Georges Bergès – The Next Leo Castelli Interview
BY GEORGE WAYNE
It’s time to meet Georges Bergès – the increasingly influential downtown gallerist that the growing art-world cognoscenti are calling “the next Leo Castelli.” Like the legendary art world gorgon who ruled the art world in Soho beginning with his eponymous gallery in 1971 and who introduced the world to the likes of Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg and Andy Warhol. Georges Bergès is once again exhibiting that brash visionary appeal a-la-Castelli with his much buzzed about art gallery at 462 West Broadway.
Almost four years ago when you first opened your Soho/West Broadway gallery, I told you that you were destined to be ”the next Leo Castelli” and I am happy to see that you have not been proving GW wrong on that notion.
Thank you, I’m a great admirer of Leo Castelli, although I’m far from him, he is someone to aspire to, the art world would be better served if we had more people aspiring to be Castelli. It’s been an amazing adventure thus far and as they say in the movies, I’m just getting started!
It was, I always felt it would have been the easy thing for me to do to just go to Chelsea – I wanted a place that was rooted in history. To me the 70s and 80s in SoHo was a transformative time in the art world – I haven’t seen any other part of New York even come close to replicating that. I also wanted my gallery to have a global perspective not just on art but everything directly and indirectly related to art – I see myself, personally and professionally in much the same way. So I chose SoHo almost as a tip of the hat to an era gone by – and I hope that when people visit my gallery, see the dynamics between artist and gallerist and the curations that they get a real sense that it’s a different type of gallery. To me, art should be accessible and transformative to everyone.
Tommy Hilfiger is an avid contemporary art collector have you sold him anything? Or for that matter Donna (Karan) Calvin (Klein) or Vera (Wang) who are also noted fashionistas who are also avid collectors?
In all honesty, I don’t necessarily disclose who buys art from me, art is something personal and special, as it should be, so even if I did sell them art, I couldn’t and wouldn’t tell you. I want people to know that any art purchased from my gallery or through Bergès Creative Group are held under strict privacy and confidence, unless of course people publicly already decide to reveal their purchase.
And the chic Soho sophisticated have been flocking to your gallery- isn’t Arthur Baker one of your prized collectors? And Jamie Dimon?
I am a friend of Arthur Becker and hope to work together soon, he’s a very talented. Again, I try not to reveal too much of my collector base, I have had Jamie Dimon’s family in my gallery – I am working with someone near to him, we’ll leave it at that.
You are always on the road scouring and scouting for new talent. Talk about your latest trips and some of your next big art stars being groomed by your stable.
I was just in Mexico City for Zona Maco and have just returned from a trip to Paris, Lyon, and Cannes where I visited quite a few artists in their studio. I’ve been working with Eric Roux Fontaine in Lyon who’s paintings can only be described as magical realism – I love them. And I’m visiting a few other artists that I have my eye on, and of course reconnecting with old and new collectors.
How does fashion influence your artistic aesthetic?
I have always seen fashion as a primary mode of human expression. I am attracted to pieces of clothing that make me feel physically good and positive. I often tell people that I dress with my eyes closed, which is to really say that the clothing I wear is a reflection of my mood or aspirations at any given moment. Considering my work in visual arts, it is very difficult for me to exist, create or be if I am not feeling reinforced by the beauty and inspiration of the clothes I choose to wear in a particular day. Fashion is very important to my creative process, expression, and overall development and wellness.
Are there any particular designers that attract you?
I have always been attracted to the Italian and British aesthetic when it comes to fashion. Oliver Spencer and Nigel Cabourn are two examples of fashion designers who hold a special place in my heart. Certain designers speak to me in a very unique way. They are artists in their own right.
From an art dealer’s perspective, there is no good or bad way of looking at fashion as long as it is authentic to your own sensibilities. This perhaps is a reason why I have often been attracted to obscure, eccentric, and quirky labels and designs; and it is, I suppose, why I love British fashion. As an art form, fashion means to transform; to make you think, feel, experience, express, and communicate. I love designers that empower me in my journey- this may sound esoteric or magical but it’s really how I see fashion as a medium of art. To me what you wear should help you express and affirm your life; to give voice to your own personal narrative – when I see big fashion labels that announce themselves well ahead of the person wearing them, I feel like the person is doing himself or herself a disservice. Human beings are interesting, creative, unique within their commonality, so the art we choose to wear or surround ourselves with should articulate that, be a reflection of our own individual self. Fashion is after all not an end in itself, but a tool and a means towards self-realization.
What artists are you particularly excited about and why?
Right now I am working with Laddie John Dill who is currently exhibiting at MoMa. His work inspires me in the way it creates a certain aesthetic experience. He has been placed within the minimalist and geometric abstraction art movement that originated in Southern California in the 1960’s known as of the Light and Space movement.
Laddie John Dill will be opening our fall exhibit in September together with sculptor and painter Kristin Jai Klosterman, who has worked closely with Dill and who has been greatly influenced by his work. Klosterman’s work is especially powerful because the manner in which she mixes and contrasts different natural elements, such as metal and silk, for example, tend to create a real palpable presence when the artwork is hung. Even her paintings are never just simply two dimensional pieces–to add form and flow she uses a variety of materials, some textured and others even glow in the dark. The combined works of Dill and Klosterman will create a visual artistic experience that I think everyone should come to witness and fully live. Stay tuned!
