Gallerist Iwan Wirth Talks Vintage Rolexes, Artisanal Merlot, Patti Smith and Fly Fishing

Julie Belcove

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Since 1992, when Iwan Wirth teamed with Ursula Hauser, an astute collector and retail magnate, and her daughter Manuela to found a small gallery called Hauser & Wirth in Zurich, the art world has grown exponentially. As has Hauser & Wirth. In order to compete with the big boys in the early days, the gallery honed a reputation for catering to artists’ wants and needs. Now it is one of the big boys.

Iwan and Manuela soon married, and the gallery has since opened spaces in London, New York, Los Angeles, Hong Kong, St. Moritz, Gstaad and Somerset, in the English countryside. Their latest, a major expansion of their presence in New York’s Chelsea, is set to mount its inaugural exhibition in the fall. The mega-gallery has a daunting roster to fill all that real estate, with Nicole Eisenman, Paul McCarthy, Mark Bradford and Amy Sherald just a few of its scores of in-demand artists. The peripatetic Wirth, though, has somehow found time for a side hustle: He and Manuela have opened luxury hotels, including the Fife Arms in Scotland, featuring some spectacular art, of course.

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What have you done recently for the first time?

Metal detecting in Somerset with my son Bodo. We were over the moon to find some Roman coins and a brooch.

First thing you do in the morning?

Listen to Manuela’s wake-up track: “Balla Balla Ballerino,” by Lucio Dalla.

What advice do you wish you’d followed?

Slow and steady wins the race. I’m habitually rushing wherever I go, and I suspect I’ve missed some very sweet moments over time because of that.

What do you do that’s still analog?

I am a dedicated letter writer, preferably using my Montblanc Meisterstück. I’d also love to be a diarist. I’m reading the artist Eva Hesse’s diaries. I wish I had the time and patience to write on a daily basis.

What in your wardrobe do you wear most often?

I wear scarves but rarely ties. Achille Mauri (artist Fabio Mauri’s brother) bought me a huge selection of ties as a Christmas gift because he never sees me wearing one. My current scarf features an artwork by Jack Whitten.

What do you most crave at the end of the day?

Taking our six dogs for a walk in Somerset. In New York, I get my fix walking in West Chelsea. The city is a veritable 24-hour dog show.

What’s the most recent thing you’ve added to your collection?

A medieval pietà from circa 1390. It is a rather brutal depiction.

The most recent thing you regret not buying?

I more often regret parting with what I have sold. A recent example is a wonderful sculpture, The Cat, 1954, by Alberto Giacometti.

What’s the most impressive dish you cook?

Recently, beef shin with braised vegetables and beer, with the direction of Manuela, who is not only my business partner but head chef in our home.

How do you get to sleep?

I fall asleep within five minutes.

If you could learn a new skill, what would it be?

Speaking Spanish. And knitting.

What does success look like?

Being able to have meals with the family twice a day—work in complete balance with the rest of life. That is my ideal.

Who is your dealer and what do they source for you?

Sam Fogg for medieval art.

How much do you trust your gut instinct?

One hundred percent. My best instinct-based decision was to join forces with Manuela. We have been together for 28 years and counting.

Where do you get your clothes?

Paul Smith and online with the advice of my daughter Alma. One of my favorite items is socks knitted by Manuela. I love them.

Are you wearing a watch? How many do you own?

My wife started giving me vintage watches, so I’m gradually building a collection. Over the years, I have received a vintage Rolex Antimagnetic, Giudici Milano, 1959, and a vintage Patek Philippe Calatrava, 1945.

When was the last time you completely unplugged?

It was probably in 1982.

What’s your favorite hotel?

The Waldhaus hotel in the Swiss Alps. It’s a family hotel and the closest a real hotel could come to Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel. I went there with my father in the ’70s, and it has barely changed, in a good way.

If you could be anywhere in the world, where would you be?

In our home in the Scottish Highlands. I went there for the first time to fish on the River Dee. It’s a total escape. A deeply romantic landscape. The people remind me of my roots in rural Switzerland.

What’s always in your hand luggage?

A pack of Ricola herbal lozenges.

What is the car(s) you are most attached to?

My 1951 Land Rover, Series 1. It’s required driving if you call a working farm home, as I do. It’s two decades older than me and still going strong.

Last box set or Netflix binge?

Inside Bill’s Brain. It’s fascinating because it shows such a human side to Bill Gates. An intimate portrait of a renowned yet little-“known” person.

What’s your most treasured possession?

My mother recently gave me a heartfelt letter from my grandfather written in 1944, during the war. He wrote it to his friend from the front line of the Swiss border during a time of extreme anxiety in the world. It talks about loss, death, life and a future after the war. It is a treasured possession along with a beautiful book of his vintage photos.

What was your favorite children’s book?

A Swiss classic: Heidi by Johanna Spyri. It’s a love story, and the moral is that nature has a healing effect on body and soul.

What was the last live performance you saw?

Patti Smith. She is one of my all-time favorite artists. I was bowled over.

What causes are important to you?

Encouraging more diverse creative voices to be heard. We are in the fourth year of a partnership with Cal State in LA supporting young filmmakers in a way that we hope will foster greater diversity in the industry.

What’s your vice?

The desserts made by Manuela are irresistible, from vermicelli pudding to apple tart.

How do you find calm?

Fly fishing on the River Dee in Scotland.

What song is currently in your head?

“Dancing in the Street” by Martha and the Vandellas. It was the soundtrack of a recent video work by Mark Bradford which we exhibited in London.

What is your exercise routine and how often do you do it?

For 15 years I’ve practiced yoga with Sophie Lewis twice a week. In New York, I also practice yoga on my own but go to the gym every morning. I’ve always done lots of skiing and hiking, and as a child went rock climbing with my father.

What’s your favorite seat on a plane?

1A or 1B because the front of the plane is the quietest section.

What do you most regret?

I wish I’d taken that trip to Luxor when I was in Egypt those many years ago…

Drive or be driven?

Both! Drive and be driven.

Which are your regular tables in London, New York and LA?

River Café in London, Russ & Daughters in New York are both favorites. And Manuela restaurant in the courtyard of Hauser & Wirth LA.

Last piece of advice you gave?

“Connect the dots.”

What is your email etiquette?

I tend to reply within 24 hours or not at all.

What’s worth paying for?

Healthy, sustainable food.

Do you still write letters?

Yes, I love writing letters. See above!

Wine of choice?

Stella, an artisanal merlot made with passion from ancient vineyards in the South of Switzerland (Tessin Canton) by Urs Hauser, my brother-in-law.

What’s your favorite neighborhood in your favorite city?

Primrose Hill in London. West Chelsea in New York, where our gallery and our house are blocks apart. And in LA, I love the canyons.

Bowie or Dylan?

Bowie.

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