Born in Knokke, Belgian Christophe Van de Weghe founded his gallery in 1999. The location? 76th Street on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, New York City. Not bad for a Belgian who as a teenager was destined for a promising career in tennis. Imagicasa was able to contact the busy gallery owner for an interview to ask him if he is living his 'American Dream'.
What was it like to arrive and start working in the States as a foreigner?
“America is the land of opportunity, contrary to Europe or Belgium, where it’s more about what your background or your last name is. Here, nobody cares about that. In America, it’s more ‘What do you bring to the table?’, ‘What do you have to offer?’ and ‘How can we make money together?’. It’s a very different mentality. In America, when somebody makes it, people are happy for you. In Europe – Belgium, France – I’ve seen a lot of jealousy which I think is too bad and something I don’t like at all.” Do you still come to Belgium often?
“I recently became the chairman of the TEFAF Art Fair Modern Section. The TEFAF fair in Maastricht is a very important one for me and I go there every year. I still have some family in Belgium – my wife’s parents, Filipe and Mimi Libeert, live there and they are some of the best collectors of cutting edge art – I visit 3 or 4 times a year.”
Which Belgian artists are your favourites?
“The old masters, we know who they are and we know they’re great. My favourite is Memling. I have great admiration for the exacting way he applied pant to the panel – the figures look so real and the way he renders the flesh is amazing. And of course Van Eyck, James Ensor, Magritte and Delvaux are also very important. But I do think, in terms of contemporary art, Belgium is very lucky with its superstar artists. I followed Luc Tuymans’ career every since I moved to New York. I’ve been a great admirer and I respect his work very much.” Which works or artists that have passed through your gallery are you most proud of?
“I’ve sold some important Rothko paintings. The most expensive painting that I’ve sold was a Rothko for 48 million dollars. I’ve also sold some very important works by Warhol, Lichtenstein and especially Basquiat. It’s been sensational to me to see the price increase in Basquiat. I used to sell a great Basquiat painting for 2, 3, 4 million dollars and now they are 20, 30, 40, 50 million or more.” You’re active in the secondary market, was this a deliberate choice?
“Early on in my professional career, I had to make a decision. Did I want to work with artists directly and maybe having a staff of 100 people? But I realized very quickly that working and making money are very important to me but the most important thing to me is to be able to have free time and to be able to enjoy life, which is not always easy when you’re an art dealer. … Most of the artists that I deal with are dead. Therefore, my business consists of buying and selling art, taking works on consignment from clients that I’ve had years long relationships with. I also find this to be a much safer investment because when people buy from me, they will buy a Warhol, Basquiat, Serra, Ruscha, Calder, late Picasso. These are all very expensive artists, but at the end of the day, they are artists that are already part of the history books. Their market is stable. … People have to understand that every 10 years there’s only 5 great artists that emerge. … Today you have hundreds, thousands of artists but I guarantee you that over time, their markets are not going to survive.”
“The most important thing to me is to be able to have free time and to be able to enjoy life.”
Has the market changed much since you started out?
“When I started out in 1993 as salesperson for Larry Gagosian the buyers were European, North American and there were some Japanese buyers. But today all of that has changed – it’s a global market. When I do my art fairs, I will meet clients from Kazakhstan, China, India, Brazil, Mexico, from all over the world. Contrary to before, people look at art today more and more like a hard asset and feel much more comfortable putting their money in art than ever before. With regard to the profession of being an art dealer, yes, everything has changed. Everything is more transparent today. Also being a secondary-market dealer, like me, is more and more difficult because prices keep going up. Before, if you had a million dollars you could buy a great work of art. Now, with a million dollars it’s a challenge. The numbers have gotten higher because there are so many more clients, and these clients all want the same thing.” How long do you see yourself in this profession?
“Well, when you’re an art dealer, its not really work. I mean, I go to the office each morning, make phone calls, do research, but I’m having fun. Making money on top of it is just the cherry on top. I think I will do this forever because buying art, selling art is a real passion for me. It doesn’t feel like work – it’s fun and I think that one should have fun until they die.”
Gallery images & portrait: ©Van de Weghe Fine Art