Less is more – London art dealer Pilar Ordovas celebrates 10 years in business
âLess is moreâ is not a common strategy in an art world made up of distant gallery outposts and ever-increasing prices. But despite a rapidly changing maverick market, London-based dealer Pilar Ordovas, which marks a decade in business this year, has stuck to that premise – something that sounds good in this post-pandemic time.
Staff standing across Ordovas on Savile Row in London and a small New York gallery on Madison Avenue number eight; it organizes on average between three and four exhibitions per year in the two cities and avoids art fairs. Ordovas, former vice president of post-war and contemporary art in Europe at Christie’s, said she has decided “not to reflect what is now in front of us” – the giant multi-site Hauser & Wirth, also on Savile Row. “I want the person whose name is on the door to be in the gallery.”
Even more unusual, unlike most shopping malls, the art on display in Ordovas is rarely available for purchase. So how does the sleek and charming 49-year-old keep her show on the road? âThere are no fixed rules, but when we have an exhibition, sometimes we have other works for sale that are not visible, because they could dilute the context of the exhibition. These are available, privately and discreetly, âshe said.
For example, Ordovas says she sold a large Francis Bacon triptych on the back of her first London show, even though it had not been on display to the public. She won’t reveal the price, but she had helped sell such works through Christie’s for tens of millions of pounds.
âFor me, whether I sell something at a low price or at a high price, it takes the same energy. Why make thousands of sales when you could make five? ” she says.
His approach has given rise to large-scale exhibitions since 2011. His opening show, launched with great success, combined self-portraits of Bacon and Rembrandt. The following exhibitions have included movable sculptures made by Alexander Calder in India and Peggy Guggenheim and London, a celebration of the little-known Patron’s Gallery in the UK. Bacon was also a hit in the Ordovas New York space in 2018, with a show dedicated to the women in his seemingly male-dominated life.
Its exhibitions fall broadly into two overlapping categories: either the discovery of historical links, or the highlighting of lesser-known aspects of living artists. His current exhibition, of ink and silica drawings by American artist Richard Serra, best known for his monumental steel sculptures, fits squarely with the latter. Called the Orchard street drawings, their title refers to the road to Long Island where the artist lives and produced the works.
Ordovas believes that these are “so special because they are more intimate than his earlier drawings and are private works that the artist produced in the studio without the presence or help of anyone.” And this time around, they’re for sale.
The exploration of the unknown seems to have been rooted in the young Ordovas, who grew up in Madrid and was captivated by ancient Egypt. âI wanted to be the first Indiana Jones woman,â she says. Instead, her research-based approach took her to the University of Edinburgh, where she earned a doctorate on military orders from the Crusades, before starting an internship at Christie’s.
It seemed logical to him to leave the world of auctions in 2009, during the financial crisis, to engage in private sales at Gagosian: âLehman [Brothers] sank and it was such a low point. Something had happened that you couldn’t control, the world changed. It was exhausting. How could I tell my [auction] customers that it was a good time to sell publicly? This move taught her the care taken in preparing exhibition catalogs and publications, but also “gave me the confidence to go out on my own”.
Ordovas’ thirst for detail has won him high praise. âPilar stands out because she places great importance on traditional craftsmanship and scholarship,â says Nicholas Serota, President of Arts Council England, highlighting the Peggy Guggenheim exhibition as one of his favorites. He calls his shows “museum quality,” which may be a hackneyed description but, when it comes from someone who was director of Tate between 1998 and 2017, is authoritative.
If Ordovas has any regrets in 10 years of activity, it is because it has not shown as much work by female artists as it would like. This is, in some ways, part of the challenge of the secondary market for twentieth century art, where there are fewer works of this type available. But she makes up for it in part through her role as administrator at the Valerie Beston Artists’ Trust. An annual award provides financial support, a workshop and an exhibition at the Ordovas Gallery for a student of the Royal College of Art, with the proceeds going to the artist. Since the award was created in 2007, nine of the 15 winners have been women, notes Ordovas, including Caroline Walker, now represented by the Stephen Friedman Gallery.
Ordovas is not too concerned with selling to the person in front of her: “I want to know you, not just sell you and say goodbye.” Maybe you will buy from me someday, or maybe your kids will. This idea gives me the most satisfaction.
The next generation seems more on her mind these days, having recently married and having had her first child, a daughter called Paloma, who thrills followers of Ordovas’ Instagram feed. Her own position as the first five-year-old was instrumental in her art education, she says: âGoing to exhibitions was a way to spend time alone with my dad, to have his attention. Her job as a pilot for Iberia meant she could do it all over the world. No pun intended, she says she wants her daughter to know that “the sky is the limit”. She will learn from a high thief.
‘Richard Serra Drawings’ is presented at Ordovas in London until December 17th ordovasart.com