"One of its directors, a handsome Spaniard named Ales Ortuzar, crept up to the table [where David Zwirner was]. ' The second Kusama is sold," he said. The price was $2013,<>," is how Nick Paumgarten describes to The New Yorker one of David Zwirner's transactions during a VIP presale at the Art Basel fair in Basel, Switzerland, on a Tuesday in June <>, after a champagne breakfast in the panopticon of the city's convention center on the east bank of the Rhine. The anecdote, which gave rise to the nickname "The Dapper Spaniard" with which the New York press occasionally refers to Ortuzar, hides another equally accurate description: his discretion, efficiency and ability to close a sale in one of the most competitive markets. Qualities that the German dealer David Zwirner must have seen when he proposed that he come to work in New York.
Takako Yamaguchi. "Innate Behavior", 1990. Oil, bronze sheet on canvas. 72 x 96 inches (182.9 x 243.8 cm) (AO 2616) Copyright © Takako Yamaguchi. Courtesy of the artist and Ortuzar Projects, New York. Photo: Dario Lasagni.Dario Lasagni
"I started in a gallery in London almost 20 years ago. That's when I met David and in 2008 I came to work with him. On my first day on the job, Lehman Brothers went bankrupt. It was a catastrophic day for the art market," Ortuzar recalls. "I was one of the first more senior-level people that David brought to the business. Because the rest of the team had been with him from the beginning, growing organically."
Ortuzar was a witness and instrumental protagonist of a period of expansion and consolidation of the David Zwirner gallery in which he went on to operate four spaces in New York City as well as galleries in Los Angeles, London, Hong Kong and Paris. "When I started the business it was very different than it is today. It was a gallery with 40 employees, three spaces on 19th Street, and a shared space in Uptown. It was a pretty intimate business, where we knew all the artists and the team," he says of that time. "Then the company grew and grew and grew. It was a great privilege to have worked with David at that time, because I learned a lot and saw the company multiply by five in terms of employees, revenue... We opened the gallery in London and on 20th Street. But there came a point where I wanted a more intimate relationship with my artists. I longed for that close, personal collaboration that I saw being lost a little. That was what motivated me to leave David Zwirner and set up Ortuzar Projects," he explains about the decision to change the course of a successful career alongside one of the most influential art dealers in the world to bet everything on his talent and his personal project.
Ernie Barnes. "Blow Before the Storm", 1979. Signed "ERNIE BARNES" in the lower right corner; Stamped with the artist's copyright stamp on the back. Acrylic on canvas, in artist's frame. 48 3/8 x 24 5/8 inches (122.9 x 62.5 cm) (AO 2926) Copyright © Ernie Barnes Family Trust. Courtesy of Ortuzar Projects, New York, and Andrew Kreps Gallery, New York. Photo: Steven Probert.Alan Shaffer
It's night in Paris when we talk. Ortuzar is visiting artists' studios in several European cities. "I was in London. And tomorrow I have a meeting with another artist," he says. The Ortuzar Project focuses on representing "international artists who have played critical roles" within the 20th and 21st century canon, "but who have not received recent critical exposure in the United States." That's why choosing your artist portfolio depends on a combination of factors. "For me, the most important thing is to be able to contribute something. Because there are wonderful artists, that I love, that I could possibly exhibit, but that my work is not going to change their trajectory, with those I am not interested in maintaining a relationship of representation. But, on the other hand, there are other artists who are wonderful like Maruja Mallo, who nobody knew who she was in the United States. And as a result of the exhibition we put on in New York, it caused a lot of interest. That's my main motivation, to be able to have an impact on his trajectory."
This work of positioning requires a close relationship and a specific strategy that becomes more complex when the artist maintains relationships with several galleries. "With the living artists we represent, we work on all aspects of their career. With exhibitions in museums, publications, books; in some cases even creating foundations for the future. That's why I want to keep the roster of artists rather small." One of the best examples of the work that the gallery does with its artists is the American Suzanne Jackson. "When I met her in 2018 it was a time when there wasn't a lot of interest in her work and since we started working with her, we've sold to MoMA, to the Whitney, to PS1 MoMA, to the top ten museums in the United States and she's going to have a retrospective at PS1 MoMA. He now has an exhibition at the Galleria d'Arte Moderna in Milan. It's a relationship that we've really enjoyed and managed to have an impact that we're very proud of," he explains.
