The Best Two Cities for Art

Why China is hot and Boston is not, explains Pace Wildenstein Gallery chairman Arne Glimcher.
  • Transcript


Question: What made you decide to make the move from Boston to New York?

Arne Glimcher: I felt I had no choice. I was losing my artists. Warhol was showing with the Stable Gallery. It was long before Castelli took on Warhol. Oldenburg was showing with the Green Gallery. And these artists began to be collected; the magazines picked them up. Pop art was so easy to reproduce because it was all about being reproductions to begin with. So it became fashion. It's the first time that we really saw art and fashion meet. And I couldn't get the work anymore. And I actually moved to New York too late. If I would have moved to New York when I opened the gallery, I would have had all of those artists exclusively. Years later they came back to me, but there was a great hiatus in between because there were associations that were made, and you know, you don't break those. So I felt that I had no choice but to move to New York. And I had a very dear friend who's lived in the city, father of a very dear friend. And I was staying with them one time when I was in New York, and he was the head of Federated Department Stores; his name is Sidney Solomon. I said to Sidney, I'm thinking of moving the gallery to New York. Scary, but I'm thinking of moving to New York. He said, well, you have to ask yourself: what is your objective? What do you want out of your gallery? And I said, I want to be the best gallery in the world. He said, move to New York. Get out of Boston.

And I got out of Boston. It was so hard in Boston convincing people that what I was doing was not insanity. A very conservative city.

Question: Why did you expand to Beijing?

Arne Glimcher: You've heard many times people say, the future's the East. China is the next power. The West's, specifically America's, power is diminishing. But when people say things like that, it's already happened. People only recognize things that are faits accomplis. And there was very interesting art happening in China. Interesting art happens after a cataclysm or a war. It took the destruction of Germany for a new generation of German artists to be able to build something new that was non referential to the past or not intimidated by the past. And in the same way, America had abstract expressionism, which was post-World War II. China was recovering from the Cultural Revolution. And a very interesting phenomenon I saw happening, and that was, they had an extraordinary narrative to tell. There is no excuse for a narrative in Western art any more. We've been through that and through a kind of formalism, and there is no story to tell in the same way.

China, on the other hand -- when the doors to China opened, they looked across this chasm of time at the achievement of Western art. And I've spoken with several Chinese artists, and I remember one of them saying to me, when we saw from the Renaissance to pop art, we saw it as one thing, as one holistic accomplishment. They didn't see it really in a time period or its historical context. I thought that was pretty interesting, because I thought of a parallel: when Picasso and Brock discovered African art, they didn't understand its ritualistic uses, or weren't interested in its ethnographical purposes. They purely, formally, saw an art that they could use, a kind of cubistic art that they could use in the development of their work. And the Chinese did the same thing: they looked across at all of these styles, and they took from the various styles of painting. But they're telling a very personal, unfamiliar narrative, but in a medium that we can all understand. And that's the success of Chinese art, is this poignancy. This kind of sense of loss and regeneration is being told in mediums that are familiar to the West.

Recorded on October 1, 2009