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‘We Are Trying to Create Energy Centers’: Hauser & Wirth’s Marc Payot on Redefining the Art Gallery

Hauser & Wirth partner and vice president Marc Payot joined the contemporary art gallery in 2000, when, as he recalls, “we were in Zurich and only in Zurich. We all fit around one table.” Now, with additional spaces in New York, London, Los Angeles and Hong Kong, it is one of the largest and preeminent galleries in the world.

You’ve signed several new artists in the past year, including Mika Rottenberg and Glenn Ligon. Are you always on the lookout?

I still see ourselves at the beginning of development. Iwan [Wirth, cofounder] is not even 50 years old; I am around there. We still have a spirit of building. We are presented with opportunities where we fall in love with an artist. An example: Charles Gaines, such an important figure within the conceptual practice, with huge influence on a whole generation.

Diversity has always been part of our thinking. It’s also important for us to connect dots. We have Mark Bradford, one of the most successful living American artists. His two very important influences are Jack Whitten [also at H&W] and Gaines. To have the father generation, Gaines and Whitten, and then Bradford—it’s very important to create these links.

Several smaller galleries have closed in the last few years. Without casting blame, do you, as one of a handful of mega galleries, feel in some way responsible?

It’s comparable to what’s happening in society: a top level doing very well and the rest of the world struggling. The art world is reflecting that. So yes, I think this gap is a big problem.

There is definitely an important place for small and midsize galleries. But they will need to be very smart business people, which a lot of them are not. It used to be OK to have the charm and the great sense for artists. That’s not enough anymore. I’m absolutely convinced the market will bring in a new generation of dealers.

Hauser & Wirth

Hauser & Wirth’s new St. Moritz space.  Courtesy of Hauser & Wirth

Otherwise, if young artists can’t show, it’s not good for you down the road.

It’s terrible, absolutely. I always say to collectors, “One part of what you’re buying should be artists you don’t know. Trust a dealer of a younger generation.”

What are you excited about now?

David Hammons. I’ve been working on this show [in LA through August 11] close to two years with him. The gallery does not represent him. No one does. He represents himself. The show is his largest to date. It’s incredible to see on an artistic, poetic level—like an alchemist, he turns practically nothing into a masterpiece.

We are opening our new building next door [in New York’s Chelsea] in the first months of 2020. It’s a very muscular building. We have not decided anything, but it’s possible we’ll create a third entity, which is something in between [it and the H&W townhouse uptown].

I am a strong believer that there is a real hunger for culture and art. We are trying to create energy centers, where you have multiple reasons to go. In LA we have a courtyard, a restaurant, a bookshop, a whole educational program. We have on the weekend up to 3,000 people—more than New York. This is absolutely possible and essential for what art can do—changing our world, changing our perception, what we think.

Sounds like a museum.

We are absolutely not a museum because we are selling. What I’m interested in is a new definition of what a gallery can be.

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