US art titan Gagosian takes on Paris

Paris: One of the world`s most powerful art dealers, Larry Gagosian, opened a new outpost in his empire Tuesday with a gallery in Paris -- a sign, he says, of a rejuvenation of France`s modern art scene.

Gagosian, who represents some of the giants of modern and contemporary art in New York, Los Angeles and London, said the new gallery, near the Champs Elysees avenue, was a sign that Paris`s flagging art market was picking up.

Paris "is reclaiming its position within the international art circuit through its high quality museum exhibitions and a growing art market," said the 65-year-old, who rarely speaks to journalists, in a statement.

"We always wanted a gallery here," one of the Paris venue`s directors, Serena Cattaneo, told REPORTERS at Tuesday`s opening, standing by five bright green and orange abstract canvases by US artist Cy Twombly.

The opening coincides with the yearly FIAC contemporary art fair, one of the top events on the European art calendar, which opens to the public on Thursday.

"There have been a lot of changes in Paris in recent years which have shown it is possible to exhibit modern art here," she added, citing projects at the Palace of Versailles and the Louvre museum, and the rise of FIAC.

Twombly painted a ceiling in the Louvre which was unveiled this year and Versailles has caused controversy by hosting outlandish installations by contemporary artists such as Takashi Murakami in the palace`s historic halls.

The Paris gallery, designed by French architect Jean-François Bodin and London studio Caruso St John, opened with a show of work by French designer and architect Jean Prouve upstairs from paintings and four sculptures by Twombly.

Paris was the heart of the art world for much of 20th century, but France currently has a fraction of the world market, says Georgina Adam, a market specialist at London-based journal The Art Newspaper.

She said Gagosian was likely drawn to Paris not so much by the revival of contemporary art in France as by the presence of rich art collectors such as Francois Pinault, the head of retail group PPR.

"It`s all about the big rich names. There are several very rich collectors in Paris so I imagine he wanted to have a gallery on their doorstep," she told REPORTERS.

ArtReview magazine this year ranked the silver-haired Gagosian as the most powerful figure in the art world.

France`s culture Minister Frederic Mitterrand presented him on Monday with the Legion of Honour, France`s highest civil honour, a spokeswoman for the launch said.

Gagosian directors refused to say how much money would change hands in the new gallery. Auction house Christie`s sold a 2004 Twombly painting for 2.5 million pounds (2.8 million euros, 3.9 million dollars) in London in June.

Bureau Report