Art Basel 2015

The Joke Is On Us: Larry Gagosian’s $6 M. Piece of Self-Mockery at Basel

Ed Ruscha, "Stuffed Empire," 1997, on view at Gagosian's booth.

Ed Ruscha, Bloated Empire, 1997, on view at Gagosian’s booth.

The star piece at the Gagosian Gallery booth at Basel would have to be Jeff Koons’s Cat on a Clothesline (Orange) (1994–2001), as it kind of dwarfs everything in its sphere. But nearly as prominently displayed is a work by Ed Ruscha that, in a move that several fairgoers found quite amusing, pretty straight up mocks the mega-gallery and its mega-artists: Bloated Empire (1997), which has splayed across the canvas the phrases “BLOATED EMPIRE” and “STUFFED REGIME.”

Now, let’s not go crazy here, but did Larry Gagosian use some prized real estate at the world’s most important art fair to…make fun of himself? Gogo’s not exactly known for his outlandish self-depreciating art stunts, unless you think that a Frieze booth full of Richard Prince Instagram paintings was just Larry having a good chuckle with himself. But with 14 outposts the world over and a 15th, in London, soon to come, Gagosian Gallery is both empire and regime, bloated and stuffed.

And empire continues apace—this not-so-subtle jab of a painting was priced at $6 million.

The painting is quite wonderful in any context, though. Unveiled at the 1997 Whitney Biennial, it’s a portrait of the sculptor H.C. Westermann. And in an interesting twist, Koons has said on several occasions that a work from a similar series is his favorite Ruscha.

So what exactly was the world’s biggest art dealer thinking? We went up to him while he sat behind his army of Gagosiennes, who were all chattering on iPhones and hacking at iPads, overseeing his empire.

“Yeah, isn’t it great?” he said, looking at the Ruscha.

“But isn’t it kind of an, um, strong statement?” we asked. “Has it been getting a response?”

“We sold it!” he said. “We sold it, and that’s the best response.”

Post has been updated to reflect that the Bloated Empire by Ed Ruscha that is in the collection of Eli and Edythe Broad is in fact a different Bloated Empire by Ed Ruscha than what is on view at Gagosian’s booth at Art Basel. 

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