Marc Glimcher on the Future of Pace

Marc Glimcher on the Future of Pace

On the heels of the announcement, last week, that the Pace Gallery had ended its 17-year partnership with the classical-art specialists at Wildenstein, Pace president Marc Glimcher sat down to discuss the gallery's new direction, which includes taking over the current Bortolami Gallery space on 25th Street; hiring Vita Zaman, an artist and former director of London's Ibid Gallery, to work out of Pace's Chelsea space; and taking on London-based Middle East expert and former Phillips de Pury specialist Tamara Corm. According to Glimcher — who has long worked to bring the gallery founded by his father, Arne Glimcher, to the fore of contemporary art — the future depends upon innovation, and seizing the opportunities left in the waning days of the recession.

Let's start with the biggest news: the ending of the Wildenstein relationship. Pace formed the partnership with Wildenstein in 1993, at a pretty dismal point for the art market. Did that contribute to the decision to partner up?

Partly. But it was an older relationship, one that went back to [collector and philanthropist] David Rockefeller, who loves to put people together. He put my father together with Daniel Wildenstein eight years before the partnership was formed, and they hit it off. There was always the idea that one day our families would get together. A lot of Wildenstein collectors wanted to expand into contemporary art. Then, in 1990 and 1991, there came this weak moment in the market, but Pace had a pretty good two years after that, due to our conservative approach to raising artists’ prices. This gave us a sense of stability. And just as is happening now, new collectors were coming into the market, who saw that they could have a chance to get great artworks. It was a good time to have the resources to expand and I was being very aggressive with the idea of pushing forward.

And the Wildensteins saw things similarly?

Daniel did. He said to me, “We both come after the gallery’s founder, so we see things the same way.” It was very exciting. It was off to the races.

The recent ending of that relationship has, by all reports, been amicable. The New York Times reported that as part of the deal, Pace bought out Wildenstein’s part of the joint inventory, and also bought out Wildenstein’s 49 percent share of PaceWildenstein. Hundreds of millions of dollars are said to have changed hands. Is that accurate?

I could comment, but then I’d have to kill myself.

Is there a correlation between the ending of the Wildenstein partnership and a change in Pace’s overall direction?

There is. In 1993, it was clear that change was coming, but how that change was coming was unclear. We certainly made attempts to move in directions that would embrace it.

What change are you referring to?

The globalization of the art world. It has globalized in a different way than anyone thought it would. What it means to be an art collector, or an artist, is in flux, and that’s fantastic. Over the last decade, we’ve seen the whole “what does it mean to be an art gallery?” question come up. The answer, for a lot of innovative people, has been a franchise, a brand. That has been incredibly successful, and Pace has participated in it to some extent, but there have been a lot of dealers who, along with the auction houses, made the concept of planting their brand around the world a defining characteristic of what they do.

So what's the next step?

What I see as the next evolutionary step after the franchise is the network. Creating and being part of a network is something that the rest of the world has been deeply engaged in for at least the last 10 years. Because of its strange characteristics, the art world is genetically behind the rest of the world, so the idea of networks is just now taking root.

What would be an example from outside the art world?

McDonald's is a franchise — its brand becomes more and more powerful through the opening of more and more McDonald's. Apple, on the other hand, while it’s a powerful franchise with a powerful brand, also becomes more and more powerful through a network, by spreading its mission to more and more independent entities. The more people buy into the mission of Apple, the more powerful Apple becomes. Really interesting things can be done when you start to multiply your plan by the power of lots of people.

Art dealers already network to a certain extent, no?

Yes. You can say that we're networking when we send a Chuck Close show to White Cube gallery in London, but that’s a primitive form of it. It doesn’t take full advantage of the potential that’s there. The relationships between galleries are going to change.

How? Will the art world function more on the model of the entertainment industry?

I see that coming, but that’s further down the road. If we’re in version 2.0 at the moment, that’s version 3.0. Just as the studios got busted and had to give up their artists, someday the galleries will get busted and have to give up theirs. But the needs of the artist, and of the galleries, are still non-economic enough that it’s impossible to imagine a workable agency system. The “ten-percentery,” as they used to call Hollywood, is a big volume business that still goes against the concept of what it means to be an artist. In the art world, everyone from Damien Hirst down to Joe Schmo still basically has the same kind of system: they have art dealers, they have a show, and they sell the things from the show. In the meantime, there are other issues that are going to rise in importance.

Like?

One of them is information. We’ve spent the last fifteen years creating a system that holds all the information about everything we’ve ever done at the gallery.

Pace does have a history of being prodigious archivists.

We’re a little fanatical about it. We’ve just launched our Web site, where every news event, every party, and the 60,000 works of art that have passed through our doors will be searchable.

And the other?

The ability to extend the gallery geographically. A gallery like ours has huge resources for its artists, so the question becomes, how can those resources be extended to other parts of the world while making use of the local phenomenon of art dealing? Our gallery in Beijing, which opened two years ago, is very much the Beijing Commune gallery, where the person who runs it, Leng Lin, came from, as did the other people who work there. There is a level of autonomy, and a way of functioning that is based on the concept of a network. They draw on our resources, and get from us a way of framing their mission.

So Leng Lin and Beijing Commune turned out to be well-suited to this concept of a Pace network?

Leng Lin would never be a franchise. It has to be his thing. That’s the kind of person you want to work with. That requires not that your brand disappear, or not be pushed forward, but just that it be subjugated to the network a little bit.

