One of the more intriguing sights at the Frieze New York art fair on opening day was Paul Schimmel, the curator and art historian, selling works at the booth of Hauser & Wirth. Schimmel spent 35 years working for museums and, after a controversial exit from the Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles in 2013, eventually landed at Hauser & Wirth, one of the biggest commercial galleries in the world. Schimmel will run the business’s L.A. outpost, and he will be a name partner.
He’s far more relaxed than most people I’ve encountered at these kinds of events, and he took a seat at a table with me and talked casually while his colleagues ran around the booth conducting business with even more frantic collectors. Thinking about his new life as a dealer, he said, “I’m thinking if five percent of these people really have their life changed by becoming a collector, I hope that they will come for something that isn’t just consumerist, but something that really allows them to meditate and learn and experience art in a way that’s a little slower, a little more personal.” And with that in mind, he laid out the business model for Hauser Wirth & Schimmel.
“Our ambition was and is great,” he said, “in that we really wanted to create a kind of hybrid where a third of our program will be historical exhibitions–non-selling exhibitions–a third of it will be artists with whom this will be a unique opportunity to show them in Los Angeles, and a third will be from the Hauser & Wirth program. And to that degree we’ve found an extraordinary facility that allows us to do this kind of programming simultaneously.” He also said the space will have a “beautiful restaurant,” a 20,000-square-foot courtyard, and a retail shop run by “one of the top booksellers.”
Schimmel also said that the inaugural show, scheduled to open next January, is called “A Revolution Within,” and will feature “35 artists from the late 1940s to the present working in abstraction–kind of biomorphic and figurative abstraction.”
As for switching roles from highly revered museum curator to occasionally having to sell art at a fair, Schimmel said the two aren’t so different. “I haven’t been dealing so much at fairs,” he said, “but I’ve come to maybe half a dozen since I started, and I found it’s very easy to talk about and sell things that I love and know about.”
At Frieze, this included a sculpture by Juan Muñoz, an artist not represented by Hauser & Wirth, but whom Schimmel described as a “family friend,” adding that he spent time in Muñoz’s studio, seeing how he worked. As for Paul McCarthy, one of Hauser & Wirth’s most beloved artists, and a staple of their booths at numerous fairs, “He’s my neighbor,” Schimmel said. “Literally. We live five minutes apart.”
Asked about his selling style he said, “If anything, I’ve been told I probably have a tendency to talk too much.”