It’s Friday night on the Sunset Strip, and a trio of girls with clipboards are checking names at the door of an angular architectural showpiece of a building. The crowd inside looks like it drifted down the street from the Chateau Marmont: Amanda de Cadenet is making her way through, while shipping heir Stavros Niarchos is hanging out on the rooftop deck. The event has the air of a Fashion Week party underwritten by a liquor label, but in fact it’s the opening of a rather academic art exhibition called “Misericordia,” the fifth show at Prism, a 10,000-square-foot art gallery launched a year ago by 24-year-old photographer-turned-entrepreneur PC Valmorbida.
“It’s kind of a sexy show,” says Valmorbida, whose full name is Paul-Charles, a few days after the show’s opening. Curated by Pace Gallery director Birte Kleemann, it examines the theme of mercy in a diverse range of works, from Italian Old Masters to conceptual artists including Chris Burden and Joseph Beuys to Sterling Ruby and other contemporary stars. “I’d wanted to work with Birte for a long time, and she thought this would be perfect for L.A.,” he says.
Valmorbida’s idea of a “long time” has to be put into context: Before Prism his curatorial experience consisted of organizing two pop-up shows with his friend Vladimir Restoin Roitfeld, son of French Vogue editor Carine Roitfeld. Still, since declaring himself a gallerist, Valmorbida has been on a fast track to prominence as one of a loosely knit generation of self-created dealers and self-financed curators. And his closest peer is his brother, Andy, 30, who deals privately out of his home in Switzerland and also collaborates with Restoin Roitfeld.
“People laughed at us at the start,” says Andy, who talks with the emphatic insistence of an agent. “But we’re filtering the culture and history of art for a young generation.” And now the art establishment has taken notice. “They’re experimenting in the most creative ways and creating an audience from within the world they inhabit,” says Julia Peyton-Jones, director of London’s Serpentine Gallery, where Andy recently joined the council of benefactors. “They’re not hidebound by convention.”
The Valmorbidas, whose grandfather emigrated from Italy to Australia in 1949 and built a coffee and food empire, share a taste for graffiti art and street culture. Prism’s first show, “Mind the Gap,” featured Barry McGee, an elder statesman of street culture, and a few days after its debut the gallery hosted the official after-party for L.A.’s Museum of Contemporary Art’s fall gala. Guests included Francesco Vezzoli, Miuccia Prada, Larry Gagosian, and the brothers’ close friend Dasha Zhukova.
“The whole thing was to attract as many people as possible,” says PC, who speaks in a rushed, whispery voice punctuated by long pauses. This month he’ll give Australian artist Jonathan Zawada his first U.S. solo exhibition at Prism.
Andy, meanwhile, is working to revive the career of Eighties graffiti star Richard Hambleton. Last fall, with Restoin Roitfeld, he secured underwriting from Giorgio Armani for a large-scale show of Hambleton’s work that opened in New York and traveled to Milan and Moscow.
“It’s thrilling for me to see this work embraced by a younger generation,” says MOCA director Jeffrey Deitch, who has long championed Eighties graffiti artists and is organizing a major street culture show at the museum next year. “The Valmorbidas have a lot of flair. They believe in these artists.”
The siblings are nothing if not ambitious; they cite Gagosian’s start as a poster salesman as proof that large ventures spring from modest beginnings. “People want to do more than just look at art,” Andy says. “It’s the whole experience. It’s like flying on an airline—sure, you can get from A to B. But if you can do it comfortably and with good entertainment, it’s a better experience. We’re offering a lifestyle product.”
Photo: David Prutting/ Billy Farrell Agency.