Larry Gagosian is the most influential art dealer of the past century. It wouldn’t be exaggeration to say that he’s among the most important dealers in history. This piece in the Wall Street Journal magazine gives great insight into the breadth of his connections. You’ll read about everyone from Basquiat to Brancusi and from de Kooning to Koons. The name dropping alone makes it worth the read. But what I love most about this article is the hope it provides to every other wanna-be successful entrepreneur. That’s because I had no idea that Gagosian had absolutely no formal education in art or art history.
Gagosian earned his BA in English Literature from UCLA. After a short stint at the William Morris Agency he ended up selling posters on the street in Los Angeles. From there, a bit of business hustling and relationship building ultimately lead him to opening an art gallery.
It may have been chance that lead him to the art world, but it was his drive and moxie that allowed him to flourish within it. Through relentless determination he made key connections in the industry and built a business out of those relationships. He became an expert in the field and an indispensable player in the market despite his lack of formal training in art or art history.
It shows me that you need dedication, determination, and ambition more than you need pedigree or credentials. And that gives me hope for success in any endeavor.
Photo is the Wall Street Journal Magazine Cover, May 2016. Photo was found on https://www.gagosian.com/about/about-larry-gagosian, last checked by the author 5/31.2016.
…and you’ve never seen the Hirshhorn. Well then…
You’re in DC for business and you’ve got a few hours to burn. Most likely this isn’t your first visit– maybe you brought the kids here a few years ago or you came into town as a kid yourself with a school trip (either recently or a hundred years ago like me). You’ve probably already seen the monuments and the standard Smithsonian museums like Air & Space, etc.
If that’s the case, here’s a nice, simple itinerary that will give you a 2-3 hour shot of modern art…at one of my favorite museums in the world, the Hirshhorn.
You’ll have to move sort of quickly, and I realize that that isn’t the best way to take in art. But if you’ve got limited time, there’s no choice. If you keep up the pace you can do this in 2 hours. If you take your time you could stretch it out to three (easy), maybe even 4 depending on how much of the Hirshhorn you want to see.
TIMING TIP: After you’re done, are you heading to Union Station? When you’re done with this short walk you’re going to end up at the Hirshhorn. That’s a walkable distance to Union Station, but it’s a long walk. It’s about 1.5 miles from Union Station to the Hirshhorn, which should take you 40 minutes at a regular pace. Make sure you factor that into your timing if you need to catch an Amtrak, for instance. There isn’t any super-convenient public transportation from the Hirshhorn to Union Station. There is a DC Circulator Bus not too far away and the Metro at L’Enfant Plaza, but by the time you get to both and wait for your stop, you might as well walk already. When I go I usually take the long walk back to Union Station— besides, it’s good for you! End of Timing Tip.
Start by grabbing a cup of coffee at the Starbucks on 7th St. and Pennsylvania Avenue. The store is actually a block off of Pennsylvania, but not really. Technically, it’s on the corner of 7th and Indiana, but Indiana is almost like a side-road and you can see the Starbucks from Pennsylvania. I say start with a cup of coffee because (1) I like coffee a whole lot, and (2) there’s a short stroll ahead.
Take your coffee and walk south on 7th Street, into the Mall. It’s only about 2 blocks…plus, you’re not going far — once you get into the Mall, you’ll immediately see the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden on your right. It’s on the corner of 7th And Pennsylvania, but the entrance is on 7th. Turn in there and take a walk for 20 minutes or so.
After you’re done, go back out the same entrance (on 7th) and make a right, heading deeper into the Mall, but stay on 7th. Walk down 7th and cross through the Mall…and take in the scenery. This is a popular area, so look around and savor the moment. Depending on the time of year there could be people playing ball or jogging– this is a great place to stop and people-watch, if you’re into that sort of thing. If you have some coffee left you could sit on a bench and enjoy it. Otherwise, keep walking through the Mall to the other end, which is where you’ll find the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. If you want more Sculpture Garden, then walk through the Hirshhorn’s. Personally, this is my favorite Sculpture Garden anywhere. There are pieces by Henry Moore, Rodin, and Koons. In fact, there’s a shiny Koons work called Kiepenkerl at the entrance to the Gardens on Jefferson Drive. I did a little research on that work and I wrote a blog post here, if you’re interested.
After you’re done with the Garden, don’t go into the Museum just yet. First, walk all the way around the Hirshhorn and take in the artwork outside. One of my favorite sculptures is here- “Needle Tower” By Kenneth Snelson. Do a complete loop around the outside of the building so (1) you don’t miss anything, and (2) you get a good look at the building itself. It’s a piece of art in-and-of itself.
