Dominique Lévy is all about rigour, subtlety, and discretion
Gallerist, advisor, and collector, Dominique Lévy, ranks as one of the most powerful art dealers in the world. Born in Switzerland, with galleries and offices in Geneva, New York, and London, Lévy took her first steps at Christie’s, having a profound impact on the auction house and art market structures through the setting up of a Private Sales department, then opened a boutique art advisory firm and later co-founded L&M Arts with former Goldman Sachs trader Robert Mnuchin. Following the closure of L&M Arts in 2013, she opened the Dominique Lévy gallery on three floors of a Madison Avenue building on 73rd S treet, New York C ity. A year later, she opened another gallery in a historic building once owned by the legendary art dealer Joseph Duveen in London, at 22 Old Bond Street.
Lévy is present at all three Art Basel fairs. At Art Basel 2015 in June, a carefully curated selection of works in varying tones of grey was exhibited by post-war and contemporary artists such as Alberto Giacometti, Barbara Hepworth, Jasper Johns, Pablo Picasso, Gerhard Richter, Carl Andre, Robert Ryman, Marlene Dumas, David Hammons, Frank Stella, Günther Uecker, and Christopher Wool. Much attention was paid by international collectors and institutions, with substantial sales secured within the first few hours of the fair.
Levy’s objective is quite clear: to open a dialogue between Europe and America. “Our team,” she points out, “embodies that philosophy. Europeans work in New York and Americans in London. In the international world of art, the two cities are cornerstones, a crossroads and destination for the highly ambitious enlightened collectors and professionals, as well as for an enthusiastic and demanding public.”
One wonders if New York and London are still the capitals of the world of art. Some believe that New York has lost its grip. “In my opinion, both cities are still vital centres for the commerce of art and they still host some of the most important international exhibitions. However, they are not the only centres of creativity, which may be found more easily also in cities like Berlin or Los Angeles,” she replies, highlighting that there is greater synergy between the American and European markets. “I believe the synergy started after the war and was created by artists and world figures, such as Peggy Guggenheim. I strongly believe that Europe and America are more similar and more complementary than is perceived.”
Lévy has been working in the world of art for almost 30 years. She organized her first exhibition when she was just 18 years of age, presenting the works of young artists inside a historic mansion. The debut to a brilliant career.
What are the qualities of an “enlightened” collector? What is more important, instinct or technique? She explains: “the best collectors are passionate, courageous, and focused, and strive to learn and keep an open mind. I believe my work is about passion, knowledge, and ethics and, of course, a strong business sense. Anyway, the role of a dealer has changed immensely. Nowadays, they also act as gallerists, advisors, and often as collectors and sometimes as curators.”
Forbes rated her among the world’s 10 most inf luential art dealers. “When I was informed,” Lévy explains, “I was delighted and felt proud of myself (after all, the art world is full of egos), but in the end I felt a bit strained and intimidated. Nevertheless, after a few days, I was able to get over it and laugh about it.”
However, behind her appearance as a gentle and jovial person, lies the combative spirit of a very competitive woman. She admits she likes to win. “After all, who doesn’t? But I also find that losing is also quite challenging and rewarding, because it obliges me to question things. But, at the end of the day, it is all a win/win,” she says.
Lévy switches between art and selling, and when she meets up with artists she particularly enjoys “the debate, challenge, trust, and nurturing that is involved.” When selling, she is fascinated by the atmosphere because “being in contact with collectors, whether buyers or sellers, allows me to discuss and get to know about their profound passions— which immediately raises the conversation to a higher level.”
A final question. Is art a worthwhile investment or should it be left to those who actually know how to operate in this market? Lévy has no doubts: “Well-bought, well-chosen, and well-researched art has proven, over the years, to be an excellent form of investment. Nevertheless, an investment should never be the main motivation for acquiring a work of art.”
By Piera Anna Franini