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The New York Times’s announcement today that Almine Rech and Larry Gagosian will share representation of the Tom Wesselmann estate raises some interesting questions about the Wesselmann market, the trajectory of Gagosian gallery and the future of artists’ estates.
Left out of the New York Times’s story was the well-known presence of the Mugrabi family as significant holders of Wesselmann’s art. Over the span of the 21st Century, as Andy Warhol prices marched steadily higher, the Mugrabis have not seen a commensurate rise in the value of their Wesselmann holdings. The failure does not seem to be from a lack of trying as major works have been sold at auction looking to set new reference prices.
Gagosian gallery’s willingness to work with the art engrossing family has been well-documented. Whether Gagosian’s desire to take on the Wesselmann estate is connected to their ease of coordination with the Mugrabis or if the decision to represent the estate was taken regardless of what the Mugrabis plan to do on the market is anybody but the family and the gallery’s guess.
The point about the Mugrabis presence in the market is that Wesselmann has been somewhat immune to rising with the rest of the market. It hasn’t ‘s resistance to rising at the same rate as the rest of the market. Clearly everyone concerned would like to see Wesselmann’s stock rise relative to the overall market. That just hasn’t happened.
Other global galleries have been making an impact with artists estates in a way that Gagosian has not be been able to replicate of late. Although Gagosian played a central role in the all-important growth of the Warhol market—and the gallery represents other well-established artists’ estates like Cy Twombly—recent successes in getting artists re-evaluated by the market have taken place at other galleries.
In fact, the decision to work with both Almine Rech and Gagosian may reflect a desire on the estate’s part to have it both ways with Almine Rech doing the work of re-introducing the artist and Gagosian providing the global reach.
Whatever the ultimate success of the Wesselmann-Gagosian-Rech alliance, its very existence will send a further signal to the artist’s estates that maintaining an active market is well within the estate’s purview even if the estate cannot provide that function on its own.