Vladimir Restoin Roitfeld and Andy Valmorbida on Their Quest to Make the Art World "a Lot More Fun"

Vladimir Restoin Roitfeld and Andy Valmorbida  on Their Quest to Make the Art World "a Lot More Fun"
A detail of Richard Hambleton's "Wave" (1984)
(Courtesy the artist and Nadine Johnson & Associates, Inc.)

Jet-setting curators and art dealers VladimirRestoin Roitfeld and Andy Valmorbida are wrapping up their two-year GiorgioArmani-sponsored global tour of artist Richard Hambleton's work in a bigway — with an opening at Phillips de Pury & Company's uptown location on ParkAvenue, in the midst of New York Fashion Week.

After theirfirst Hambleton show in New York in 2009, the duo took the exhibition toCannes, London, Milan, and Moscow — reportedly selling out of Hambleton's worksat several locations — before bringing it back to the artist's hometown.

For thefinal installation, Valmorbida and Restoin Roitfeld have assembled aretrospective of approximately 50 pieces of the New York artist's work, fromthe 1980s to the present. ARTINFO spoke to the pair about their experiencereviving the reclusive artist's career after 25 years without an exhibition;about luxury labels sponsoring art projects; working with Armani, the newartist they signed on to their roster; and why they moved the show fromPhillips de Pury's downtown location to host it uptown.

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Vladimir, Louis Vuittonsponsored your first show in 2009, which featured P.C. Valmorbida, DavidMushegain, and Salim Langatta. What made you approach a fashion brand aboutsponsoring an art show?

RestoinRoitfeld: Two years before my first show, I went to an event in L.A. sponsoredby Louis Vuitton. It was a Murakami exhibition at the Museum of ContemporaryArt and the energy they had in mixing art and fashion was really new and fresh,and was bringing something extra to other exhibitions that I had gone to in thepast. That's why Louis Vuitton did my first show.

Art andfashion have been colliding for 50 years. In the 1950s a lot of labels alreadywere collaborating with different artists on design and fashion shows. A lot offashion labels have been getting inspiration from a lot of artists, and I thinkthis fashion is art. It creates a lot of buzz, brings in a lot of differentpeople, and a very large audience to exhibitions. It's not the very closedaudience that galleries have, and we're making it a lot more fun. I think thatall this comes down to us building up all those trends and power into one mainevent for one artist. I think that's been working out very well. We've beenvery lucky to find artists that big labels, like Vuitton and Prada, were readyto put their names to.

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Did youever approach the labels with an artist that they were reluctant to put theirnames behind?

Restoin Roitfeld: To be completely honest,we've worked with very limited sponsors. In 2009, Louis Vuitton gave me areally small budget to produce a small exhibition in New York for threeup-and-coming photographers. I knew one guy at Giorgio Armani who came to methat night and said "we're looking for an interesting art project toparticipate and sponsor and be part of."

Did youselect you approach Armani to sponsor Hambleton because of that conversationduring your first show? 

Restoin Roitfeld: Andy and I were introduced to Hambleton a fewmonths later, and I knew that the 1980s was an era Mr. Armani knew very well. Igot a file of images from all the exhibitions and museum shows that Richard haddone, and Andy and I sent it to the people at Armani with a proposal for a fewshows and a tour around the world. This was April. We got a call back from themarketing office saying "we haven't seen Mr. Armani so happy in weeks,that he loves Richard and that he knew about the work. Two days later, Andy andI flew to Milan and since then, they've been the only fashion house we've beenworking with. This is our sixth exhibition for Hambleton in two years, and fourof them have been done with Armani.

You usually hold your exhibitions in pop-upgalleries in industrial spaces. Why Phillips de Pury this time around?

Valmorbida: For usthat's a pop-up gallery space as well. It's somewhere we're bringing our brandto, a different location. It's an amazing venue, on Park Avenue and 57thStreet. It's on two floors, and the second floor has 50-foot ceilings.

RestoinRoitfeld: "Pop-up" is not really a term that we fit. We're doing museum-styleexhibitions all around the world in different locations. It gives you thefreedom and ability to put on shows whenever you want and wherever you want,from an industrial venue to a collaboration with a major institution in the artworld.

Why did it movefrom Phillips de Pury's downtown location?

Valmorbida: We weredoing it downtown, then we thought uptown would be a better fit, because it'sFashion Week.

RestoinRoitfeld: It changed a few times, it went from uptown to downtown to uptown.When you're dealing with big productions, things always change. In the end,uptown was a better fit for every one of us.

The artistsyou represent often have a connection to street art and graffiti. Any reasonthat you're drawn to this genre?

RestoinRoitfeld: Some of them are not. Nicolas [Pol, who only Restoin Roitfeld represents], for example, has nothing to dowith street art. I wouldn't consider Hambleton to be a street artist.

Valmorbida:He just uses a street art as a canvas. He wasn't intentionally going out tobecome a graffiti artist. It's just fallen into our hands.

How many artists do you have on your rosterright now?

RestoinRoitfeld:
We're working with four. We just signed a new artist.

We have RETNA, Pol,Hambleton, and we started with Ouattara Watts. The first show with Ouattarra willbe in New York City in February next year. And we'll probably end up doing aworld tour with him as well, over 24 months.

What is itlike working with the artists you represent?

Valmorbida: The firsttwo artists [Hambleton and RETNA] were probably the most difficult on theplanet, but it was a really good experience working with them. It teaches you alot. If they are difficult, it just makes us tougher and we get better results.Nothing great is easy.

How did youselect the pieces for the Hambleton retrospective? 


Valmorbida:We got them from collectors that we knew had his works. One of the mostconsuming parts of the job dealing with Richard is sourcing the product,because we get very limited work from him. So the last two-and-a-half yearswe've been all over the world looking for his works. Many people who have themare reluctant to sell them.

RestoinRoitfeld: It's a mix of pieces we've sold in the past, private collectors thatown some pieces from Richard from the early '80s until the late '90s, some ofthe work that Andy I own.

Valmorbida:About 25 percent of the show is for sale, but the prices have changed over thelast few years from what we were offering two years ago.

Are thereany new works?

Restoin Roitfeld: Wehave new works in the show, but we can't disclose how many we have yet.

You already hosted a Richard Hambletonexhibition in New York in 2009. Why are you wrapping up the tour with New York?

Valmorbida: We startedin New York and we wanted to finish it in New York. We took it through Cannes,London, Moscow, Milan, and to close the world tour it's really good to bring itback to  where the artist's origin is. People will really get to see theart now. We've pulled out his best work from the '80s, we've got hismasterpiece, a wave painting from the '80s which runs over 24 feet, over ninefeet high. We've got about 50 works covering the whole Phillips space.

WillHambleton be there?

Yes, he'sgoing to show up.

Why do youoften hold your openings during Fashion Week?

Valmorbida:It's just a busy time of year when everyone is in town.

RestoinRoitfeld: We know that there's a large crowd international people coming. It'sa lot more fun to do it during this time.

Are a lotof your friends in the fashion world art collectors as well?

Valmorbida: A few peoplefrom fashion brands have bought from us for sure. But most of our clients arefrom around the world, and have nothing to do with the fashion industry.

Have yourfashion connections helped you in your art endeavors?

Valmorbida: Theconnection in fashion that's really helped us is Mr. Armani himself. Hebelieved in this project, he knew of Richard Hambleton's shadow works from the '80s, he saw the story, and he said this has to be told.