First, we noticed the grassy knolls around the defunct gas pumps at the Getty station at 24th Street and 10th Avenue yesterday. By Thursday, we’re told — one of the biggest nights of art openings of the year in Chelsea — there will be sheep meandering around the grass. Not real sheep, of course, but sculptures by the late Francois-Xavier Lalanne. “Sheep Station,” a public program which officially opens on September 17, will feature 25 of Lalanne’s Moutons and will be the largest flock ever shown together en plein air.
The installation is backed by 41-year-old multi-millionaire, real estate developer, and art collector Michael Shvo. Earlier this year, Shvo purchased the filling station with Victor Homes and is in the process of building a luxury residence on the site. During the construction, the Getty station will feature a series of exhibitions, and the finished residency promises the same.
For the event, Shvo has teamed up with art dealer Paul Kasmin, who handles Lalanne’s estate. Many of Lalanne’s Moutons will be derived from the private collection of Shvo, who apparently owns a comprehensive collection of Lalanne's work. (Check out his wife Seren's Instagram feed for images of “Moutons de Laine” — a different Lalanne's series of sheep — in action).
This isn’t the first time Shvo has tried his hand at blending the arts with his real estate acumen. There was the time in 2008 that Shvo invited art dealer Jack Shainman to embed an art gallery in his condominium at 650 Sixth Avenue. Then in the winter of 2011, Shvo funded “Documents of Desire & Disaster,” an exhibition by David LaChapelle that kicked off Paul Kasmin's space in Istanbul. This last initiative was part of a larger endeavor to help a partner of his who owns the W hotel there, and the district in which it resides, in an attempt to transform the area into the arts district of Istanbul. “He asked me to oversee the launch of that,” Shvo told ARTINFO over the phone. “Being at that time a real estate guy, producing a show that would bring attention to that area was something that I was very interested in.”
Shvo and his wife Seren are also avid collectors, and divide their art into “three subcollections.” In his Pop Art collection he counts numerous Warhols and works by Robert Indiana. In the Hamptons, he amasses works by color-field painters such as Morris Louis, Kenneth Noland, and Tom Downing.
The third segment of his collection is devoted to the work of Lalanne. “Our life is very much embedded with Lalanne sculptures,” he said. “I enjoy them in my office, in our different homes, in our garden. The sheep are only a small portion of what we own. Crocodiles, monkeys...” Though he had never met the artist, he says he did meet Francois's widow Claude Lalanne, who is still active and with whom he collaborated as a duo called Les Lalannes, also represented by Kasmin.
“There’s no other artist that does what they do. Art in their mind was not there to be taken seriously,” Shvo explained. For him the Getty station project is an extension of that ethos. “There’s nothing more surreal than a sheep meadow in the middle with the gas station rising out of the middle of Chelsea.”