After you enter the museum you’re on your own. However, if you’re under a time constraint, I recommend that you go to two places– the 3rd floor and the basement. For some reason, those two floors always have the most interesting things (according to my taste, that is). From a time perspective, the 3rd floor will take you much longer than the basement. The third floor wraps all the way around the building and also has an inner corridor with sculpture. The basement is usually a few current exhibitions and is smaller (and quicker to get through).
Remember- if you’re walking back to Union Station to catch a train, you’ll need to give yourself a good 40 minutes for the walk.
Recently I was in Washington, DC to give an ethics talk and I had a few hours to kill. I headed over to the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Gardens located in The Mall because I love that place. While I’ve always found something worth contemplating there, I didn’t think that I would find some serious inspiration from a work by Jeff Koons.
The sculpture I’m talking about is the stainless steel outdoor work called “Kiepenkerl.” It’s a life sized sculpture of a merchant and it was exhibited for the first time at the Sculpture Project in Munster, Germany. I learned about the details of the work from a gallery talk podcast that the Hirshhorn posted online. It was given by their Director of Public Programs, Milena Kalinovska in May of 2013.
Munster is a town in Germany that has a typical large center square. For years, there was a bronze sculpture of a merchant located in that square set high atop a pedestal (see the photo of the town square below). The statue depicts a typical merchant— a person who goes to the farms, buys what he thinks he could sell, then sells those goods in the town (it’s not hard to figure out why the statue is named “Kiepenkerl” since the word means “traveling merchant”). Munster was bombed during World War II, but the statue remained intact. It became a symbol of resiliency and, according to Koons, self-sufficiency and abundance. Eventually, the war got the best of the statue and it was unfortunately destroyed. After the war, however, the statue was replaced with another.
Years later, Koons made an exact copy of the sculpture, except that his version was made out of stainless steel. For the Sculpture Project in 1987, Koons removed the bronze statue in the town square and replaced it with his stainless steel version.
In the podcast, Ms. Kalinovska attempted to explain Koons’ motivation and she started with a bit of an Art History lesson. If you meander through the Hirshhorn Sculpture Gardens, you’ll see works in the Modernist style, like those of Calder and Moore. Those artists put art on a pedestal— one needs to study the work and explore it in order to understand it. Of course, many artists build upon the work of their predecessors, so after Modernism we experienced Pop Art. In those types of work, the artists (like Lichtenstein, whose work in directly across from the Kiepenkerl) reacted to the Modernist artists. Pop Artists took everyday items and put it in their art. But subsequent artists took that to another level with the readymade movement. They used items that are available to us, like a table for instance, and made them the focal point of their work. Marcel Duchamp was one of the first artists who showed that readymade could be art (for those of you not familiar with his repertoire, Duchamp is the guy who presented a urinal as work of art, among other things).
American artists from the 80s, like Koons, created work in the style of the readymade movement but also extended it with a concept called appropriation. That’s the idea of taking something from somewhere else and putting it into a new kind of context. Those artists felt that art did not have to be above us— that it didn’t need to be placed on a pedestal, out of reach from the common man. Koons, of course, also brings his own personal feelings about life, art, and society to his work. Koons is concerned with issues of class, and he likes to create work for everyday people. Commerce is a central part of his makeup, and he likes to use simple, but deep symbols.
It seems to me that in Kiepenkerl, Koons was trying to take an iconic figure and make it accessible. The statue depicts the common man, the average worker. But instead of bronze, Koons used stainless steel, a substance he called, “the luxurious material of the proletariat.” By simply changing the material to one that is associated with the common man, he is taking the figure down from it’s pedestal. Koons took a figure who represented resilience, self-sufficiency, and abundance and brought it to the level of the common man. By making the figure accessible, he is saying that we are all capable of those lofty attributes.
And therein lies the direction for the Punk Professional.
Far too often we doubt ourselves. We wonder whether we are good enough, whether we are worthy, or whether we are capable of achieving our goals. Sometimes when we look at others who have achieved similar goals and we put them on a pedestal. We see them as somehow different- more capable, better equipped, whatever. The truth is we are no different from anyone else who has achieved success.
Take those other successful professionals off of the pedestal. Don’t denigrate them, just look them in the eye. You are on their level. You are resilient and you are self sufficient. The long term success and enduring satisfaction that you seek is not reserved for someone else. With relentless determination, you could achieve that success as well. It is accessible to us all.
I’ll be blogging more about various mosaics that I’ve seen in the subways. I just want to get one up on the blog right now…well, because I’m just starting this blog and I need to populate it with content. So, there you go.