Peter Brant Talks to Larry Gagosian About Madonna, Collecting, and Being Misunderstood

In last month’s issue of Interview magazine, megadealer Larry Gagosian gives a rare interview to collector Peter M. Brant, who also happens to be the magazine’s publisher. It’s full of fun facts to know and tell. Larry Gagosian was once Michael Ovitz‘s secretary; Kim Gordon from Sonic Youth was his framer when he lived in Los Angeles. There are also a few newsy bits: Gagosian’s forthcoming restaurant at 980 Madison will include a small gallery on the second floor devoted to exhibiting the work of younger artists. (Bill Acquavella, the patriarch of nearby Acquavella Galleries, has already reserved his own permanent table in the downstairs dining room.)

The gallery tycoon is unapologetic about his take-no-prisoners business philosophy. “If you say, ‘Oh, this is such a nice dealer,’ then it probably means that he hasn’t sold a painting in the last couple years,” he says. He also has very little interest in planning for the future. His exact words are: “Legacy schmegacy.”

In the interest of time, we picked out a few choice Gagosian stories for your procrastinating pleasure below.

Jean-Michel Basquiat lived at Gagosian’s home in Los Angeles for a year. He also brought along a special guest named Madonna.

One day Jean-Michel said,”My girlfriend is coming to stay with me.” I was a little concerned — one too many eggs can spoil an omelet, you know? So I said, “Well, what’s she like?” And he said, “Her name is Madonna and she’s going to be huge.” I’ll never forget that he said that. So Madonna came out and stayed for a few months, and we all got along like one big, happy family.

On a flight back to New York with Gogo, Basquiat got in trouble for smoking on the plane.

Jean-Michel was smoking a little bit of everything at that point, and he lit up a joint in the first-class lounge. I remember the stewardess didn’t really know what to do with these guys—I mean, these were serious, urban-looking guys. One of them was Rammellzee, who had on a white leather trench coat and ski goggles. So we were having a good time, and the stewardess came up and said, “You can’t do what you guys are doing in here.” So Jean-Michel goes, “I’m sorry. I thought this was first class?”

Even early on in his career, as a poster dealer on the streets of Los Angeles, Gagosian had a penchant for poaching.

I got into selling posters after seeing somebody selling posters on the sidewalk. I just basically copied this guy’s business. I even went to the same place he went to buy his posters, Ira Roberts of Beverly Hills, which was a company owned by the father of Michael Kohn, who has a gallery in Los Angeles.

He feels entitled to buy the best work out of one of his shows.

I will say that it sometimes causes problems because another collector will say, “You’re keeping the best one.” That’s a valid criticism, but it doesn’t really bother me. I never buy more than one or two things in a year or two — and, honestly, I feel like I’m entitled. The artists usually don’t mind.

Julia Halperin

(Photo: Craig McDean for Interview)