Paris Lures Billionaires as Perrotin Rivals Gagosian

Emmanuel Perrotin remembers the moment his art-dealing business changed forever.

“It was the fax machine,” he says. “For the first time we were able to send information and an image in a minute. Now with the Internet, we’re everywhere.”

Perrotin, 45, is in celebratory mood. He’s sitting in the pale pink office of his headquarters gallery at 76 rue de Turenne in the Marais district of Paris. This year is his 25th as a dealer, an event that’s being marked by a 150-work retrospective at the state-funded Tripostal museum in Lille.

He also has three selling shows running at his two spaces in Paris, another in Hong Kong, plus the street artist KAWS at his gallery in New York. In addition, he’s acquired another 700 square-meter (7,535 square feet) property at 60 rue de Turenne that will increase his Parisian capacity by about 50 percent.

“It’s crazy, I know,” says Perrotin, dressed in a blue tweed jacket and open-necked shirt. “When the complete building became available I just had to buy it. That’s going to take 20 years to pay for. Until then, I won’t make a lot of money.”

Perrotin is keen to play down comparisons between himself and other expansionist dealers such as Jay Jopling and Larry Gagosian, who has opened two spaces in Paris. Many others regard Perrotin as France’s most ambitious “megagallerist.”

“I’m taking a risk with a high proportion of works for a gallery with my capitalization,” he says.

He might also have mentioned that he doesn’t represent an artist like Damien Hirst, who last year racked up more than $110 million of sales at Jopling’s various White Cube galleries.

A Severed Head

Back in 1991, Perrotin took a risk by holding the first commercial show of Hirst’s work. Though it wasn’t a success -- a photo of the young artist beside a severed head was a tough sell at the time -- he’s still in contact with Hirst and keen to work with him again.

“Far more artists are able to survive from selling their own works than was the case 25 years ago. That is a positive thing,” Perrotin says.

His representation of Takashi Murakami and Maurizio Cattelan has proved more lucrative. Trophy works by both artists have been ticked off the shopping lists of billionaires such as Francois Pinault.

Like most dealers in the “primary” market for new works, Perrotin is reluctant to discuss the specifics of sales. He says that of the 37 artists he represents, only seven of them are commercial. He doesn’t divulge which.

Expanding Sales

An artist’s ambitious project and large-scale sculptures can cost Perrotin as much as 3 million euros ($4 million), he says -- more than the entire acquisition fund of the Pompidou Center.

He welcomes the expansion of the art market, which for the first time has seen auction sales of contemporary works raise more than 1 billion euros over the last 12 months, according to the French database

Perrotin originally hoped to be a screenwriter before falling for the buzz of art dealing at the age of 20. His taste remains theatrical.

“Dear,” his show in Paris of works by the Chinese artists Sun Yuan & Peng Yu, includes a live actor talking to suited mannequins with rocks as heads. In 2003 he helped his Italian artist Paola Pivi photograph zebras in snow-clad mountains.

“We open new shows, participate in art fairs all over the world,” he says. “You have to make the decision to sacrifice your personal life or not.”

Almost as an afterthought, Perrotin mentions he is married and has a two-year-old daughter -- and what keeps him motivated.

“I dream of the moment when I’ll show her a sculpture at the corner of Fifth Avenue and the street of MOMA, and I tell her, ‘That’s an artist of my gallery.’”

Muse highlights include Catherine Hickley on German art, Katya Kazakina on the art market, Ryan Sutton on New York dining and James Russell on architecture.

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