Interview: David Maupin of Lehmann Maupin

Lehmann maupin

David Maupin, one half of Lehmann Maupin Gallery.

David Maupin is one half of Lehmann Maupin, the iconic New York art gallery that has fostered the career of acclaimed artists from Gilbert & George to Liu Wei.

After graduating in art history, David Maupin started his professional career in Italy, where he met Lehmann Maupin co-founder Rachel Lehmann in 1991. For nearly two decades, Lehmann Maupin has supported a diverse group of internationally renowned artists, both emerging and established, working in multiple disciplines. With three locations — two in New York and one in Hong Kong — the gallery is known for championing artists who create groundbreaking and challenging forms of visual expression. Lehmann Maupin presents work highlighting personal investigations and individual narratives through conceptual approaches that often address such issues as gender, class, religion, history, politics, and globalism.

Maupin speaks to Billionaire.

How did you get into this industry?
Art has always been a passion of mine. I had worked in the industry for some time, most notably at Metro Pictures, before I met Rachel Lehmann by coincidence one summer in Italy and that chance meeting was the start of Lehmann Maupin.

What artists have you backed?
We have worked with artists such as Do Ho Suh, Mickalene Thomas, Hernan Bas, Mr., and Angel Otero from the beginning of their careers. We have also given some of contemporary art’s most highly respected artists their first solo exhibitions in New York, including Juergen Teller, Adriana Varejão, Liu Wei, Anya Gallaccio, Shirazeh Houshiary and Klara Kristalova.

What do you look for in unknown artists?
I’m looking for an artist with a unique vantage point, which often draws from something in their personal background or experiences, and provides commentary on a larger scale. We work with many international artists and get to see how various themes — identity, community, the creative process — play out across diverse cultures with different histories, traditions and ways of seeing.

Do you think art that addresses social issues can change the world’s problems?
Identity, whether that is political, social, historical, sexual, gender and so on, is a core part of the gallery’s programming. We represent Liza Lou, a Los Angeles-based artist who opened a studio in Durban, South Africa, in 2005. It started as a single project and expanded to a studio of about 30 Zulu artisans, primarily women, assisting Lou in her incredibly intricate beaded works. The studio acts as a significant employer in the community, providing an outlet for the Zulu cultural tradition of beadwork, and also vital services such as AIDS testing.

Another example is Nari Ward, a Harlem-based artist originally from Jamaica. Ward makes incredibly nuanced and layered paintings, sculptures, and installations using found or repurposed objects. For our most recent exhibition with Nari, TILL, LIT, we donated the proceeds from the sale of works to Housing Works, a not-for-profit that fights homelessness and AIDS in New York. The show is all about value — economies, inequality, and spirituality — and Nari adds to the conceptual underpinning of the work by directly benefiting those who have been undervalued in society.

What point in your career was your breakthrough?
I would have to say opening the doors of Lehmann Maupin 21 years ago. I transitioned from working in a gallery, to striking out on my own as a founder. We wanted an approach to programming that would entice collectors and curators alike. Now we’re opening a brand-new location in Chelsea, specifically designed with our artists and their artworks in mind, and I’m proud when reflecting on how far we’ve come.

How has the industry changed since you started out?
It is geographically more global. When we first started Lehmann Maupin, ‘international’ meant Europe, where at the same time we were uniquely working with artists from Asia such as Do Ho Suh. Our history of working with Asian artists was a large component of our decision to open a location in Hong Kong. As a member of the Art Basel Hong Kong Selection Committee, I’ve been more involved with art fairs recently, and the proliferation of fairs is another major change that doesn’t seem to be slowing down. Rather than seasonal, art fairs are continuous throughout the year now, in almost every conceivable location.

How are Millennial art buyers different?
Social media is an obvious difference. Today, collectors see an artist or artwork that they like on Instagram and contact the gallery to inquire. But the speed and access to information provided by digital technology has truly transformed the way we work. When we first started out I was still mailing out slides of artworks.

What are the world’s best art museums/institutions?
In Asia, I would say M+, K11, Ullens, and M Woods. In New York, I love the Whitney and the Metropolitan. The Fondation Beyeler is one of my favorite museums in Europe. The growth of private institutions, such as the Marciano Art Foundation in Los Angeles, has also been fantastic.

What art do you have at home and why?
I own works by many of our artists, including Hernan Bas, Teresita Fernández, Angel Otero, David Salle, Adriana Varejão, Catherine Opie, among others, but I also love design and collect pieces by Arne Jacobsen, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Isamu Noguchi, Gio Ponti, Jean Prouvé and Hans Wegner.

From 14 September to 21 October, Lehmann Maupin is showing a solo exhibition of Japanese artist, Mr., at its Hong Kong gallery on Pedder Street.

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