On October 16, David Zwirner will open a Paris gallery, his sixth. (He just cut the ribbon on a Hong Kong space last year, and already operates three in New York and one in London.) Brexit is no doubt central to Zwirner’s Paris play, although at first he downplayed the political reasons behind opening the space, located in the Marais, at 108 Rue Vieille du Temple, where the French gallerist Yvon Lambert once set up shop. (Victoire de Pourtalès and Hélène Nguyen-Ban’s VNH Gallery was the last to occupy the space.) In a more recent interview, however, the German dealer clarified his motives. “Brexit changes the game,” he said. “After October, my London gallery will be a British gallery, not a European one.”
The game changer: a no-deal, hard Brexit would skyrocket import and shipping costs, making France’s VAT import-tax rate much friendlier to European buyers than the likely U.K. fees that will hit with Brexit. Other major gallerists have taken note, with Gagosian expanding to Basel and Hauser & Wirth announcing an exhibition space and “arts center” in Menorca, to be opened next year. It’s nearly impossible to tell what specifically will happen with Brexit, and when, but the major galleries are betting that it won’t be good news for their European clients.
“After October, my London gallery will be a British gallery, not a European one.”
Zwirner has decided to launch the Paris space with an exhibition by Raymond Pettibon—a puzzling choice considering he could have pulled from any of his most commercial artists: Donald Judd, William Eggleston, Franz West, Diane Arbus, or Dan Flavin, among so many others. Instead, he chose the Tucson-born 62-year-old with a faux-French surname (Pettibon was born Raymond Ginn), best known for his politically incisive illustrations. This isn’t to take away from Pettibon’s work, which is often brilliantly satirical, and has been included in major exhibitions at the New Museum and the Museum of Modern Art in New York. But the fact that his most interesting work tends to be an indictment of American culture and politics gone global—hippies, the Iraq war, Ronald Reagan—raises intriguing (and telling) questions about Zwirner’s own politics and dissatisfaction with America and the United Kingdom.
There are few specifics about the content of the exhibition, called “Frenchette” and opening October 16, other than two images of Pettibon’s artwork, including one in which Gumby—the midcentury Claymation television character and a frequent presence in Pettibon’s works—is dressed as Pablo Picasso with a beret, and a second where Gumby rides a horse. The latter is captioned “John Ford directed: Irish riding the Protestands.”
Perhaps this upcoming exhibition is a subtle wink at the U.K.’s strained politics (Northern Ireland being a part of the U.K., the Republic of Ireland being a sovereign nation). Perhaps it’s a statement about the rise of nationalism (Pettibon, John Ford, and Gumby are all American characters). Perhaps it’s Zwirner riding in to take over Paris, like John Wayne taking over the West in a John Ford movie. Or maybe it’s none of these. And does it really matter? The French VAT import rate is only 5.5 percent. —Cody Delistraty