ArtReview Power 100: Somerset-based art dealers Iwan and Manuela Wirth claim top spot

The Swiss husband-and-wife team are based in the historic village of Bruton

Nick Clark
Arts Correspondent
Thursday 22 October 2015 00:14 BST
Iwan and Manuela Wirth have been called ‘the gallery world’s power couple’
Iwan and Manuela Wirth have been called ‘the gallery world’s power couple’ (Getty Images)

The bucolic Somerset farming town of Bruton might not trip off the tongue when naming places associated with the contemporary art world.

But that may be about to change, after two of its residents were today named the most powerful couple in modern art.

Art dealers Iwan and Manuela Wirth, who are based in the historic village – two hours outside of London– have come first in ArtReview’s 2015 Power 100 list.

Art power 100: The top 10

  1. Iwan and Manuela Wirth (art dealers)
  2. Ai Weiwei (artist)
  3. David Zwirner (gallery owner)
  4. Hans Ulrich Obrist and Julia Peyton-Jones  (Serpentine Gallery directors)
  5. Sir Nicholas Serota  (Tate director)
  6. Larry Gagosian  (art dealer, below)
  7. Glenn D Lowry  (MoMA director)
  8. Marina Abramović  (performance artist)
  9. Adam D Weinberg  (Whitney Museum director)
  10. Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev (curator)

The Swiss husband-and-wife team, co-presidents of major art dealer Hauser & Wirth, were once dubbed “the gallery world’s power couple” by Vogue, and today’s announcement marks the first time they have topped the annual industry survey.

Larry Gagosian is the only other art dealer to have been named the industry’s most powerful figure in the list’s 14-year history.

ArtReview hailed the Wirths’ increasing influence, praising “what they have done to change the model of selling and promoting art”.

“They understand that selling art objects isn’t the whole story, [people] want to be sold a lifestyle,” according to the report.

Mark Rappolt, editor-in-chief of ArtReview, said: “They are developing a different way of being an international gallery – one that’s not based on a more-or-less uniform series of white cubes.”

Art dealer and number six on the list, Larry Gagosian, right, with Damien Hirst in 2013 (Getty) (Getty Images)

Iwan and Manuela’s mother Ursula Hauser set up Hauser & Wirth in Zurich in 1992. Manuela joined the company as Iwan’s secretary and married him four years later. The business expanded to London in 2003 and six years later they opened a gallery in New York, taking their place among the biggest dealers in the world.

It was their next space that most surprised many in the art world. Instead of targeting Hong Kong, Miami or a major European city, Hauser & Wirth decided to set up an “outpost” in the English countryside.

The Wirths discovered Somerset in 2007. They bought a farm, renovated it and moved in three years ago – commuting from London on weekends – and sent their children to local schools.

In 2010, they bought a dilapidated 17th-century farm house in the land adjoining, and over four years turned it into a high-end art centre for the region: Hauser & Wirth Somerset.

At the site, “collectors can sample the country life, fitting for our Downton age,” ArtReview said.

Set in 100 acres of fields and woodland, Durslade Farm was built in the 1760s. The Grade II-listed buildings include a farmhouse, stables, cow sheds, a piggery and a threshing barn, which had been used to film the Johnny Depp film Chocolat.

They converted the site into a modern arts centre with five gallery spaces, a restaurant, rooms for guests of the gallery and spaces for education and seminars. The garden was designed by landscape architect Piet Oudolf.

The rural outpost opened in July 2014 and has since welcomed more than 100,000 visitors with artists including Louise Bourgeois and Paul McCarthy going on display.

Tania Buckrell Pos, head of the art advisory firm Arts & Management International, said: “It offers something very different, They are mega-dealers, there’s no doubt about it, but something like Hauser & Wirth Somerset really sets them apart.”

The expansion is set to continue. In March, the Wirths are to open a 100,000sq ft space with museum curator Paul Schimmel in Los Angeles.

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