London — Mayfair is known for its high-end fashion boutiques: Prada, Burberry, Yves St. Laurent. And for more than a century, this area’s elegant streets have also been the home of the top old-guard British art galleries.
Recently, however, there have been some new neighbors: many high-powered american art galleries — Gagosian, Pace, Hauser & Wirth, Michael Werner, David Zwirner — that seem more Manhattan than Mayfair.
A number of them have opened or expanded their spaces in this neighborhood, paying top dollar for commercial rents. And in the me-too world of contemporary art, other galleries, also mostly American, are soon to follow.
“There is art on the street at a level that’s never been seen before,” said David Rosen, a London real estate developer, who says he is busier than ever finding new gallery spaces in the area.
In many ways, the new galleries are a sign of the heated competition at the top of the market. Dealers are competing not only for new collectors from places like russia, china and the middle east, who have bought homes here, but also for top artists, who increasingly demand dealers with global reach.
And London may become the city of choice for that kind of extended influence, with mayfair as its epicenter.
“That’s where it’s all happening,” Mr. Rosen said. “There’s Sotheby’s, Christie’s, Claridges, the Connaught and the Ritz,” he noted, reeling off the names of big auction houses and world-famous hotels in the neighborhood. Foreign governments and hedge funds, as well as scores of other high-profile businesses, also have offices around Mayfair. And Mercury Group, the Russian owner of Phillips, the boutique auction house, recently paid about $160 million for a 52,000-square-foot building at 30 Berkeley square, where it plans to make the basement and the first and second floors into Phillips’s London headquarters.
Elsewhere in the neighborhood, smaller galleries with strong New York connections have also opened, some in upstairs spaces, like Per Skarstedt and Eykyn Maclean.
Mayfair’s latest art-centric turn started with Larry Gagosian, who opened his first London gallery about 13 years ago. He is now opening his third gallery here — a 22,000-square-foot space at 20 Grosvenor Hill — in october.
“I like the adventure of opening galleries in different parts of the world,” Mr. Gagosian said, adding that many European collectors shop in London, but don’t necessarily come to New York.
His other two galleries are on nearby Davies Street, also in Mayfair, and another is farther away, on Britannia street, a stone’s throw from Kings Cross. But he decided to open a larger space in Mayfair after a collector in London told him, “I love you, Larry, but i just don’t have the time to go all the way to Britannia street.” The new gallery will be Mr. Gagosian’s 13th worldwide.
Marc Glimcher, president of Pace gallery, reluctantly admitted that his company opened the London gallery partly for fear of losing artists to Mr. Gagosian.
“Yes, there’s some truth to that,” Mr. Glimcher said when asked. “Gagosian made a brilliant move in 2000 when he opened in London.”
Pace now runs four spaces in New York, one in Beijing and two here in London: a small one in Soho and a large gallery in Mayfair in part of what was once the Museum of Mankind.
“We’re all chasing the same artists,” Mr. Glimcher said. “but the intensity of interest in art in London is long-lasting. You can get 10 reviews in 10 different newspapers. And besides the new collectors and galleries, there is a very vibrant museum community.”
Last fall, David Zwirner, perhaps Mr. Gagosian’s fiercest rival, opened a gallery in an 18th-century town house on Grafton Street, in which Helena Rubenstein started a beauty clinic in 1909; it was more recently a bank. He hired Annabelle Selldorf, the New York architect, to renovate that 10,000-square-foot building, which has five floors of gallery and office space.
“I wanted a European presence,” Mr. Zwirner said, “and London is the second-most-important town after New York.”
Dealers say that doing business in London is different from selling in New York. “Nobody just drops in and buys something, like they do in New York,” explained Iwan Wirth, a partner of Hauser & Wirth, which now runs two large spaces in London. “We work on the Swiss model, developing relationships with collectors slowly.”
Although Hauser & Wirth began in Zurich, where it still has a gallery, along with two in New York, Mr. Wirth said it was not till he opened in London that he was considered an international dealer. He now also runs two spaces in London, one on Piccadilly and another nearby, on Savile Row.
Even the cautious have found that it is time to jump in. The Michael Werner gallery first dipped its toes in the market here, opening temporary “pop-up” spaces on Mansfield Street, in the Marylebone neighborhood, in 2008, and then on Hoxton Square, in the east end, three years ago.
The gallery just added a third floor of space in a period house on Upper Brook Street, in the heart of Mayfair.
“Artists want to show in places where there are other artists,” said Gordon Veneklasen, Mr. Werner’s partner in the gallery. “in the fall, when we had an exhibition of peter doig’s paintings, we had about 200 people a day here for three months,” he said, referring to the Scottish painter. Right now, the setting — large rooms with intricately carved Victorian woodwork, an elaborate fireplace and a glass-ceilinged winter garden — is the backdrop for two monumental paintings and a bronze sculpture by the danish artist Per Kirkeby.
The cost of running so many galleries, dealers say, is astronomical, and London is exceptionally expensive. Mr. Rosen estimates that spaces in Mayfair usually rent for about £100 (about $160) a square foot per year, and that the average gallery is a minimum of 10,000 square feet. On top of that, he pointed out, there are taxes which he described as “half again as much.” that does not include renovations or salaries. “Yes the cost is huge,” Mr. Veneklasen said. “but so far it’s more than paid for itself.”
The investment does not seem to be scaring off other dealers. Marian Goodman, who has her well-established galleries in paris and on 57th street in New York, is looking for space. “We’re not out to conquer the universe like some of the men,” she said. “We’re really doing this for our artists, because a lot of them don’t show in London.”
Ms. Goodman added, “now seems to be the right time.”