Interview USA

“You don’t want to just give carte blanche. We want dialogue with our artists”

Celebrating the 25th anniversary of their gallery, Lawrence Luhring and Roland Augustine look back on their partnership

Silver jubilee: Lawrence Luhring, left, and Roland Augustine at Art Basel

Celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, Luhring Augustine opened in 1985 with a show of contemporary and historical works by artists including Jean-Michel Basquiat, Philip Guston and Fernand Léger, and continues to work in both the primary and secondary markets.

The gallery represents a diverse stable of artists, from US photographer Larry Clark to Brazilian performance and installation artist, Tunga, as well as Italian arte povera maestro, Michelangelo Pistoletto, and Swiss multi-media artist Pipilotti Rist. Luhring Augustine has recently taken on several artists from a younger generation, including Janine Antoni, William Daniels and Josh Smith.

Its influential founders, Roland Augustine and Lawrence Luhring, are active members of the art community. During his ten­ure as president of the Art Dealers’ Association of America (ADAA) from 2006-2009, Aug­ustine was credited with implementing major changes, including the introduction of the association’s code of ethics, to which all members must subscribe.

The Art Newspaper: How did your partnership come about?

Roland Augustine: I was a director at Galleri Bellman, and Lawrence was a director at Annina Nosei gallery. When he left there, a mutual colleague asked whether there were any openings at Bellman. I met Lawrence, and we started co-directing the gallery together.

Lawrence Luhring: Our partnership came out of a failed partnership! When Bellman closed, it allowed us to take over the space.

TAN: The gallery was originally called Luhring, Augustine & Hodes. Who was Hodes?

LL: Hodes was our third partner. He worked in advertising and was interested in art.

RA: We bought him out in 1989 and almost simultaneously moved the gallery to SoHo and opened a gallery in Los Angeles with Max Hetzler, which we ran for three years.

TAN: Why did you close the LA gallery?

LL: We couldn’t support it. That recession was far milder than the one we recently had, but art was hit so much harder.

TAN: Would you open a second space now?

LL: I don’t think so. We’re both very involved with the artists—we don’t shop them out to staff.

RA: We are buying an 11,000 sq. ft building in Bushwick, Brooklyn, to consolidate our storage. We could possibly do projects or shows there.

TAN: How is the market now? How was Basel?

LL: Opening day was fantastic—much better than last year. There’s still a lot of uncertainty in Europe but the art market is much stronger now. There wasn’t a volatile response to buying—it was very considered.

TAN: Are people buying art because they think it is a safe place to put cash?

RA: There is more comfort with the notion of art as an asset class. Unfortunately it drives people to speculate—the challenge we face is selling art to long-term investors or ­collectors. But the last few years have shown that great art has a track record of appreciable value, that it is quite scarce and that there’s a lot of competition for it.

TAN: What have the last 25 years taught you about how to price works?

LL: We’re very conservative.

RA: Work by an artist like Christopher Wool, who we represent, can fetch $5m at auction, but we don’t react by pricing the primary market according to secondary market. An abstract painting recently sold at Sotheby’s for a lot of money and it brings other works onto the market. You can’t control that but you can try to place work carefully. We try our best to sell to institutions and serious collectors.

TAN: Do the same people buy from the gallery as at auction?

LL: The person who bought the work at Sotheby’s had come to the gallery, but we weren’t convinced by him as a collector.

TAN: Are art fairs vital?

RA: Fairs can be the art dealers’ response to the auctions—I’m very anti-auctions in general. In some circumstances they provide liquidity, but they can wreak havoc on artists’ markets by encouraging speculation and providing guarantees on works, or selling works directly from the studios. Artists don’t want to be ATMs. Fairs provide a social nexus, and give us the chance to spend time with curators and museum directors—and that’s unquantifiable.

LL: Both fairs and auctions are event-driven in terms of buying. One downside is that some collectors hold their money for fairs or auctions. There are fewer people coming to galleries to buy now, unfortunately.

TAN: Is dialogue with other dealers important to you?

RA: We’re very collegial, although it’s backfired in some instances. We encouraged Hauser & Wirth to be a partner of ours with Paul McCarthy. We represented Paul for about ten or 12 years, and introduced them, but then they acquired him from us.

TAN: How does pricing work if galleries share artists?

LL: That was part of the problem with Hauser & Wirth—they were always pushing to raise prices and it’s difficult to be the gallery that is always saying we should hold firm, because the artist can misinterpret that as us not believing in the work. It would be very easy sometimes to sell works for more money than we do, but then what happens in three years if that person comes back to us?

RA: It’s not great to undercharge either. Especially on the secondary market if you’re representing both seller and buyer—you need to be as fair as possible.

TAN: How do you overcome distrust when working with other galleries?

LL: Roland was president of the Art Dealers’ Association [and] interacted with an enormous number of colleagues. It brought people together, particularly his work on the code of ethics.

TAN: How can the code be enforced?

LL: It wasn’t intended to be draconian—more to articulate the guidelines of professional practice.

RA: What are the responsibilities of representing an artist? The artist has to deliver a certain amount of work to the gallery and the dealer has to be a custodian of that work, to establish an archive. They need to articulate an understanding with the artist as to who is going to pay for certain things. Every relationship must be articulated—the dealer and the artist, the dealer and the auction, the dealer and the estate.

TAN: You represent a diverse stable of artists. Was that a deliberate strategy?

LL: We went a certain distance with a fairly specific group of artists of our generation, but there was a change after Paul McCarthy left four years ago. It was a big shock, but once we got over that, we felt a kind of liberation and started to take on several younger artists. Now we have a number of artists in their early 30s—and it’s exciting.

TAN: What are the risks?

LL: The Brazilian artist Tunga was a big risk for us. We intrinsically believed in him but knew it was going to be costly shipping things from Brazil. He had a market in Brazil but nowhere else. How do you price things if something’s selling in Brazil for $20, but you’re not going to be able to get $10 in America? It was a very delicate thing, but now he has works in major museums.

RA: The other side of the coin is that you can have an artist that simply doesn’t develop as you would like. Greg­ory Crewdson and Luhring Augustine recently parted ways after a long relationship.

TAN: What went wrong?

LL: The dialogue completely stopped. He had aspirations for a more glamorous gallery so he’s going to be with Gagosian now. We grew apart. At some point he demanded we pay all the expenses. We had no editing or oversight of the work. That’s the kind of gallerist you don’t want to become—where you just give carte blanche. We want dialogue with our artists.

TAN: Could you have reached this stage without each other?

RA: I don’t think so. I generalise by saying he’s northern European and I’m Mediter­ranean. He’s always the one telling me not to lose my temper.

LL: It’s a symbiotic relationship…we work together. It’s better to have four eyes than two.

TAN: What would you say about the last 25 years?

RA: Hard but satisfying. I wouldn’t change a thing—though I wish I’d studied ­psychology.

LL: And 25 more years like the last would be great.

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