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Larry Gagosian courted Russian oligarchs to build an art empire

New York’s most successful art magnate built a billion-dollar empire by being the preferred dealer for Russia’s biggest oligarchs.

An art world source called Gagosian “the official art dealer of the Russian oligarchy,” adding that “the Bond villains he associates with are dangerous, repulsive, and devalue art by their mere presence.”

Larry Gagosian, 76, has worked with billionaire and Putin confidante Roman Abramovich, whose assets were frozen by the British government on Thursday over the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine, and Mikhail Fridman, the sanctioned co-founder of Alfa Bank.

He is also said to have cultivated ties with Russia’s most important museum, run by a close associate of President Vladimir Putin.

with Ukrainian artists and others calling for more sanctions in the culture sector, such ties may soon come under scrutiny, analysts say.

The Gagosian Gallery in New York did not respond to calls from the Post and an email this week seeking comment.

Larry Gagosian (above) has worked with billionaire and Putin confidante Roman Abramovich and Mikhail Fridman, the sanctioned co-founder of Alfa Bank.
Larry Gagosian has worked with billionaire and Putin confidante Roman Abramovich and Mikhail Fridman, the sanctioned co-founder of Alfa Bank.
Pascal Le Segretain
    Chelsea football club owner Roman Abramovich.
Chelsea football club owner Roman Abramovich.
Martin Meissner

Gagosian, who owns several galleries around the world, has long had close ties with Chelsea football club owner Abramovich, helping him and his ex-wife Dasha Zhukova build a massive art collection. It includes works by artists Francis Bacon and Damien Hirst, whose work has been represented by Gagosian’s galleries.

“During my long tenure at Gagosian Gallery, I have seen Larry’s interest shift from important American collectors to Mother Russia,” said a former gallery employee who asked not to be named.

Russian businessman, co-founder of Alfa Group Mikhail Fridman
Russian businessman and co-founder of Alfa Group Mikhail Fridman.
Reuters

In his pursuit of wealthy Russian clients, Gagosian held exhibitions in Moscow from 2007, including with artists Hirst, Willem de Kooning and Jeff Koons. That opening show was partly financed by the Russian Alfa Bank, Russia’s largest private financial institution that was sanctioned by the US Treasury Department last month.

One of the bank’s founders, Fridman – who was Russia’s seventh richest citizen as of 2017 – was a client of the Gagosian Gallery and was sanctioned by the European Union in February. He resigned from the bank’s board of directors earlier this month, according to reports.

Fridman bought an Andy Warhol painting of Marilyn Monroe through the gallery for over $38 million 2013. Two years later, he flipped the 1962 acrylic and screenprint “Four Marilyns” for $44 million.

Damien Hirst Midas and the Infinite Butterflies, manufactured diamonds and enamel paint on canvas.
Through Gagosian, Fridman bought one of the paintings from Damien Hirst’s “Midas” series.
Prudence Cumming

Early in his business relationship with Gagosian, Fridman had bought “Midas”, a monochrome painting of butterflies in a gilded cage, from Hirst at the Gagosian Gallery.

“Gagosian is no different from all the other art dealers that circled around the oligarchs’ money trough,” said an art-world source who asked not to be named. “Everyone, including Christie’s and Sotheby’s, has shamelessly courted the oligarchs.”

But Gagosian, whose net worth is estimated at $600 million, may have been better than most at wooing those billionaire clients. His gallery is the most successful modern car dealership in the world, with outposts in Geneva, Los Angeles and even a hangar at a Paris airport. Exhibitions by the Gagosian artists Richard Serra and Anselm Kiefer, among others, were shown on the almost 18,000 square meter area near an airstrip in Le Bourget.

Andy Warhol's "Four Marilyns" is one of the paintings Fridman bought through Gagosian's gallery.
Andy Warhol’s “Four Marilyns” is one of the paintings Fridman bought through Gagosian’s gallery.
Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

“Larry occupies a unique position that has not been equaled by any dealer in the history of art and will never be equaled after him,” said Philippe Segalot, a fellow contemporary art dealer, in a 2018 interview with allinet, an online art magazine. “It’s the biggest on the market. It’s a real military machine.”

To that end, Gagosian has maintained close ties with the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia, and its longtime director, Mikhail Piotrovsky, who is so close to Putin that he has boasted of helping the Russian president draft constitutional changes in 2020 to have helped wife Irina worked with Putin for six years while he was deputy mayor of St. Petersburg in the early 1990s.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) with Mikhail Piotrovsky hosted and hosted by Gagosian.
Russian President Vladimir Putin with Mikhail Piotrovsky hosted and entertained by Gagosian.
ALEXEI DRUSHININ

“It’s not that I’ve been Putin’s person since the early 1990s,” Piotrovsy said in an interview with the art newspaper last year. “Putin has been my person since the early 1990s. He is from Petersburg. He had about the same job as me. We both worked for the reputation of Petersburg. So he is actually closer to me than many others.”

In collaboration with Piotrovsky, Gagosian has in the past hosted several art exhibitions of his clients’ work at the Hermitage, and has hosted and entertained Piotrovsky on his numerous trips to the United States.

Piotrovsky (above), the longtime director of the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia, is so close to Putin that he boasted about helping the Russian president draft constitutional changes in 2020.
Piotrovsky, the longtime director of the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia, is so close to Putin that he has boasted about helping the Russian president draft constitutional changes in 2020.
Ken Faught

“My relationships with Dr. Piotrovsky are excellent,” said Gagosian, the son of Armenian émigrés, in 2018 interview. “After all, he is half-Armenian. For me, being Armenian means having kinship with Russia.”

Gagosian and the New York-based Hermitage Museum Foundation, a nonprofit organization that raises money for restoration projects and artistic donations for the Russian Museum, received Piotrovsky on visits to the United States, including “hurricane” tours of Palm Beach and Washington DC throughout the year 2009, according to the Group’s federal tax filings.

During the trip to Palm Beach, Piotrovsky was invited to a farewell brunch at Mar-a-Lago hosted by Donald Trump. In Washington he received a private tour of the Library of Congress and was awarded the Woodrow Wilson Award for Public Service. He even laid a wreath at Mount Vernon, where George Washington is buried, according to tax returns.

Gagosian's galleries contained works by artists Francis Bacon (above) and Damien Hirst.
Gagosian’s galleries contained works by artists Francis Bacon (above) and Damien Hirst.
Guy Bell/Shutterstock

In 2017, “Larry Gagosian graciously organized an intimate dinner for Professor Piotrovsky and several art collectors at his home,” according to the Hermitage Museum Foundation Website.

Abramovich, who made international headlines when he paid $86.3 million for Francis Bacon’s “Triptych” and another $33.6 million for Lucian Freud’s “Benefits Supervisor Sleeping” in 2008, has been placed on the UK sanctions list of “pro-Kremlin” Oligarchs with ties to the Kremlin set UNITED KINGDOM.

https://nypost.com/2022/03/11/larry-gagosian-courted-russian-oligarchs-to-build-art-empire/ Larry Gagosian courted Russian oligarchs to build an art empire

DUSTIN JONES

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