Lee Rosenbaum has some very smart commentary on her blog today about the Great Gagosian Defection of 2012 and the rise of David Zwirner. She notes that dealer Larry Gagosian faces what is referred to in the financial world as headline risk, or the possibility of stories in the media having a negative effect on stock price. Gagosian doesn’t have a public stock price, but defecting artists are certainly bad press, likely influence his bottom line, and potentially lead to a similar defection of clients (certainly making it harder for him to attract new ones). Rosenbaum also notes that two dealers, Zwirner and Iwan Wirth, are well-positioned to benefit from this (“And since artists have choices, I want to be one of those potential choices,” Zwirner told Rosenbaum.)
The important point here, which Rosenbaum doesn’t get into, is that the best way to mitigate headline risk is to have a very good PR strategy. It’s no longer clear that Gagosian does. He almost never speaks to the press. The recent New York Magazine profile of him only uses secondary sources (on the record, at least). He spoke to Interview Magazine relatively recently, but it was mostly a softball interview by the magazine’s chairman and Gagosian’s longtime friend, Peter Brant. Zwirner, on the other hand, throws elaborate press previews several times a year — he’s not always there, but it’s not unheard of, and he’s certainly spent a lot of time explaining his new 20th Street space to the media. Wirth is similarly accessible.
Before now, Gagosian’s stonewalling the press hasn’t hurt him at all — his success spoke for him. His lack of availability created this myth-like quality that surrounded his name. But it seems that the strategy isn’t working for him anymore. It will be interesting to see if he changes it anytime soon.
UPDATE: It’s been brought to my attention that Gagosian recently did an interview with British Vogue. Perhaps he has already started changing his strategy, in which case, I admit I’m a step behind (or British Vogue is, for its lack of posting this interview online).
— Shane Ferro