New king of contemporary art opens gallery to rival Saatchi

He is reckoned to be the best-connected art dealer in the world. He represents many of the greatest artists of the past 50 years - including Jeff Koons, Howard Hodgkin, Richard Serra and the estate of Andy Warhol.

He is reckoned to be the best-connected art dealer in the world. He represents many of the greatest artists of the past 50 years - including Jeff Koons, Howard Hodgkin, Richard Serra and the estate of Andy Warhol.

And now Larry Gagosian, the influential New York dealer, is to shake up the British art market with the opening later this month of the biggest dealership in the capital. The finishing touches are being applied to an enormous converted garage measuring 12,500 sq ft which will house the gallery situated in King's Cross in central London. The Gagosian Gallery is more than three times larger than White Cube, the gallery run by the current dealer "king" of British contemporary art, Jay Jopling.

Gagosian has already had his fair share of stirring things up over here with yesterday's opening of the "Stations of the Cross" exhibition at his Heddon Street gallery in London's West End. This provocative exhibition - a collaboration between Damien Hirst and David Bailey - has Christ portrayed as a woman and has elicited a certain shock among churchmen. It is described by the gallery as part of Hirst's "fascination with Christian iconography".

But Gagosian's arrival in King's Cross and speculation about the artists he could lure to his Caruso St John-designed stable has shaken up what was becoming a moribund market.

Cristina Ruiz, editor of The Art Newspaper said: "This will undeniably have a huge impact on the London art scene. I think he's probably the most influential dealer of our times."

The opening within the next few weeks is being greeted as recognition that London is an important player in the world market for contemporary art and will bring in major exhibitions by some of the art world's biggest stars.

But it will also raise questions about whether some leading artistic lights may be tempted to leave their present dealers to show their work at the new venue.

Ms Ruiz predicts the opening will spur others to move to King's Cross. "All it takes is one major gallery to make a move and I think we will see a flocking effect and within a few years we'll see several spaces in that area."

Ms Ruiz said it would be intriguing to see what would happen when the British artists Gagosian represents in New York want to mount a major London show. "I would be very surprised if it came to a falling out," she said. "I'm sure somebody as savvy as Gagosian will move very carefully."

Stefan Ratibor, a director of the Gagosian Gallery in Heddon Street, said the new space would be used for both major exhibitions and to display works for sale. But he dismissed suggestions that Gagosian would tempt artists to move from rival dealers. "Absolutely not. There is nothing aggressive - this will only be a very positive relationship.

"We've had a West End gallery for four years. This was a question of scale. Certain artists needed a different structure - to be on a larger scale and sky-lit. Some want natural daylight which we didn't have in the existing space, and that was very much in the forefront of our minds. We see it as a mission to show the highest quality art."

Mr Gagosian's shows in New York in recent years have included eminent artists such as Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, and he is currently running a retrospective of Willem de Kooning.

The art critic Brian Sewell welcomed Gagosian's move, which he said would challenge the tastes of major institutions such as the Tate. "It will be marvellous if Gagosian gets to take on the officially sanctioned art of [Tate director Sir Nicholas] Serota. Painters who would not be brought in by Tate Modern will now become visible," he said.

Mr Sewell also welcomed the unprecedented attack Charles Saatchi launched on his critics in an interview last week after his latest exhibition, New Blood, was widely derided: "It is pitiful so many critics find it easier to review me than the art."

Mr Sewell supported his rant: "I'm at his elbow on this. Bite back man, don't put up with it. "Most critics are ill informed little pigs who know nothing about anything. They are the bottom of the journalistic heap and the problem is that their editors don't care about the arts."

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