I’ve often thought that if one was looking for niche curses to place on enemies, “May you be profiled by Patrick Radden Keefe” would be a particularly potent option. The New Yorker staff writer and author has written with devastating precision about the Sacklers, the wealthy family who reaped billions from America’s devastating opioid epidemic; Joaquín Guzmán Loera, the Mexican drug-cartel kingpin known as “El Chapo”; and Gerry Adams, the Irish Republican activist turned politician.
Amid such company, Larry Gagosian, the global art-market king who is the subject of Radden Keefe’s latest profile, gets off relatively lightly. While noting that Gagosian’s contemporaries tend to “summon carnivore analogies” when asked to describe him (“a tiger, a shark, a snake,”) Radden Keefe paints a vivid picture of a man who did more than perhaps anyone else to transform fine art into an asset class, reducing the world’s greatest works of art to “stock lists, packing orders, lines on a piece of paper,” valuables to be stashed in Swiss vaults, rather than viewed or enjoyed. But at the same time, Gagosian comes across as someone who genuinely cares about art and has done as much as anyone in the last half-century to shape and encourage it.
I was reminded of one of my favorite exhibitions of all time, “The Steins Collect,” which I saw at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York a decade ago. The works themselves were stunning, including canvases by Matisse and Picasso. But what was particularly interesting was how the show presented the artists in conversation with Gertrude Stein and her siblings, whose status as collectors with ready money and interest in innovative works made them hugely influential over nascent movements like Cubism. (The exhibition is long gone, but you can get some sense of its themes from the hard-bound book about it.)
Regular readers will know that I like biographies about artists, so you might have expected the Gagosian profile to send me reaching for more of those. But in fact, the portrayal of a man who built a market and then dominated it reminded me more of “Liar’s Poker,” the book by Michael Lewis about Wall Street in the 1980s, which I dipped into again for the fourth or fifth time. (I wonder what Lewis, who studied art history as a Princeton undergraduate before going into finance and then journalism, would make of Gagosian.)
I’m going on vacation next week, which means the Interpreter will be on hiatus. I have two young children, so vacations aren’t exactly read-by-the-pool time, but I’m sure I can fit in some novels here and there as I always do. I’m excited to finally read “The Guest,” by Emma Cline, which has been on my list for a while.
I can get very emotionally involved in novels, so there’s a risk, I think, that the book’s dark take on the ultrawealthy beach enclaves of the Hamptons might cast a shadow on my trip to a not-at-all-wealthy coastal suburb in Spain. But hopefully it will have the opposite effect, reminding me as I gaze at the distant ocean from a rented holiday apartment that it’s good to stay outside the gilded cage.
Enjoy the waning weeks of summer. I’ll be back soon.
Reader responses: Books and movies that you recommend
Here’s another novel I think I’ll be bringing on vacation: Jill Switzer, a reader in Pasadena, CA, recommends the movie “The Wife,” and the novel of the same name by Meg Wolitzer on which it is based:
Once again or rather, I should say, still, a woman’s artistic and creative merit is subsumed/devoured by her husband, lover, significant other, or whomever and passed off as his own. Glenn Close is brilliant as the wife.
What are you reading?
Thank you to everyone who wrote in to tell me about what you’re reading. Please keep the submissions coming!
I want to hear about things you have read (or watched or listened to) that you recommend to other Interpreter readers.