If you think contemporary art power dealer Larry Gagosian is nothing more than a cold-hearted negotiator with his eyes fixed firmly on his art world empire, and the millionaires and billionaires he sells to, think again. According to the Wall Street Journal, there is one thing that can penetrate the native Angeleno’s cool façade and evoke enthusiastic proclamations like “Oh my God,” and “This Is Killer” It’s not a Damien Hirst shark, it’s… sushi?
According to the Journal, Gagosian, who is described as “the great white shark of the art world,” has teamed up with Masa Takayama, the so-called “Dalai Lama of American sushi,” to open Kappo Masa this month. Their sushi spot will occupy a below-ground restaurant space in the same building that houses Gagosian’s Upper East Side gallery space at 980 Madison Avenue. The story opens with an account of the two having just “hugged their way through a photo shoot,” in which each gentleman “grinned ebulliently, almost boyishly, in a way that breaks dramatically with their public personas.”
The joint venture is the end result of a 1989 dinner in Los Angeles shared by Gagosian, The Band lead guitarist and husky-voiced singer Robbie Roberston, and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. They dined at Takayama’s Ginza Sushiko, at the time a destination spot for sushi-lovers in spite of its location in a Los Angeles mall.
Despite being so busy “shaping the economic structure of the contemporary art market” at the time, Gagosian was immediately hooked on the food, and made going there a regular habit, one that increased in frequency when Takayama relocated to Manhattan in 2004, and opened his restaurant Masa in the Time Warner Center. For those of you who have to ask, the median meal price there is $450 per person, and that’s before tax and tip (Read a hilarious New Yorker parody here). Gagosian estimates he has dined there an average of twice a month for the last 10 years. For those of you trying to keep count, that’s about $108,000 Gagosian has spent on sushi over the last decade—it also puts him at very high risk for mercury poisoning.
One night, he recounts to the Journal‘s Howie Kahn, “I just popped the question to Masa,” about joining forces on a restaurant, and the rest, as they say, is history.
The story has plenty of other gems including Gagosian telling Takayama about a special gift he received just the other day: “Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie sent me four cases of wine from their vineyard. Maybe we can try it out together?”
Takayama agrees to try the Brangelina brew, but adds that he has some special sake in mind for Kappo Masa’s opening night: “Whenever there’s a big opening in Japan, like a railroad or whatever, there’s always a barrel of sake.” If it’s trains he’s thinking of, we’d recommend filling one of Jeff Koons’s shiny steel Jim Beam trains with sake.
Gagosian notes that this is not his first rodeo as far as restaurants and the hospitality business are concerned. He also shares a tender moment with actor and budding art collector Leonardo DiCaprio reminiscing about a previous venture he was involved in called Moomba. “You’d see everyone there. Jack Nicholson. Leonardo DiCaprio. He said a real sweet thing to me,” Gagosian recalls. “He said, ‘You know, Larry, I’m too young to have ever been to Studio 54, but isn’t this a little like Studio 54?’ It was very sweet the way he was asking me.”
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