In 1992, principals Ursula Hauser and Manuela and Iwan Wirth opened Hauser & Wirth in Zurich, focusing primarily on Modernist works with the purpose of entering the secondary market. Naturally, the gallery quickly gained interest in the contemporary market and opened a second location in Westminster, London, in 2003. At the press lunch last week, Iwan Wirth said that New York has always been on his radar, and the site necessary to make Hauser & Wirth a completely “international” contemporary art enterprise (Wirth set up with David Zwirner in 2000, but has disbanded since Hauser & Wirth arrived stateside). Well here it is, with the public opening of the gallery’s Upper East Side space.
While certainly a blue chip outfit, Hauser & Wirth maintains a decidedly difficult to sell roster of artists. London’s Financial Times called them “the ultimate market place of ideas,” which sounds like both a victory for conceptual art and salute to capitalism’s broad-reaching grasp. Pragmatically, this makes Hauser & Wirth responsible for Christoph Büchel’s gargantuan sometimes lawsuit-garnering architectural interventions and most recently reinventions of Allan Kaprow’s piles of tires. As an artist, once you’re in the gallery, you’re in for good. At the dinner Wednesday night at Upper East Side bistro Orsay (the second night in a row, after a Frick reception described by one collector as “pre-recession”), Hauser & Wirth vice president Marc Payot bragged of the gallery’s track record of “never ending a relationship with an artist.”
The gallery picked up new relationships with staff, which is a fortés. After LA gallerist Anna Helwing closed her gallery last year, they promptly moved her to Zurich. For New York, Hauser & Wirth imported vice president and partner Marc Payot from Zurich with his assistant Mirella Roma. Cay Sophie Rabinowitz, formerly US Editor of Parkett and briefly artistic director of Art Basel, is settled as liaison to museums and head of special projects. Blair Taylor, formerly director of Peres Projects in New York, has also joined the team.
The gallery’s 99-year-old, four-story townhouse once was home to the historic Martha Jackson Gallery, among New York’s earliest contemporary ventures. The space switched hands to a less noted collector, Don King, who used the small mansion as his home and business headquarters. Hauser & Wirth bought the property in 1997 as an outpost for private business with New York clients. An architectural makeover by Annabelle Selldorf gave visitors streamlined access to all four floors of the building, preparing it to showcase fine art.
The inaugural exhibition is an update to Allan Kaprow’s 1961 Environment Yard, curated by Harvard’s Helen Molesworth. Hauser & Wirth reportedly gave Molesworth complete creative control of Yard’s reinvention, who then commissioned three artists who significantly do not work with the gallery: William Pope.L, Josiah McElheny, and Sharon Hayes, of whom only one actually installed in the gallery space.
Pope.L’s Yard (To Harrow) fills Hauser & Wirth’s ground level, and is the most true to form reinvention of Kaprow’s accumulation of rubber tires. Pope.L’s includes Vaseline-covered body bags and a sound piece featuring a muffled impersonator of President Barack Obama. At the New York Marble Cemetery, Sharon Hayes installs Yard (Sign), a series of hand-painted signs based on Kaprow’s written statements, from October 2-4; Josiah McElheney’s photo projection of a local junkyard, Yard (Junkyard) occupies the Queens Museum of Art, September 23–October 4.
In the very concept of a “happening” there is a tension with documentation, whether it be as an art object or as historical evidence. On the second floor of the 69th Street gallery, Barry Rosen, the adviser of Kaprow’s Estate, curates a selection of framed posters and other ephemera, including correspondence between Kaprow and the museums that hosted Yard over its ten re-installations. Some of the letters are simply photocopies of originals stapled to the wall, intended to represent Kaprow’s ideas in their most direct, textual form. Although the documents aren’t for sale, one imagines that Hauser & Wirth will turn them into gold.
Hauser & Wirth is located at 32 East 69th Street, New York. Yard is on view through October 23.The Queens Museum of Art is located at the NYC Building, Queens. The New York Marble Cemetery is located at 411/2 Second Avenue, New York.