Larry Gagosian, Too Big To Fail?

March 9, 2009

David Segal’s NYT profile of Larry Gagosian slaps the TBTF label on him:

Mr. Gagosian has achieved the contemporary art market’s version of too big to fail, though for reasons that have nothing to do with toxic assets. The glamour and networking energy that he has brought to the business added a zero to the price of just about everything, Ms. Bortolami says. If his business were to fold, the new buyers he brought to the market, as well as a lot of added, buzz-laden value, would disappear along with him.

I think there’s an element of truth here — which scares me. Could it be that Gogo falling under a bus would have a bigger adverse effect on the art market than the Dow plunging by 50%? If we learned anything from the astonishingly successful Yves St Laurent sale in Paris, it’s that it’s pretty much impossible to underestimate the degree to which the art world assigns enormous dollar values to anything with glamor and buzz. And given that the number of YSL collections coming to market is now zero, we’re back to the status quo ante — which is that if you want glamor and buzz, you look first and foremost to Larry.

I trust Gagosian made so much money in the boom years that he’s now something of a buyer of last resort. Because if he’s genuinely in trouble — and the NYT gives no real indication that he is — then that might well seal the fate of the contemporary art market for a decade or more.

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