She has pulled strings for Larry Gagosian, struck deals for Roman Abramovich and advised the Russian billionaire's glamorous partner Dasha Zhukova on her art operations. Now Mollie Dent-Brocklehurst, one of the most influential figures in London's cut-and-thrust gallery world, is spearheading the capital's occupation by a new breed of "mega-galleries".
Dent-Brocklehurst has been appointed by New York's Pace Gallery to search for the American gallery's first London space. Pace is one of several large international galleries, such as Gagosian Gallery and Hauser & Wirth, currently aggressively expanding operations in Britain.
"Mollie will be building a team and developing an exhibition programme for the gallery and estates we work with," says Andrea Glimcher, daughter-in-law of Arne Glimcher, who founded Pace Gallery in Boston in 1960. "We are thrilled Mollie is joining us and she will be establishing an office in London by the end of the month."
Dent-Brocklehurst began her career at Sotheby's before working for Gagosian for 10 years, first in New York and then as director of his first London gallery. In 2008 she joined Abramovich and Zhukova's The Garage in Moscow as international director and programme co-ordinator where she will continue in an advisory role.
Pace Gallery denied Abramovich is linked with the new London space. "London is significant for us because we work with many artists working there and it is such an important bridge between different geographical regions," says Glimcher. "In the spring we co-organised an exhibition of Rothko paintings with The Garage. Mollie is well known, we are well aware of her professional trajectory and we've been fortunate recently to get to know her better."
Dent-Brocklehurst hinted her move might be for personal reasons. "It was exciting to be involved in The Garage but it is sometimes difficult to judge the impact of shows there, and I don't speak Russian," she says. "I am very London-based with two young children and Moscow is 1,500 miles away. And London is where the business of art happens in Europe."
In October Hauser & Wirth, which represents 40 leading artists worldwide, opened a large second exhibition space in London, in addition to its existing galleries in New York and Zurich. Gagosian recently announced his intention of launching his third space in London and intends to open an 11th gallery in Hong Kong next year.
"It's very exciting what they are planning and I'm happy to be a part of it," says the Turner Prize-winning artist Keith Tyson, who will be represented by the new Pace Gallery in London. "I think London has always been a halfway point between Europe and America and it's become the location of choice for lots of art patrons."
Pace is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. In September is acquired Willem de Kooning's estate from the Gagosian Gallery, and it also represents the estates of Barbara Hepworth, Mark Rothko and Alexander Calder. Its living artists include Chinese artist Zhang Xiaogang as well as Tyson. It already has four bases in New York along with one in China. Glimcher has also produced and directed several films, including 1992's The Mambo Kings, starring Antonio Banderas.
"At the upper end of the art world it seems to be a question of 'recession, what recession?'" says Louisa Buck, contemporary art correspondent for The Art Newspaper. "The market has held well at the blue-chip end of the market. Pace is the crème de la crème, in the same way that White Cube don't seem overly concerned by the economic climate. These expansions are also happening because when a gallery's rivals are opening new spaces they don't want to look like they are being left behind."
Dent-Brocklehurst's full attention will be missed by The Garage, which opened in 2008 with an exhibition of works from the collection of Francois Pinault, the owner of Christie's. The same year, Zhukova hosted the Serpentine's Summer Party in London, cementing her reputation as a fixture on the art world's social circuit. "I always had the idea in the back of my mind, and it's always bothered me that there wasn't a place like this in Moscow," she said at the time. "I think when I saw the building it just kind of fell into place, I was like, right, this is great." Meanwhile, Abramovich continues to expand his cultural influence. Last month it emerged the owner of Chelsea Football Club plans to turn New Holland Island, a crumbling military base in central St Petersburg, into a commercial and cultural centre. His is also believed to be expanding his art collection with pieces by Lucien Freud and Francis Bacon.
"But if you're not based in London you're not accessing a rich vein of collectors," says Tyson. "It's a hub for most of the art world. Whereas previously it was primarily New York, London has caught up."
The art market's power players
* Armenian-American art dealer Larry Gagosian has three galleries in New York. He has an impressive space on Camden Drive in Beverly Hills, and galleries in King's Cross and Mayfair. He has said he wants a third London space. One of the biggest players in the art world, he lives the Hamptons where he hosts summer soirées and film screenings for his friends, including the film producer David Geffen and Mick Jagger.
* Charles Saatchi made his name in advertising including campaigns for the Tories. His first self-named gallery opened in 1985 to host his personal collection, and he has since launched the careers of Damien Hirst, Marc Quinn and many of the artists who came to prominence in the 1997 Sensation exhibition at the Royal Academy. He has now established his base at the Duke of York's Headquarters building in Chelsea.
* Iwan Wirth is a Swiss contemporary art dealer and gallery owner, described by The New York Times as "one of the most powerful players in contemporary art", with a 2008 survey by Art Review naming him as the most important contemporary art dealer in Europe. In 2003, he co-founded his eponymous gallery with Ursula Hauser on Piccadilly and opened another space in New York and a second in London.
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