Would you say Pace is in expanding mode at the moment?

Yes. When things go sideways or upside-down in the art market, as they have over the past year or so, there is a flight to safety and security. Over the past two years, we’ve had a relatively large number of people come to us who want to sell privately and with great confidentiality. Artists have also approached us. Times like these tend to be good for our gallery. If you have some firm footing in an uncertain time, you have opportunities to expand. Of course, there have been times when we missed those opportunities.

Like?

Around 2000.

The dotcom bust.

Yes. We were doing quite well, so when that hit, it was a time for us to take more risks than we ended up taking. Now there is incredible opportunity once again, and we feel very strongly that we know what to do.

So let’s speak about some changes you are making, in terms of both staff and space.

In Chelsea, we are making some changes. The Dia Art Foundation is taking back our 22nd Street space, so we are rethinking Chelsea and taking a new gallery down there. It’s the fantastic space that is currently Bortolami Gallery, on 25th Street. It’s not the big, bloated, whose-is-bigger type of gallery, but it’s beautiful. And it’s very close to our existing space down the block. There is a search going on for another interesting, major space.

What about changes in staff?

Some new people are joining us as art dealers. One is Vita Zaman, former director at London’s Ibid Projects. She will be working in our gallery on 25th Street. She will also be coming with us to Moscow in a couple of weeks for the opening of the Rothko exhibition.

You're referring to the Rothko exhibition opening on April 23 at the Garage, the space run by collector Dasha Zhukova. The group of Rothkos in that show once belonged to Ezra Merkin, and Pace worked with the Rothko estate to broker the sale of those paintings to an unnamed client last year for a reported $310 million. Any plans to expand to Moscow?

We are not planning to open a gallery in Moscow, but the right way to establish relationships there is to facilitate something like this. These paintings have never really been shown publicly before, and there has never been a Rothko show in Moscow.

There has been speculation that those Rothkos are for sale.

They are not. They are on loan.

What about the Middle East? Is it true that you also hired Tamara Corm, a Middle East expert and former international specialist with the auction house Phillips de Pury & Co.?

Yes, she will be working for us in the Middle East and a lot of other places but will be based in London.

Where do you think we are in the art market cycle at the moment?

Cycles in the market take ten years. Right now there is a lot of re-prioritizing going on. And a lot of talk about who is still strong, who looks weak. There is sort of an obsession among art dealers with appearing strong in a time of weakness.

Is this, generally, a time of reassessment?

Absolutely.

A lot of galleries seem to be moving at the moment, reopening in new spaces. It’s a bit like musical chairs — like SoHo in 1991.

Everything is shifting. This is a time of opportunity, and the market is driven by opportunities that come in two forms: one is great works of art, and the other is artists.

Okay, let's start with great works of art.

Although much of it has been done privately, and will continue to be done so, really great works of art have changed hands. They aren’t cheaper, but they have changed hands. There’s that old line that art dealers give you: “You should just be excited that it’s available, and not looking for it to be cheaper.” Well, this happens to be a moment when that is not just a line. This is when people get an opportunity to buy incredible works of art. It’s also a time when new clients come forward. In 1992, at a similar moment in the market cycle, we hosted a lunch for Chase bank. They had some top clients in and a guy comes over to my father and says, "I could never get your attention before” — which wasn’t true, he’d just never met this person before — “Now maybe I can start collecting art, I’m ready.” It was [Barnes & Noble founder, art collector, and former Dia patron] Len Riggio. The same thing is happening now. There are half a dozen new collectors who have established themselves at this moment.

What about the other opportunity, in artists?

Artists are uncertain right now and there’s a sense among them that there are things that are more important than the short-term value of a gallery. The long-term values of a gallery were not very appreciated at the end of the last cycle. Now they look more important. Hiroshi Sugimoto is an example of that.

When Sugimoto left Gagosian to join your gallery several months ago, it seemed to confirm Pace's reputation as an “establishment gallery.” Are you at all interested in changing that image? After all, you’ll be inheriting this gallery eventually.

The gallery is seen as establishment. I guess that has always bugged me. My father doesn’t get bugged by it, because he doesn’t listen to anybody. He doesn't see us as an establishment gallery. To him, it's about this: 50 years ago, his father died, and his brother told him he had to start an art gallery because they were broke, and he was a painter and called all his friends and they started a gallery for radical art.

Then that little gallery for radical art got bigger.

And a gallery gets to look pretty establishment when it gets big, and when artists stay for 30 years. It went from being a minimalism gallery to being an establishment gallery. That doesn't bother my father, never has. But it's natural for it to bug me. During the boom, some galleries did things to make themselves appear less establishment. But my feeling is that all the things they did were very commercial things to do. Go after this group of artists that you don't actually have any interest in and don't believe in, follow this group of collectors. Somehow following the trends and doing the most fashionable thing came to be what seemed anti-establishment. To me, those are the most establishment things you could possibly do. Whereas if you stuck to building a community of artists, and thinking of all these things that could be done for them and with them, you were in danger of looking like an establishment organization. So I say, all we have to do now is to push harder and further, and then that idea of whether or not we are establishment will be irrelevant, because we'll be doing things that have never been done before, like pushing the definition of an art gallery, and the boundaries of being an art dealer, and doing all of this in the service of our artists.