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Dominique Lévy and the $35 Million de Kooning

The Swiss gallerist talks to Muse about selling Paul Allen’s painting at Art Basel Hong Kong.

Dominique Lévy and Brett Gorvy. Photo: Chad Batka

Since opening her eponymous gallery on Madison Avenue in 2012 with an exhibition of works by Lucio Fontana, Yves Klein, and Cy Twombly, Dominique Lévy has continued to expand her roster of artists and global reach with the addition of galleries in London and Shanghai. In early 2017, the Swiss-born gallerist joined forces with Brett Gorvy—former rainmaker and head of the postwar and contemporary art department at Christie’s in New York—to form Lévy Gorvy Gallery. At Art Basel in Hong Kong last month, Lévy Gorvy sold Willem de Kooning’s Untitled XII (1975) from the collection of Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist Paul Allen for $35 million, the most expensive work to be sold at the fair. Muse caught up with Lévy to discuss the painting and the art market in Hong Kong more generally.


You are known for handling many works by de Kooning. How many canvases by the American Abstract Expressionist has the gallery sold?

The gallery has handled well over 30 works by de Kooning, and Brett [Gorvy] also has long history with works by the artist. Our first exhibition together when we launched our new partnership in early 2017 was the landmark exhibition Willem de Kooning | Zao Wou Ki, the first show ever to pair the two postwar masters.


What set Untitled XII (1975) apart from other works by the artist?

Untitled XII is a beautiful painting from a seminal moment in de Kooning’s career and it is an astonishingly accomplished painting. The composition is complete and carries all the of the great colors that characterize de Kooning’s work at the height of his powers. In addition, it had not been seen in the market.


What prompted your gallery to seek a buyer in Asia, as opposed to finding one in New York or at Art Basel in Basel? And might you tell us about the buyer?

We felt that Art Basel Hong Kong was the best forum to achieve the right price and locate the best buyer. That said, we do not comment on our relationships with clients and collectors, as it’s essential to respect their privacy. All we can say is that collectors today are truly international citizens.


Having been a long-time participant in Art Basel, and in Hong Kong since the launch of that edition of the fair in 2013, have you noticed any changes in the collectors who attend?   

This was the most impressive Art Basel Hong Kong yet. I’ve been coming to the fair since the beginning, and it’s been inspiring to see it evolve with each passing year. That evolution reflects the audience—here’s an incredible appetite for art and ideas among Asian collectors. While the De Kooning painting at the center of our stand was a magnet for so many people, we found that visitors were actually very eager to explore everything else we presented. They wanted to learn about Pat Steir’s career-long interest in Chinese art, to ask questions about the friendship between Pierre Soulages and Zao Wou-Ki. We met so many new people and reconnected with old friends, and that mix indicates to us that Art Basel Hong Kong has truly arrived. Our office in Shanghai opened this past September, and Art Basel Hong Kong confirmed that our timing was good. We look forward to exciting things to come in the region.



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