Lawrence Van Hagen’s Pop Art Passage to India

LONDON — A museum curation made up of Pop Art artists including Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, Claes Oldenburg, Ed Ruscha, Robert Indiana, Keith Haring and Robert Rauschenberg can take a year or three to collate, but for French-born London-based art adviser, curator and collector Lawrence Van Hagen, the deadline was four months for his first museum exhibition at the newly opened Nita Mukesh Ambani Cultural Centre in Mumbai.

“Pop: Fame, Love and Power” is open until Feb. 11 and explores ideas that are central to the works of 12 American Pop Art artists he’s chosen. Some pieces are on loan from museums and others from private collectors.

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The museum has a close link to Pop Art. It was built by Richard Gluckman, the same architect that built the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh in 1994.

Forty-Five Gold Marilyns (1979), Andy Warhol
“Forty-Five Gold Marilyns” (1979), Andy Warhol

“It was very, very challenging, but Mumbai and India are thriving [and] developing at a crazy rate with people who have a huge curiosity for art, culture and design,” says Van Hagen, sitting on a cream Ennio Chiggio sofa that matches his corduroy trousers and half-zip jumper from his home in Sloane Square.

He chose Pop Art as a subject for its wide appeal, whether it’s a five-year-old or 50-year-old visiting the exhibition.

“There’s not that much Western art in India yet, but these ultra-famous artists excite people, whether they know a lot about art or if they’re just discovering it for the first time. Pop Art is very en vogue at the moment — there’s Keith Haring at The Broad, Edward Ruscha at the MoMA and Roy Lichtenstein at the Whitney Museum,” Van Hagen says.

The show is divided into four floors with the first three touching on fame, love and power within Pop Art followed by the last room, which is an immersive experience with Indiana’s Love sculpture and Warhol’s Silver Cloud installation made up of very large silver helium balloons that visitors can walk around.

The fame floor holds four celebrity portraits by Warhol including a print where Marilyn Monroe’s face is screen printed 45 times over and Jackie Kennedy’s 16 times, as well as 50 photographs of the artist’s polaroids and gelatin silver prints, from Karl Lagerfeld, Giorgio Armani, Gianni Versace to Sylvester Stallone.

Pop: Fame, Love and Power Gulch (1965), Robert Rauschenberg
“Gulch” (1965), Robert Rauschenberg

Once visitors exit the show, an educational room for children has been put together and is filled with different activities.

The showcase at the NMACC is Van Hagen’s first noncommercial project, where the pieces are not for sale.

“There’s more pressure [than a commercial show] because you’re aligning yourself with all the other institutions around the world. You have a duty to the lenders to curate a sophisticated exhibition with their crazy, incredible works and you’re open to critics,” he says in his Franglais accent.

The main challenges he faced in hosting an exhibition in Mumbai was convincing lenders to send their art pieces away that fetch up to $40 million on the market; shipping large artwork 7,000 miles away from upstate New York and trusting Van Hagen, a seasoned curator, who is still considered young at 30 years old in the art industry given the large scope of the show.

Pop: Fame, Love and Power Untitled (1988), Keith Haring
“Untitled” (1988), Keith Haring

Van Hagen is no stranger to the Asian art market with clients based in the region and elsewhere in the world.

“More institutions are opening up in India and there are incredible private individuals who are happy to finance it and bridge the gap between India and Europe. It’s the younger generation that’s buying and collecting contemporary art,” he says.

In September, Van Hagen hosted a by appointment only exhibition, “What’s Up / Seoul ‘12 Masters’” in Seoul to coincide with Frieze Seoul with Teo Yang Studio showcasing the work of 12 influential artists, from Jean-Michel Basquiat, Yayoi Kusama, Alexander Calder to Gerhard Richter.

The sale was a success with the majority of the pieces being sold.

Lawrence van Hagen
Lawrence van Hagen’s home

“COVID-19 has had a positive impact that a lot of foreign Koreans have moved back to [South] Korea to open cafés and shops. They love art and have a very strong cultural identity when it comes to the artists that I represent that come out of Korea,” says Van Hagen, adding that despite the global economic and political turmoil, there’s still an appetite for art.

“When COVID-19 happened, I thought the last thing anybody wants to buy is art, but it was the actual opposite. The first thing they wanted to do was buy art because it’s a safe investment,” he says.

Back at home, Van Hagen is a collector of minimal American art mixed with sculptures by Antony Gormley, photographs from Wolfgang Tillmans and paintings by Elizabeth Peyton.

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