For months, the specialized press had been wondering what exactly had led Larry Gagosian to open his seventh gallery in Rome. Why spend a huge sum to restore an entire palace, only a few steps from piazza Barberini, to open a massive showcase in a city that has very little interest in contemporary art and a totally marginal space in the international market? The answer is irritatingly simple: as Gagosian himself has declared, he’s just always loved Rome and thought, why not? I’ll do it just because I can. Just for the sake of it. And, of course, for the sake of publicity.
An aura of secrecy and glamourous lure had surrounded the whole operation, in a well calculated market strategy that worked particularly well in the spleen of the Capital of ruins. Until three weeks before the actual opening of the space, no one even knew what the inaugural show would have been. The local gallerists were terrified, as if Tony Hawks had just nonchalantly entered an amateur skateboarding contest. And in fact, the city shook at his arrival as it had seldom done before. The Mayor and the Minister of Cutural (In)Activities showed up in the afternoon to bow in front of King Larry, offering him Gold, Incense and any archeological site he may want to use to run his projects, which will undoubtedly enrich the cultural life of the City and of the Nation (has anyone even told them he’s an art dealer? Do your asslicking with a little more discretion, for chrissake). The entire street was closed to the traffic, a micro-army of policemen and security staff was drawn up on the site to enforce a zero tolerance policy on gatecrashers. The last time something like this has happened, it was when Mussolini borrowed a bunch of backdrops from Cinecittà to cover the slums from the sight of his friend Adolf, driving through Rome for an official visit.
The crowd of randomly gathered starlets, botox-faced mistresses, presentialist celebrities and other socialites seemed to have no idea what exactly they were there for. Everyone raved about the instant-classic oval room, and at times someone even tried to say something about the new Twombly series that was hanging in there almost as an excuse for conversation - small talk that local journalists managed to publish as malicious “rumours on the X million dollar Twomblys”. Truth is that Three Notes from Salalah is an intense cycle, as lyrical and compelling as ever; maybe a little mannered, true, but still in the manner of a great master that manages to reinvent himself after nearly 60 years of pure visual poetry.
In the meantime, a minority of collectors and art savvy people were trying to make sense of the logistics of that sort of tragicomic carnival, in order to finally get to the official networking area, also known as “the bar”. With a rather subtle coup de théatre, the refreshments were served in the garage-like basement of the palace (I am still unsure whether that wanted to look like some form of radical chic warehouse style interior design or if the construction workers were simply behind schedule with the renewal), where the aforementioned herd of socialites found itself totally stuck, as the invigilators, for some misterious reason, wouldn’t allow anyone to go back into the gallery space. “I am afraid you will have to go out and re-enter through the main door, miss”. Fine. Let’s hope at least the dinner will be less painful.
If I ended up actually enjoying the dinner quite a lot, it is only because it was so bizarre that I frankly couldn’t help finding it quite amusing. As a friend commented, the space where the gala dinner was served inside Palazzo Barberini looked “very Eyes Wide Shut”, with black velvet on the walls and an eclectic combination of candelabra, opulent tables covered in culinary decadence and Philip Stark chairs. The evening simply couldn’t get any more Fellinian that that.
After all, such exploits ought to be recognized as an integral part of what having Gagosian animate the roman art scene means. I am not sure whether he himself expected such a display of provincialism from the local bourgeoisie, press, politicians and art professionals - at least the ones who perceived him as a threat rather than as a positive chance to finally shake things around a bit -, but he undoubtedly received all the attention he had planned on getting.
Dear frustrated gallerists, dear so-called art writers and journalists, let poor Larry fulfill his little dream of having his own white palace in the eternal city. What’s wrong with that? If you have nothing better to do than talk about his grand opening as the event of the decade, it’s definitely not his fault. And whatever hidden strategical reason he may have, it really shouldn't shock anyone, considering the current state of the art system. Things seem to be finally changing for Rome's contemporary art scene, with new museum wings, young galleries, Gagosian, and the first “real” season of art fairs seeing the light at the end of February. The direction this change will take, though, is still quite hard for me to forecast.