doesn’t have one with Prince -- and that employees who close a sale get a commission that’s taken out of the gallery’s percentage of the buyer’s payment.

"Studio Visits Are a Major Seduction"

 The real meat, though, is the inside look at the callous, sometimes contemptuous attitude of Gagosian and his staff toward the rich, famous, and beautiful who have made him so successful. 

Several weeks before “Canal Zone” was due to open, one of his salesmen told Gagosian that he was meeting with a client who had already bought two paintings by Prince.  (The “Canal Zone” works sold for as much as $2.43 million.)

“I'm trying to sell him more Prince . . .,” the email said. “Is there any way to visit Richard's studio in Rensselaerville the week of November 10? Studio visits are a major seduction for this guy.”

“Only if he buys another painting,” was Gagosian’s response.

There was a flurry of emails about the guest list for a dinner the night “Canal Zone” opened, including this emphatic instruction from one gallery staffer to 16 others:  “Larry would like the opening and dinner to be ‘kick ass’ so please invite celebrities/moma/gugg/whitney curators and other clients who will BUY his work.”

Models "Look Good at a Dinner Table"

Gagosian himself had the final say over who was invited, and his personal assistant at a couple of points requested further information.   “Before Larry approves this list he would like to know if you have sold any art to these people.  If so, he would like to see proof,” reads one email. 

The assistant later asked who a couple of invitees were, and received this reassuring answer:  “Their parents are the wealthiest people in Holland, worth 5 billion.”  “ok,” she emailed back.

Cariou’s attorney asked Gagosian why there were so many fashion models – the guest list included the likes of Elle Macpherson, Kate Moss, Christy Turlingon, and Lauren Hutton. 

“They look good at a dinner table,” said Gagosian.

Q. And do you also want to include celebrities to generate some buzz for the show?

A. Yeah –

Memory Lapse

Memory lapses are not uncommon at a deposition, but they are sometimes -- although one can't say that's necessarily the case here  -- a cover for avoiding an answer that could harm one’s case or reputation.

Gagosian couldn’t remember if he had given Prince – who at the had been showing with Gagosian for only a few years -- any payment to join his gallery. “I think not,” he testified.  “But my memory’s not perfect.”  Of course, Gagosian does pay Prince 60% of the sale price of his work, whereas the usual rate, at least at other galleries, is 40-50%.

Gagosian could not remember, either, whether he had ever been a party to a lawsuit, even though, among other cases he's been involved in, a few years previous he’d settled a highly publicized suit in which the IRS alleged that he and a couple of associates had set up a shell company to avoid taxes. The IRS sought $26 million in unpaid taxes and penalties.  Gagosian and co-defendant Peter Brant – art collector and Gagosian client -- made the case go away by paying a reported $9.1 million.

“Have you ever been a party to a lawsuit before?” Cariou’s attorney asked.

A. I don't know.

Q. Okay. Have you ever been a plaintiff in a lawsuit?

A. I don't think so.

Q. Have you ever been a defendant in a lawsuit?

A. Not that I recall.

With some prodding, Gagosian remembered something, saying, “You know, I don't know if they were lawsuits actually. One was -- I'm just trying to remember if they were lawsuits or why I was -- I don't recall accurately.”

Maybe if you sell $1 billion of art a year – an estimate the Wall Street Journal quoted in April – you can afford to be oblivious to legal claims against you.  Gagosian said, at any rate, that he’d seen neither the complaint nor the answer in Cariou v. Prince.

Image pulled from the internet.
Text Copyright 2011 Laura Gilbert