how a Dutchman conquers London after New York

Jorg Grimm in his Amsterdam gallery with work by Angela Heisch, one of the artists he represents.Statue Judith Jockel

He does not have nearly as many exhibition spaces as Larry Gagosian, the American owner of the world’s largest gallery of modern and contemporary art (nineteen branches). The network of the equally famous David Zwirner is also beyond his reach: four locations in New York plus branches in London, Paris and Hong Kong. Still, the expansion of Jorg Grimm (46) is starting to stand out.

The Dutchman opened a gallery in Amsterdam in 2005. Twelve years later, he and Hannah Reefhuis, his wife and co-owner, ventured to expand to New York. On Wednesday, another shot will be added to the tribe, in a very expensive area of ​​London. Grimm is the only owner of contemporary art galleries in the Netherlands with branches abroad.

The jump to London is notable as British art dealers complained of reduced sales and increased red tape after Brexit. Grimm can confirm the latter. “In the past, everything was free economic traffic. Now I have to use customs clearance forms for every transport. It’s a hassle’.

But other developments are worth the extra work, he explains in the garden of his gallery on Keizersgracht. Nine of the 32 artists he represents are British. He can now show it in their own country. ‘We are also doing more and more with the museums there, so it is practical to have a point of contact there. And they have really good art academies there.’

His new branch is located in the Mayfair district, which is still teeming with prestigious galleries despite Brexit. Gagosian’s and Zwirner’s are nearby. The Phillips auction house is right next door to his new rental property. Ferraris and Bentleys are for sale just a stone’s throw away, as well as fashion from Oscar de la Renta and Vivienne Westwood. Perhaps most telling is the name of the shop diagonally opposite his gallery: Hedonism wines. “You can smash a quarter of a million on a bottle of whiskey there.”

According to him, the choice for the expensive neighborhood was inevitable. ‘In New York you have several neighborhoods with a concentration of galleries: Chelsea, Tribeca, the Lower East Side. In London, the focus is really on Mayfair. You have to sit there to get a run. We have 90 square meters. That’s pretty conservative. We will start, just like in New York, without ringing the bell. Just make good shows and then grow slowly.’

In 2017, he opened a gallery in New York in a modest location on the Lower East Side. Three years later, he decided to look for another place. “During covid it went right back to that. Lots of violence. Lots of homeless”. He ran into a ‘corona opportunity’. ‘Soon after the outbreak of the pandemic, a room twice as large, 600 square meters, came on the market in Tribeca .I didn’t call until three months later, but I was the first.” He rented the two floors without actually seeing them—the travel ban prevented him from going to New York.

Has the pandemic hurt sales? ‘Sales of artists for whom there is a good market continued. We had no costs for openings, grants and travel. It makes a big difference.’ According to him, the reaction from gallerists also made a big difference. “Some started running fast, others waited for it to pass. The first ones have done really well.

“My team and I ran really hard. we have online viewing room Setup. We have opened a temporary space opposite the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam. For two years we did small exhibitions there. This building has a large glass shop front which gives you a good view inside. It worked great.’

Grimm already had two galleries in Amsterdam at the time: a large one in Pijp and a smaller one on Keizersgracht. He recently got rid of it in Pijp. ‘When New York was added, two places in Amsterdam no longer made sense, and now with London there, it doesn’t make sense at all.’

What explains his success? His mantra is based on the artist and not the buyer. ‘The customer does not know in advance what he wants. Until you show it.’ And he started looking for artists abroad early on. ‘As a small starting gallery, I always lost out to established names when recruiting new talent to Dutch art schools. So there was nothing for me to do. It turned out to be one Blessing in disguise.’

Some of his foreign discoveries were successful, such as the American Matthew Day Jackson. As his stable became more and more famous, talent came to Holland to see him and – perhaps more importantly – also major art fairs. ‘If you get accepted into Frieze London or Art Basel, your Rolodex will explode. You suddenly have five times more collectors in your file. So after some time you can make a sensible business decision to open a branch abroad.’ Tells details of his latest expansion: the manager of the new gallery in London comes from competitor Zwirner.

Every month, Jorg Grimm flies to New York. He often goes up and down in one day to the British capital. He also visits artists in their studios. ‘It’s the best part of my job, visiting studios and planning exhibitions.’ He talks excitedly about which of his artists will have an exhibition in which of his galleries. ‘We are going to exhibit Alex van Warmerdam at our place in New York. Dana Lixenberg was there before, who is going to London. We are now able to bring Dutch people to the international circuit. It is brittle. And well deserved for them.’

Jorg Grimm originally wanted to become a painter, but interrupted his studies at the Gerrit Rietveld Academy. He then attended the Hogeschool Economic Studies in Amsterdam. After a short job in automation, he opened a gallery in 2005. He comes from the family of the Brothers Grimm, who became world famous with their fairy tales. Jorg Grimm is a distant descendant of a younger brother of the two.

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