Suzanne Jackson. "Red Calligraphy", 2022 Acrylic, paper rolls, paint rag, produce bag netting 59 x 61 x 3 inches (149.9 x 154.9 x 7.6 cm) (AO 3078) Copyright © Suzanne Jackson. Courtesy the Artist and Ortuzar Projects, New York. Photo: David Kaminsky.
Ortuzar confesses that having been born in Spain and lived in England and then New York, he was surprised by the disarticulation between the art that is appreciated and celebrated in each place. "Maybe you've experienced it too?" he asks, and I nod. "There are well-known artists in one city and when you travel to another, no one knows them. That was kind of the basis of the Ortuzar Project, to try to break those echo chambers and introduce new artists who hadn't shown their work in New York."
Another of his lines of interest are artists who have emigrated or have been forced into exile. "Right now in the gallery we're showing the work of Carlos Almaraz [one of the pioneers of Chicano art] who was born in Mexico and then moved to Los Angeles. I'm interested in artists who for some reason have moved to another country, like Maruja Mallo [whose exile included a tour of Portugal, Argentina and New York] or Andrei Cădere who went to Paris."
Matt Connors. "Auto-translation", 2014. Signed and dated 'Matt Connors 2014' (on the rack). Acrylic on canvas. 90 x 75 1/4 inches (228.6 x 191.1 cm) (AO 3182) Copyright © Matt Connors. Courtesy of the Artist and Ortuzar Projects, New York. Photo: Steven Probert.Steven Probert (Photo: Steven Probert)
Ortuzar has extensive experience at international fairs, but this is the first time he has participated in Art Basel Miami Beach with his own gallery. "As a result of my experience with David Zwirner, where we did a lot of fairs, when I set up my own gallery I wanted to tread cautiously, thinking carefully about what fairs we want to do. The main thing for us is to have the right content, works or project for each fair in which we participate. For Frieze [Masters 2023] in London, for example, we presented a series of women artists in interesting dialogue with each other." Ortuzar Projects' selection for last October's London fair included pieces by Gertrude Abercrombie, Lynda Benglis, Barbara Chase-Riboud, Suzanne Jackson, Lois Lane, Mary Lovelace O'Neal, Maruja Mallo, Rosemary Mayer, Betye Saar, Joan Snyder, Anita Steckel, Alma Thomas, Hannah Wilke and Takako Yamaguchi.
"I was afraid of doing too many fairs, that's why we hadn't applied to Basel until now," she confesses. "For us, Art Basel is a different context. We carry rather recent work by our artists. Showing not so much the historical side as the more contemporary side of the show." The selection of artists that the Ortuzar Project — one of only three new galleries that will enter directly into the main sector this year — will exhibit at the Miami Beach Convention Center from December 8 to 10, includes some of its portfolio such as Takako Yamaguchi, Suzanne Jackson, Joey Terrill and Matt Connors, as well as Lynda Benglis, with whom it maintains a working relationship despite not having its exclusive representation.
Joey Terrill. "A Bigger Piece", 2008Acrylic and mixed media on canvas36 x 60 inches (91.4 x 152.4 cm) (AO 1601) Copyright © Joey Terrill. Courtesy of the Artist and Ortuzar Projects, New York. Photo: Steven Probert.Steven Probert (Photo: Steven Probert)
"Art Basel Miami Beach is a crossroad. Unlike other fairs, it has a focus on the Spanish-speaking world that interests us a lot," explains Ortuzar. "And despite the geopolitical and economic instability the world is going through, the art market is still going strong. So, from a sales point of view, we don't go to the fair with fear. We participated with great enthusiasm to meet new Latin American museums and collectors.