By Michele S. Brown, October 28, 2011
As the great Belgian artist René Magritte sought to challenge the perceptions of reality, gallerists Harry Blain and Emmanuel Di Donna are challenging the traditional boundaries of the art world with their new gallery, Blain|Di Donna. After parting ways with his London gallery, Haunch of Venison, and its partner, Christie’s, Blain, one of London’s foremost art dealers, paired up with Di Donna, a former vice chairman of Sotheby’s. Both bring separate but equally formidable backgrounds to their newly minted, 2,800-square-foot space located on the second floor of The Carlyle.
With Magritte on the walls and Gagosian Gallery across the street, Blain and Di Donna have opened their sleek glass doors (by appointment only) to the upper echelon of New York’s most elite art crowd. Their inaugural exhibit, “Dangerous Liaisons,” comprises 25 Magritte works, most of which are making their New York debut. “Some of these works haven’t been seen in New York in 25 years. That’s an achievement in itself,” says Di Donna.
The show sets the foundation for their plan to focus on secondary market sales of museum quality modern, impressionist and select contemporary art. “People might come once because they know you,” says Blain. “But if you want them to come back, you have to be sufficiently fresh and interesting. You’re only ever as good as what you’re doing now.”
How did this partnership come about?
EMMANUEL DI DONNA: We’ve been friends for over 15 years, both in the art world and out but on different tracks. We’ve always known and respected each other. When Harry decided to take a new direction, it just made sense.
HARRY BLAIN: I think we’ve been friends for 18 years? Emmanuel is so well respected, knowledgeable and trusted. All of these components together don’t come along very often.
Why did you choose to launch with Magritte?
HB: He still feels so incredibly fresh and relevant. The work feels completely contemporary. Thankfully, we had the support and goodwill of some very important collectors, which made this exhibition possible.
EDD: Magritte is very much in everyone’s mind. His market has been getting stronger the past 10 years, but there hasn’t been a show of this magnitude in the past 15 years in New York. The work is very rich. Very eclectic. And just being confronted with a work of art you’ve only seen in a book—to see it in person, it completely changes. The dynamic is totally different.
Emmanuel, why did you want to leave Sotheby’s to work in the private market?
EDD: I was at Sotheby’s for 17 years. I worked in Paris, New York. I saw most of the universe Sotheby’s had to offer. I was ready to tackle a new challenge. And going into partnership with Harry meant more access to the top modern and contemporary art.
How is your workday different at Blain|Di Donna compared to Sotheby’s?
EDD: It is only geared toward speaking to clients and doing research—no more meetings, no more administration. The machine here is must faster. I just need to decide what I want to do next. We can dream up exhibitions we want and see how long it’s going to take to get there and that is fun.
Harry, what did you learn from your partnership with Christie’s?
HB: You never stop learning, really. That’s one of the exciting things about life, isn’t it? It was a great team of people. I made some great friendships. I gained an understanding of that business. We remain on good terms, as Emmanuel is with Sotheby’s.
Why did you choose to launch in New York?
HB: New York City is a personal favorite of mine. I met my wife at the MoMA. It is one of the most dynamic, most important cultural centers of the world. There is an incredible understanding and respect for art here.
What do you hope to bring to the New York art world that isn’t already here?
HB: New York already has so much here, but we hope to bring together exhibits that haven’t been seen for some time. We’re lucky enough to have great relationships with collectors, so if we can add to what is here in a positive way, then we’ve done what we’ve set out to do.
What art do you have in your home?
EDD: My favorite might be a Webster multicolored neon heart. You switch it on and the outside world disappears.
HB: My wife and children.