Cover David Maupin and Rachel Lehmann, the founders of Lehmann Maupin gallery. (Photo: Jason Schmidt)

Over the past year, major galleries have launched a string of pop-up spaces around the US. Now, one of them is looking to Asia

Last winter, after a year in which countless companies were forced to close, some of the world’s leading galleries announced that they were not only still open for business, they were expanding.

Lévy Gorvy, White Cube and Lehmann Maupin were three of the big-name galleries to open pop-up spaces over Christmas in Palm Beach, the sleepy Florida town where many of America’s billionaires spend the colder months. These temporary outposts were the latest effort by gallerists to bring art directly to collectors, many of whom had fled their primary homes in New York for second homes in ski resorts or seaside towns during the pandemic. Earlier in the year, pop-ups also appeared in the Hamptons and Aspen.

Now, the phenomenon has come to Asia. This summer, Lehmann Maupin is opening a pop-up in Taipei, which will run from August 3 to September 18. It is the first international gallery to launch a seasonal space in the region. 

“I love the pop-up model,” says Rachel Lehmann, whose gallery has permanent outposts in New York, London and Seoul. “I think it’s a great formula and I’m very curious what our first Asian pop-up will bring. If it works in Taiwan, I can see us expanding it to other areas in Asia—and not only East Asia.”

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Lehmann and her business partner, David Maupin, credit pop-ups with helping their gallery through the pandemic. They opened their first, in Aspen, for a short period last summer, then decamped to Palm Beach for the winter. Lehmann Maupin’s 2,000 sq ft Palm Beach space was open from mid-November to mid- March and featured pieces by the likes of pioneering African-American abstract painter McArthur Binion, sculptor Liza Lou and Marilyn Minter, who is famous for her glossy, hyperrealist portraits of women that explore ideas of glamour, sexuality and desire.

“Aspen was successful, but interest really built to a crescendo in Palm Beach,” says Lehmann. “When we were packing up in Florida, putting works into crates, people were still knocking on the door. Prior to Covid- 19, art fairs represented roughly 30 per cent of our revenue. Last year, pop-ups took the place of fairs.” Other gallerists have experienced success with the model, too: Marc Glimcher from Pace reported selling works at his Palm Beach pop-up for prices from US$50,000 to US$500,000, while art dealer Emmanuel di Donna reportedly sold a Willem de Kooning painting for US$10 million out of his Florida pop-up, Sélavy. 

So it’s no surprise that these seasonal spaces may become a more permanent fixture. Lehmann Maupin has already committed to another pop-up in Aspen this summer, which will run from early July to mid-September, and has budgeted to open another Palm Beach space in the winter.

But right now, Lehmann is focused on Taiwan. The island has long been home to an exceptionally wealthy group of art collectors, though for many years these connoisseurs were focused on traditional Chinese art and antiques, as well as trophy pieces from the most famous western artists. Among the better-known collectors are Robert and Vivian Tsao, whose collection includes treasures such as a Neolithic ritual vessel from China that dates back to 3300-2000 BC, and Pierre Chen, who owns major works by Pablo Picasso, Francis Bacon and Mark Rothko.

Over the past decade, though, a younger group of collectors who are more interested in contemporary art has emerged. “Jenny Yeh, who founded Winsing Art Place, organises thought-provoking exhibitions of international artists in Taipei—mostly from her own collection and loans from local collectors,” says Shasha Tittmann, Lehmann Maupin’s Hong Kong director. “Another collector I have deep respect for is Vicky Chen, founder of Tao Art Space, who is a young collector shaking up the art world. She’s got a great eye for witty works, which is reflected in her collection and her exhibition programming.” Perhaps the most famous patron in Taiwan is pop star Jay Chou, who owns works by stars such as Kaws and Gerhard Richter, as well as pieces by Jean-Michel Basquiat.

“Young collectors in Taiwan have supported a wide range of our artists, and not only Asian artists—artists from South America, from Europe, from America and some from Asia, too,” says Lehmann. “They really understand what we are doing as a gallery in a very poignant way. It is a growing market for us.”

Lehmann Maupin is presenting two exhibitions in Taipei, both of them group shows. Artists featured include Lee Bul, a South Korean artist famous for her sci-fi installations; British painter Billy Childish; and American sculptor Tom Friedman, who is working with the gallery for the first time in Asia. “We are really trying to give opportunities to artists whose work needs to be experienced in person,” says Lehmann.

Also on display are pieces by American video art pioneer Tony Oursler and Austrian conceptual artist Erwin Wurm, both of whom have had major museum shows in Taiwan in the past year. “The programming at Taiwanese museums is becoming more international,” says Tittmann. “Kaohsiung Museum of Fine Arts pulled off the most comprehensive retrospective of Tony Oursler to date this year, and it came with a near 600- page bilingual catalogue of his work. Our artists have really enjoyed working with their teams.”

Taiwan’s art scene has also been given a boost since 2019 by the launch of Taipei Dangdai, an art fair that has brought many leading international galleries to the city. Artsy reported that, at the 2019 event, Lehmann Maupin sold one of Do Ho Suh’s signature ghostly sculptures for roughly US$220,000. The following year, Artnet reported that the gallery sold a Lari Pittman painting for US$225,000 and a Tony Oursler mixed-media work for US$150,000. “Sales were good, but they were not extraordinary,” says Lehmann. “But I will tell you that the first time we did Art Basel in Switzerland they were not extraordinary either—it takes time to build trust.”

That is exactly what the gallery is hoping to build with its pop-up, though Lehmann remains unsure about their longer-term plans for the island. “Right now, we are not planning to open a permanent space in Taipei,” she says. “But if the pop-up goes well, maybe we’ll extend.”

Instead, Lehmann has her sights on Hong Kong, where the gallery had an outpost from 2013 to 2020. “The minute I can hop on a plane, or David Maupin can get on a plane, we will close on a space in Hong Kong,” says Lehmann. “Hong Kong is a very special place. We can’t wait to be back there—hopefully sooner rather than later.”

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