Deconstructing Larry: Defections and Lawsuits Chip Gagosian’s Enamel

Tom Wolfe’s new novel, the Miami-set Back to Blood, has not been particularly well-received by book critics, but at the balmy, prosecco-soaked doorbuster sale and glad-handing jubilee known as Art Basel Miami Beach in early December, attendees armed with e-readers passed around one brief passage with gleeful approval. The scene, which comes midway through the book and is set at the same fair, introduces a character in whom many see an eerie resemblance to dealer Larry Gagosian—the art world’s widely admired, widely feared and widely resented top dog. The character, a gallery dealer named Harry Goshen (the name is perhaps a tip-off) is described as “a tall man with gray hair, although he doesn’t look all that old, and eerie pale-gray eyes like the slanted eyes of a husky.”

A bit mesmerized, Mr. Wolfe’s narrator circles back to Goshen’s eyes a few lines later: “So pale, those eyes … they look ghostly and sinister …”

Several fairgoers who encountered Mr. Gagosian in his booth in the Miami Beach Convention Center took note of his eyes as well. Not sinister, they said, just tired.

“Maybe it’s getting to him,” one art adviser surmised. “The travel, the expansion. At some point, it hits you the wrong way. It’s hard to satisfy everyone and keep all the balls in the air, and when you go to the top like that you become a target. People love to get the giant.”

It’s been an unusually challenging period for Mr. Gagosian, the art world’s silver-maned dealer-emperor, whose sharp eye for talent, business prowess and aggressive style of deal-making propelled an ascendancy from modest beginnings as a Los Angeles street peddler—hawking cheap posters in Westwood—to a position of unrivaled dominance in the international art trade, a sovereignty that some are predicting, a tad eagerly, may soon come to a close.
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Deconstructing Larry: Defections and Lawsuits Chip Gagosian’s Enamel