"It’s Become Extremely Brutal": Pace's Marc Glimcher on What's Driving the Gallery's Splashy London Expansion

"It’s Become Extremely Brutal": Pace's Marc Glimcher on What's Driving the Gallery's Splashy London Expansion
The Royal Academy of Art in London
(Courtesy neilalderney123 via Flickr)

Pace Gallery’s permanent London space has been a long time coming. Two years after opening a small office in London’s SoHo neighborhood, the gallery has finally secured a 15-year lease on a sprawling space at the esteemed Royal Academy. “Finding a big space in Mayfair is like hunting in a haystack,” Marc Glimcher, Pace’s president, told ARTINFO in an interview. “If you walk around, you realize just a few of those spaces exist.”

Come October, Pace will open its 9,000-square-foot venue at 6 Burlington Gardens, in the west wing of the Royal Academy. The blue-chip gallery will lease the space from the art institution in what Charles Saumarez Smith, chief executive of the RA, characterized as “a public/private partnership.” Until recently, the space was occupied by the Christie’s-owned gallery Haunch of Venison, which had temporarily left its space off Bond Street while it was under renovations.

Pace will share the upscale Mayfair neighborhood with a number of other American gallery outposts, including Gagosian, Michael Werner, and David Zwirner. “London is a place where citizens of certain regions come to really live, not just to visit,” Glimcher said, when asked about the city’s appeal as an art market.  “Just look at the nationalities of the kids in English schools. People from the Middle East, Eastern Europe, Russia, and India — they are all committed to London.”

The space will be led by former Gagosian director Mollie Dent-Brocklehurst and opens just before Frieze Art Fair with the exhibition “Rothko/Sugimoto: Dark Paintings and Seascapes.” The show — which marks Mark Rothko’s first gallery exhibition in London since 1963 — will juxtapose approximately 10 of the Abstract Expressionist’s late black and gray paintings with 10 of Hiroshi Sugimoto’s famous photographic series capturing the horizon line. Sugimoto, a longtime fan of Rothko’s dark paintings, hatched the idea with Pace’s Andrea Glimcher and Christopher Rothko, the painter’s son, over lunch. Most of the pieces will be borrowed from Sugimoto and the Rothko family.

Architectural purists need not fear that Pace’s contemporary program will lead to an overhaul of the Academy’s Beaux Arts building, which was originally constructed in 1870. “It will still feel like you’re in that building,” said Glimcher, who has tapped architect David Chipperfield for the design. “We won’t be closing up the beautiful windows and turning them into a white wall.” (The RA is currently undergoing its own renovation, to be complete in 2018.)

Asked if he feared the new European Resale Rights directive, which requires that a portion the proceeds of a resold artwork must go to the artist’s descendants, would discourage buyers, Glimcher quipped, “For better and for worse, we function in a very rarefied group of people... People who have gotten to that stage are very loathe to change the way they do things” just because of a change in the tax code. 

Pace’s mini-empire now clocks in at seven galleries — two in London, one in Beijing, and four in New York (with the latest opening on 25th Street this fall). Glimcher acknowledges it’s difficult not to feel pressure to expand Pace’s brand. “There certainly is fierce competition over artists,” he said. “It’s become extremely brutal, and for a small group of galleries, having a space in another city gives them a foothold that they will try and utilize with the artists” — in other words, to poach them. At a certain point, he said, the dynamic is not dissimilar to “the lemmings all rushing faster and faster to the edge of the cliff.”

How, then, is it done right? “You can open a gallery defensively to protect your artists, or you can go where the artists are,” Glimcher said. He noted Pace’s Beijing space largely exhibits the gallery’s Chinese artists. “It doesn't mean you aren't also defending yourself at the same time.”