I also started working with Tom Lieber whose work can be found in the permanent collections of the Guggenheim and LACMA, among other reputable and selective art institutions. I have found a lot of my recent voice through his work. He is based in Los Angeles and Hawaii. Lieber’s artistic energy is infectious–he is amazing to work with.
You also have an art advising company called Bergès Creative Group how is that different from the work you are doing in the gallery?
Bergès Creative Group was historically an artists’ management firm; today it’s platform for collectors who are interested in more canonical or time-honored artworks such as a Picasso or a Rivera. Some collectors persistently demand such works and I want to fully meet their needs in ways not reflected or accommodated by the gallery’s mission and purpose.
Do you foresee more of a convergence between art and fashion?
It seems like the idea of converging art and fashion has already existed and been done historically or at the very least has been explored. Take Dick Hebdige’s writing in Subculture: The Meaning of Style as an example, where in 1979 he wrote an argument against J. Nuttal who ten years earlier, in 1969, stated, “rocker jackets constitute art of a high degree.”
But going back to your question in terms of present day, last year I went to a cocktail party for a political campaign and had the pleasure of briefly speaking with Anna Wintour about her work at the Metropolitan Museum of Art -and the incorporation of costume design as part of the museum experience. Based on this exchange, I think she is an example of someone who is doing an amazing job at advancing the convergence between art and fashion -by elevating fashion to a space historically occupied by and reserved only for certain kinds of fine art.
Other examples include contemporary artists Michael Carson and Robert Farber whom through the mediums of painting and photography respectively make fashion a natural extension of visual arts.
So, yes, I do foresee a continuation of a convergence between art and fashion, because fashion is art. Fashion is art lived and experienced in our daily lives -but unlike many other art mediums, what you wear and how you wear it in many ways define who you are, what you are, and what you aspire to be. And clothes manifest not just aspirations, but also history–You can see where I have been by what I wear – and also where I am going -I think this is true for everyone. Fashion helps us create and define our own personal narratives and identities. To borrow from Joseph Campbell, fashion allows us “to live by our myths.”
You mentioned Michael Carson, last year he opened the gallery’s fall exhibit to coincide with the first day of fashion week in September – do you want to tell me about it?
I love figurative art and if you look at Michael Carson’s paintings, his work is very much based on mood, style, and desire. He has an amazing ability to capture a certain human element rarely seen in contemporary figurative art. I like to think of his work as aspirational, much in the same way that I see certain forms of fashion. Carson portrays people not simply as they are but in a style and a feel that makes you want to identify with the subjects or aspire to be like them. I truly enjoy his work because of that. His pieces have the uncanny ability to transform a room. His subjects are not just sexy and stylish but they have an attitude that we all hope to posses, or at least aspire to posses. I always half-jokingly say that he should be a Patron Saint of the Fashion World. His work, for me personally, captures very nicely the entire package of my overall art and fashion aesthetic. Michael Carson is the epitome of the convergence between art and fashion.
Georges Bergès Gallery will be having Michael Carson’s follow up solo exhibition this fall – His work is truly something everyone should be keeping their eyes on.
What’s ahead for Georges Bergès?
I always like to keep busy – I have a lot of ideas and projects always swirling around my head. The gallery is a labor of love, and therefore my primary focus. I genuinely enjoy and find it meaningful to work with art and artists and to build creative communities. I feel the gallery is my best vehicle for this. I want to continue deepening my work and to help create a real movement within the art world, in where art is more accessible and artists build their artistic home-based, which is the gallery, and each other.
It is no coincidence that the heyday of NYC’s art world was in the BO’s and that it came out of SoHo – I don’t see Chelsea or any other areas in NYC replicating this any time soon, without recreating something based on those earlier models – don’t get me wrong, it is difficult with the current economic constraints but nothing worth creating ever comes easy.
Of course, I always keep my eyes on the variety of people, events, and projects going on in the art world, including art fairs, collectors, emerging artists from around the globe; and also keeping my fingers on the pulse in places like Mexico City, Shanghai, Caracas, and London, among others.
I’m a voracious reader and I use my books both to escape-to take mental mini vacations, and also to get inspired. In addition to reading, I enjoy writing and conversing about many subjects beyond art. I think that’s what feeds, not just my aesthetic interests but also my spiritual life. I think that this has made a world of difference in how I deal not just with art and artists, but also with the opportunities and challenges presented by life. So what more do I have planned? Stay tuned!
George Wayne, Contributing Editor
Acclaimed New York-based style scribe George Wayne welcomed the opportunity to sit with New York’s influential downtown gallerist, Georges Bergès, to chat about his ‘platform for collectors.’ The Jamaican-born writer will have his ‘’quasi-memoir,’’ Anyone Who’s Anyone – The Astonishing Celebrity Interviews 1987-2016, published by HarperCollins in the Autumn of 2017.
Photo of George Wayne | John Nacion