Born in Cologne, David Zwirner fell in love with New York when his father took him there for the first time as a child. It was a relationship that blossomed when he returned, aged 15, to study in the city. ‘It’s that great moment as a teenager when you really open up to the world, and I was in New York, and – boy – what a world I saw there,’ says Zwirner, who now owns three galleries in the city that has been his home for more than 30 years.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
‘I love New York’s museums and I visit them all quite frequently, but if I had to take one away with me to a lonely island it would be The Met – it would keep me busy for the rest of my life. The Met is not where contemporary art necessarily is front and centre, even though it’s making a big push. I just love that it’s encyclopaedic and you can lose yourself in some temple or in medieval history or in the Byzantine rooms.’ metmuseum.org
‘There’s a very active public art programme in New York, though most of the works are temporary. There’s the Public Art Fund, which is maybe the most famous organisation, and it has a beautiful space on the corner of Central Park where it presents big sculptures. Recently, one of our artists, Isa Genzken, had a big orchid sculpture there, and you get to see that for six months, then something else happens.’
The High Line
‘One of the most incredible developments in the city over the past 20 years. It was just an old rail track and now it’s a beautiful city park connecting Chelsea to the Lower West Side. It has a really vibrant public art programme that changes all the time. The curators are great: they’re friends, and that’s something I just absolutely love. I walk on the High Line almost every day.’ thehighline.org
The East Village
‘The East Village is very young. Where we live, it’s really driven by the sprawling New York University campus. When you go out it’s very vibrant and lively.’ As well the art dinners Zwirner and his wife, Monica, host at their home, he’s also a partner in Italian restaurant Il Buco Alimentari & Vineria (ilbucovineria.com), where he often dines with clients and friends. ‘It’s very rustic, almost like a Tuscan townhouse, and has excellent food but it’s very informal, so it’s a fun place to have lunch or dinner.’
‘The epicentre [of the New York art scene] is Chelsea,’ says Zwirner, who has two galleries in the area. A new US$50 million (HK$393 million) gallery designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano is also under construction and will open in the area in 2020. ‘We’ll have exhibitions on three floors, and the spaces will be unique. Each floor will have its own character.’
The Upper East Side
‘The other traditional New York art market place. The gallery world that drove that great moment of abstract expressionism [in the 1950s and ’60s] now called the New York School was almost exclusively uptown. There’s a long tradition of beautiful smaller spaces in more domestic settings.’ Zwirner opened a gallery there in 2017 and previously had a space with Iwan Wirth, where a memorable encounter took place in 2005 when his staff alerted him to the presence of a ‘dishevelled but distinguished’ gentleman in the gallery. It was abstract expressionist Cy Twombly.