Amalia Dayan and Daniella Luxembourg
Photo by Arkan Zakharov

Amalia Dayan and Daniella Luxembourg: “It’s a personal quest”

Short Profile

Name: Amalia Dayan
DOB: 1972
Place of birth: Israel
Occupation: Art dealer, gallerist

Name: Daniella Luxembourg
DOB: 1950
Place of birth: Israel
Occupation: Art dealer, gallerist

Ms. Dayan and Ms. Luxembourg, is the art market monopolized by a small number of very successful artists?

Amalia Dayan: I think this is what it seems to the public. Let’s say if you look at auction catalogues, you do see repeatedly the same artists, if you look at art fairs, you do see repeatedly the same artists on the different stands. But I can say from our work experience that in the deals that we do privately, we don’t necessarily feature those same artists. When we have something very special, we know who to call from our client list and it happens behind closed doors.

Daniella Luxembourg: Art fairs, and to that extent even Biennales, take less risks. But I think that can change. It’s not a verdict! If you look at the main galleries in America today, 90% of their artists are American. In the past there were dealers like Leo Castelli and Sidney Janis who were huge catalysts in bringing European artists like Piet Mondrian or Domenico Gnoli to America.

“We are exploring artists that interest us personally. It’s a personal quest.”

So it’s up to the art dealers to usher in that change?

DL: Yes, the art markets are usually most interested in artists from their own country, especially in France and Italy so you do need dealers that will introduce lesser-known artists to the public.

Is that why you try to show more lesser-known artworks at Luxembourg & Dayan?

AD: We are exploring artists that interest us personally. Since we opened, we showed mostly European artists that we love and if you look at their track records, they’re artists that haven’t shown in New York for decades. For example, Domenico Gnoli with whom we recently did two shows — his last show in New York was in 1970 with Sidney Janis! And Alberto Burri who did not have a show in New York for decades as well. So, it’s a personal quest.

DL: I think it’s just more interesting to see certain points in an artist’s career which are very important and seminal to their development that have not necessarily been touched by the market.

What were some of your most interesting discoveries in that sense?

DL: Giacometti! He’s the most important sculptor of the twentieth century. If you look at the Artnet results for Giacometti, you’ll see that his L’Homme Qui Marche was sold for more than a hundred million dollars. Sculptures, unlike paintings, never make so much money! But when we received a piece from a Swiss client to sell, which was a 1926 Giacometti sculpture dating from between the cubist and the surrealist period — I was trying to sell it for a fraction of that, I think one and a half million dollars, and I couldn’t sell it because that huge price had sort of paralyzed the market.

What can you do in that situation?

DL: We actually decided that we had to do something to raise awareness and interest in 1920s and 1930s Giacomettis. So we met the art expert Casimiro Di Crescenzo, who is now part of the committee that authenticates Giacomettis and said, “Let’s look into Giacometti’s own words,” because he wrote about that period. Then we tried to map them and bring all of them to one place in London for the first exhibition, and a few years later, to New York.

Are those record-breaking auction prices problematic for the artists as well?

AD: I think it’s problematic for living artists. It can be very damaging. If you talk to the artists, they tell you that after a huge price at an auction, they go to the studio the next day and the day after and they don’t know what to do with themselves! And they probably try to control the production of their work — how much comes out of the studio…

DL: The art market doesn’t like things that are not organic. So if it arrives as a sort of out of the ordinary, usually there is a certain reticence after that. Look at what happened to the market of Giacometti after the record price, or more recently, after years of selling for a maximum $28 million, a David Hockney painting sold for $90M this year. Out of the blue! That’s the kind of thing that makes the market stand still.

It’s almost like a bad omen for living artists.

DL: Right, another example is Jeff Koons’ Balloon Dog, which made the record price of a living artist before Hockney. Jeff Koons disappeared. He’s not disappeared as an artist: he is an important artist, he lives and works in Manhattan, he has a long career in front of him — but he is not going to appear in the auctions houses anymore.

AD: The auction market is not a real stock exchange. We think it is a real stock exchange in which all companies have equal possibilities, and if they go up, they go up and if they go down, they go down.

DL: But if an artist becomes too big, he’s not chosen to be sold at all at auction.

“But the choice itself, the first gesture towards the art is as if it’s for us.”

Thaddaeus Ropac said that if gallerists are also good collectors, then they will never sell the really good pieces. Would you agree?

AD: Well, you know the Ileana Sonnabend collection was basically the leftovers of anything she wasn’t able to sell at the time — hopefully we’re half as lucky as her! (Laughs) But what we show at the gallery, the priority is to our clients. Whatever is for sale, we offer to our clients first.

DL: When you sell primary market — straight from the artists’ studio — you have a lot of choices, and obviously you cannot keep the best works for yourself because you have a responsibility towards your artists: that you want his best works to go to museums and institutions. With secondary market — reselling the work of established artists — we want to obviously sell it to institutions or to great collectors immediately, but the choice itself, the first gesture towards the art is as if it’s for us.