Alma Luxembourg is one of the three names behind the Luxembourg & Dayan Gallery. She founded the London branch in 2011, two years after her mother Daniella Luxembourg teamed up with Amalia Dayan to set up shop in New York.
A graduate of the London School of Economics and the Courtauld Institute of Art, Alma Luxembourg started out working the Geneva-based dealer Marc Blondeau, then joined the auction team at Christie’s, before heading the Contemporary-art private sales division at Sotheby’s.
On both sides of the Atlantic, the gallery specializes in exhibitions that revisit the work of well-known post-war artists and explore particular aspects of their works. Luxembourg & Dayan has hosted shows of French Pop art (the painter Martial Raysse and the sculptor Cesar) as well as Italian post-war art (Alberto Burri). And in London in 2016, it staged an exhibition of Alberto Giacometti’s early Surrealist sculptures.
This year’s first big London exhibition is dedicated to Magritte’s early word-pictures (featuring both words and images), which he produced while in Paris between 1927 and 1930.
The following is an interview with Alma Luxembourg.
How did your Magritte show come about? And how much of it is for sale?
We’ve done a few of these exhibitions that look at a pivotal 20th-century artist, but highlighting work that is maybe less explored or less well-known. The Magritte exhibition looks to highlight the radical nature of his work in the 1920s in Paris as part of the Surrealist group. Today, the market really looks at his works from the late ’50s and ’60s. Within the works from the [earlier] period are a lot of ideas that he later develops, and also a gutsier sensibility — an openness to replacing images almost completely, to the point where you arrive at an abstract composition that only includes words.
We’ve sold some important works from this period in recent years. A conversation with a collector of ours was really the beginning of thinking about this exhibition.
Just under half of the works are for sale. It’s not always possible to make every work for sale, because fantastic works are in museums or private collections, and it would be not doing the argument justice, or presenting it well.
Magritte works are not so easy to find. Where did you source these artworks?
Some of them are works that we have sold to collectors in the past. We also get works from foundations and museums.
What about the show of pre-war Giacometti sculpture that you had in 2016? Were those Giacometti’s for sale?
Some were. These exhibitions have an afterlife. Some works that were in the show became for sale later. Some works in the show were works that we had sold previously. It’s not always that the show itself is the moment of sale. Our engagement is more long-term.
You occupy a post-war Modern art niche in a market that’s obsessed with Contemporary Art. What’s it like to operate in this market?
Historically, there are lots of examples of dealers who had a point of view and followed a particular path. The Contemporary-art market has, for a number of years, been experiencing a certain type of globalization that didn’t really exist previously. So there have been a lot of changes in the business models of galleries.
I don’t know what will be the long-term way. I don’t know what is the right way. I think Daniella, Amalia and I really follow our own intuition and our passion and our interests. It’s not something that you can do on a mass scale. We’re happy to work as we are and to be true to our guiding principles. When we do new exhibitions, we commission writers and art historians to write new texts. We’re interested in expanding the academic side and not the commercial side. We’re trying to engage with our collectors, some of whom have been collecting for generations, in which case a more nuanced approach is more appreciated.
But a lot of galleries are shutting down — in London, in New York, and even, to an extent, in Berlin.
Definitely. That’s why we are keeping our structure small. We’re conscious of the cost of running these businesses, and we think very carefully about which art fairs we participate in. We were just at Art Basel Hong Kong, and also do Art Basel in Basel and Frieze Masters in London — so, very few. We treat the art fairs more like exhibitions. In Hong Kong, Jeffrey Deitch curated our booth, looking at figurative art from the 1930s to the 1960s. We only do about three gallery shows a year in each of our locations and produce a special catalog for each. All of these things cost money and a lot of time and effort. It’s important for us to do them well, rather than to do a lot of them less well.
Your gallery seems to function according to the small-is-beautiful model.
Do art fairs work out for you financially, or are they more of a vitrine?
An art fair is a bit of a Russian roulette. You never know what’s going to work for you or not. We just came back from Hong Kong, where we did very well, met new people and sold some work. Not every art fair you do does well.
Does it drive you to despair to look at the art market — the flippers, the speculators?
I don’t think it drives me to despair. It’s representative of a particular moment. It’s also not true to characterize the entire market through these particular parts of it. The market is much wider and larger.
We’re coming back from Hong Kong. The engagement of new buyers in Asia is very interesting. They’re very eager to learn. This was our second year, and I found it more interesting this year than last year. There is a sense of growth and interest. There are always other parts of the market, not just the sensational part.
How do you find working with your mother, Daniella Luxembourg?
It’s great. I work with my mother and with Amalia. So it’s not only the dynamics of a mother-daughter relationship, which would have been different. We have a very collaborative and very complementary relationship, the three of us. Amalia worked for Phillips, then with Larry Gagosian. Also, her first job was with Jeffrey Deitch in New York. She then opened her own gallery, representing artists. She’s much closer to the cutting edge and taking the pulse of what’s happening. Daniella has great expertise in Modern art and has an opinion, which is nice.
What’s next in the pipeline for you?
We’re opening an exhibition of Domenico Gnoli in New York. We did our first show of his work in 2012 in our gallery there. He’s an artist who died very young. There are very few works, and they’re very difficult to come by. We will have 12 major paintings in the exhibition.