Published  04/10/2001

Anthony d'Offay

The enigma of departure – d'Offay's mythic flight

Anthony d’Offay’s recent and sudden announcement of closure seems shocking, if characteristically mysterious, after 36 years of meteoric rise. With an annual turnover of around $35 million the doors will close before Christmas to the triad of exhibition spaces which d’Offay has built up since the 1970s. This means abandonment for the gallery expansion plans vented, and for recently recruited new gallery staff, though few such question marks hang over d’Offay’s galactical array of artists, at least about their future security.

As d’Offay approaches 62, he and his wife Anne Seymour well deserve a different pace. She joined him originally from the Tate Gallery, and together they soared rapidly in the field of contemporary art, at a time when museums were distinctly tentative about post-l950s work. Their evacuation of conspicuous central urban space creates a meteor-sized void in the current galleries landscape, and people wonder at the real motivation. But surely the d’Offays have chosen their moment, supremely well paced as always. Perhaps they simply computed (a) age (b) market saturation (c) the new mega-museum scene, and came up with a red light: wise to step out before any cataclysm. Like old hand Thomas Gibson (and Kasmin who cottoned on long ago) they decided dealers no longer need actual real space, given a secure market segment. A vision now emerges, in New York and London, of international art brokerage pursued on the dealers’ floor, crammed with terminals and mega-sales, all electronically pursued in virtual reality. That’s enough, with the all-powerful but committee-driven mega-museums, to clinch any deal.

Anthony d’Offay once did Richard Demarco a kind of favour (really Joseph Beuys was the giver). One Edinburgh Festival in the 1980s, Beuys, with Demarco’s encouragement, selected broken down ‘poorhouse’ doors, sanctified them as a Beuys ‘found-object’, with a red light attachment (red sold sign?). Then Douglas Hall, at Edinburgh’s National Gallery of Modern Art, put them helpfully on temporary exhibition. Director Johannes Cladders saw the doors, and wanted to acquire them for his Moenchen-Gladbach Museum of Art in Germany, Demarco was to get the full price, and Cladders’ committee asked for a verification of the price. You guessed it, a dealer had to do this. D’Offay was invited to help. D’Offay willingly gave a proper (trade) valuation. All was philanthropic, all the way to the bank. The intermediary do-gooders (Beuys included) went off to the pub. But, wait a minute. Demarco got his life-raft cash sum (you guessed it) – but very net of dealer commission. No waivers here in the sacred cause. Such is all-round philanthropy and its ways in the world of art. Like the free lunch, the obligatory gallery visit to Dering Street or the walk down Albemarle Street, could soon seem as irrelevant as walking the dog. The gallery (broker) website can be visited on screen. The date the Times covered the event? Oh, yes … 11 September … that was.



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