An Inside Look at the David Zwirner Gallery
Luc Tuymans is one of today’s most influential working painters. His international recognition came through his canvas work in which his extremely precise use of colors serves sensible subjects in his figurative painting style. One cannot stop staring at his representation of our self-destructing society through his decomposed gray apple. Fascinated by the subject of memory and personal representation, he takes images that he considers belonging to our collective memory, like press photography or documentaries. He then “authentically falsifies” them, he said in a conversation with Jean-Paul Mongo at the Geneva Modern and Contemporary Museum of Art. Through his work, Tuymans builds his own mirror reflecting his distinct vision of society focusing on the representation unwanted and untold memories in washed out colors and gloomy dark lights.
David Zwirner, owner of the David Zwirner Gallery, one of the world’s most prestigious galleries (Zwirner was placed fourth in the annual Power 100 list of ArtReview magazine) is currently representing Tuymans. We went there to take a look at the painter’s new exhibition, “Corporate,” and to talk with a friend of ours, Jasper Wilson, who has been working there since 2009.
What is it that you do at the Gallery exactly?
My official position is as an art handler, which entails taking care of the art basically, supervising the shipment to clients. Having a lot of internationals clients, we have to make sure that the transport is safe so that the packaging is well made. And after of course, it’s all about installing the pieces for exhibitions or private viewings for our clients.
Who are you clients?
I mean mostly any art collector or companies who are interested in any artist that we represent.
Who do you represent?
We represent between 30 to 40 different artists, but to name a few: Chris Ofili, Raymond Pettibon, Luc Tuymans, Marlene Dumas, John McCracken, Jason Rhoades.
So are you guys involved with Miami Basel Art Fair next week? It must be pretty hectic at work right now.
Well, yes. Basically, the directors got together at some point for a meeting and talked about the set up of the booth they’re having down there. They had to make a decision on which work they want to bring in Miami, which ones they think will sell. Then the art handlers get a list of all the work that they want. There are actually two departments; there’s art handling and inventory. The people in inventory are in charge of knowing where each piece is, whether it’s at the gallery or at our warehouse in Queens. Once we get the list, we have to check what’s where, what’s packed, what’s not. We get two weeks to get that all consolidated and then it ships out and goes to Miami. So right now we’re packing every art piece so that it reaches its destination safely.
What does this kind of huge art fair represent to you guys? What’s the gallery’s advantage for having a booth there?
Well, Art Basel is two art fairs. One is in Basel, Switzerland in June and then the other is in Miami in December. Art Basel Miami is one of the biggest art fairs not only in America, along with the Armory Show in New York in February, but also internationally. The goal with all art fairs is basically just to make a lot of sales in a short amount of time. People come from all around the world because they know that there will be a large selection of work available. Collectors know that they can find work by all their favorite artists under one roof. It’s such an essential part of the gallery’s sales because in the span of one week in Miami the gallery can sell a considerably higher amount of art than is sold during a regular week in the city.
So what pushed you in that direction? What attracted you in the job?
After I finished school, I interned here for six months and really bonded with all of my coworkers along with enjoying the work. It was so interesting for me because I got to do a lot of assistant work with different artists represented by the gallery and spend time with them. It definitely wasn’t the nine to five job I had feared. Working at a gallery has its perks.
Having worked there for while now, what would you say makes the Zwirner Gallery so special? What differentiates it from the others?
The art market in general is a really weird concept to me. You’re taking someone’s creative expression and outlet and then trying to put a price tag on it and sell it. Some galleries might make it too business minded. I feel that Zwirner has found a good balance between the business and relationships with the artists. There’s a lot of consideration that goes into every deal. It’s something really important for the gallery that all of the artists receive the attention they deserve as well as have their demands met.
Coming back to the Luc Tuymans exhibition, did you install it?
No, I was not working during the install. Whenever you have a painting exhibition, it’s pretty straightforward. The paintings get placed in the space. The placement is a collaborative effort between Mr. Zwirner and the artist. Then the art handlers hang the paintings on the wall in the place they were instructed.
Finally, what was one of your favorite memories since you’ve been working at the gallery?
Taking Luc Tuymans out to parties with my friends or talking about Wu-Tang Clan for hours with Chris Ofili. That’s one thing I like the most about this job — getting to hang out and talk with the artists.