Elusive Silicon Valley Buyers Come Out for an Arty Party
Vasna Wilson, Drew Altizer Photography
A defunct Tesla dealership on Menlo Park’s El Camino Real was, Pace Gallery president Marc Glimcher decided, the perfect space to lure the elusive Silicon Valley art collectors last night.
So, his art-gallery team threw together some new white walls, hooked up a disco ball, brought in millions of dollars worth of Alexander Calder sculptures and called it a “pop-up gallery.”
“Silicon Valley buyers don’t want something pretentious. They’re too smart for that. They don’t need that,” Glimcher said, slapping the temporary whitewashed wall next to Josef Albers’s 1967 painting “Homage to a Square.” “We’ve got a $450,000 Albers on plywood. That’s what you want here.”
The Pace Gallery party, hosted by well-known Silicon Valley names such as Anne Wojcicki, Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen and Lucy Page, drew a crowd of local collectors, including Laurene Powell Jobs and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen.
Many guests bemoaned the lack of a contemporary art gallery in the region, which has a lot of tech geniuses but fewer artistic ones.
Still, there is a lot of money to be spent on art and big mansions to display it in. After the pop-up closes, Glimcher said, he’ll decide whether to open a permanent space.
“It’s not your typical Menlo Park evening, is it?” asked Glimcher, who sat down for a few minutes for an impromptu interview, as the party swirled around him. “Every art dealer in New York is trying to break into Silicon Valley. It’s like a thing. I just got lucky.”
Glimcher said that Arrillaga-Andreessen was one of his most significant clients — she helped arrange the show; the dealership’s lot belonged to her father, John Arrillaga, the largest landowner in Silicon Valley.
“This is the wealthiest community in America, and they’re smart and creative. And they don’t yet collect art. They’re the only community in the world like that,” Glimcher said. “In art collecting, every once in a while a new group like this comes along. There are people here who will constitute that new group of collectors.”
He continued: “And if [the tech elite] start here, then they’ll do it in New York and Austin and Kuala Lumpur. That’s how it works. That’s how it happened in the hedge-fund world. Twenty years ago, [art dealer] Larry Gagosian put a big black X on the foreheads of every big fund manager, and went one by one.”
He paused and adjusted his glasses.
Things, though, are different in Silicon Valley. “The hedge-fund people amassed their fortunes when they were in their 40s. They had kids. They had wives. Here, they’re 25. You’re just not thinking about art yet. It’s too young, it’s too hardworking. They’re maybe too smart,” said Glimcher. “The hedge-fund guys are stupid enough — and by that I mean dumb and arrogant — not to know they were being ripped off in the beginning. They just knew they wanted to start buying art. Everyone here is too smart for that.”
Meaning they have other ways to measure prestige?
Glimcher, who wore a crisp blue suit, sat quietly for a second.
“And yet. There are no collectors like the collectors in San Francisco — erudite, decisive, fantastic collectors. That’s why your museum here is without compare,” he said. “I know Silicon Valley is another world, but if you think of the people here, I imagine that’s the kind of collector they’ll become — a smart, knowledgeable collector.”
At the front of the insta-gallery, waiters passed mini pizzas, crab salad and mac-and-cheese.
Arrillaga-Andreessen, in a black lace skirt and patterned stockings, was greeting friends.
“With all of the technological innovation here, and the cultural innovation, art is the perfect synthesis,” she said. “And to start this movement with Calder, who was such an engineer himself, makes perfect sense.”
Sandy Rower, the late sculptor’s grandson and the head of the Calder Foundation, happened to be playing at an inexplicable ping-pong table nearby (though very much in keeping with the tech trope), sporting a paisley button-down shirt. Nearby, former Google executive Gisel Kordestani and Wonderloop.me founder Hanna Aase were chatting, and agreed that the combination of wealth and large homes with empty walls meant the Valley was ready for its own contemporary art scene.
“To gather over art, it’s liberating,” Aase said. “We live in this bubble, and art can help bring us out of that. The market here will only grow.”
Joking about the stereotype of the young, male startup founder, she added: “There’s mostly male buyers, but once they get girlfriends, they eventually have to fix up their dorm rooms, right?”
Perfect timing because then the root beer floats came out. In the center of the room, Arrillaga-Andreessen danced with Powell-Jobs under the disco ball.