A small abstract painting by Gerhard Richter, awash with gold and dark yellow, hangs between two sash windows; the last of the autumnal tones from Cadogan Square Garden shine through the glass. A painting by Donna Huanca appears on the adjacent wall, deep blue waves and abstract forms meeting slashes of bright pink and yellow. On the other side of the Richter work, a work on paper by Georg Baselitz is placed beside a small cast iron sculpture by Antony Gormley, its cubic, rusted form both architectural and figurative.
This is clearly a collector’s apartment. But perhaps you would not expect its owner to be just 28 years old. Lawrence Van Hagen, who grew up in Paris and London to German and British parents, has been collecting since a young age, and lives with a rotating display of his paintings, photographs and sculptures. The apartment is also where he runs LVH Art – an advisory service that combines his own personal tastes with a knowledge of the art market to help steer his clients through the precarious, confusing, and sometimes arduous process of acquiring artworks.
Every nook in the apartment is used, from the bedroom, where a Stanley Whitney canvas hangs beside the window, to the dining room, where works from various artists, including Tracey Emin and Nicolas Party, are grouped together according to the theme of sexuality. Together, the spaces are a guide to Van Hagen’s tastes that clients can explore in person. “A lot of my clients visit me at home,” says Van Hagen. “I never sell any of the works here, but I tend to support the artists that I also collect.”
In terms of Van Hagen’s strategy, a necessary balance is struck between the aesthetic and financial considerations of each acquisition. “I always start with the aesthetics of the work,” he says. “Once that has been defined, I look at the artist’s process, and what their upcoming projects are. Collecting art is expensive, so ultimately each piece needs to make sense as an investment.”
Alongside LVH Art, Van Hagen also runs a series of pop-up exhibitions called What’s Up. The first was held in 2016 in London’s Soho, where two spaces were filled with works by 50 artists. By the end of the show, 85% of the work had been sold. “The initial idea was to fund a travel start-up of mine,” he says. “I thought, ‘I like art, I collect, I’m passionate about it – instead of raising funds, why don’t I do a show?’ I decided to create this pop-up of artists to look out for at the moment, mixing emerging artists that I love with more established, mid-career names. Now we have done shows in London, New York, Hong Kong and Seoul, soon in Paris, and maybe LA.”
The tenth What’s Up wrapped in Mayfair, having started during Frieze in 2021. “We took up a space on Grosvenor Street, converted the building site, putting in walls and lighting, but keeping it fairly grungy for Mayfair standards. I like to keep things informal, so people can come in, sit down and enjoy themselves. That’s why so many come through the door: there’s no pressure to buy or walk around in silence – you can just come to hang out.”
“We decided to include design in the show for the first time as well – Brazilian design in particular, because it hasn’t been seen much in London, and many pieces on the market are fakes, so there is a real niche available if you can source correctly and guarantee the right provenance,” he says. “We didn’t know how it was going to go, but we ended up selling all the design pieces before a single artwork had been sold.” In the dining room of Van Hagen’s apartment, a‘Reversível’ armchair by Martin Eisler and Carlo Hauner, whose curved seat can be swivelled up to either side to form a long lounge chair, is an iconic example of this kind of Brazilian mid-century design.
Van Hagen’s clients are scattered across the globe, many of them living in China, Taiwan, South Korea, and other parts of Asia – hence the importance of holding What’s Up shows in Seoul and Hong Kong. “Not everyone can visit me in London, so my shows in other countries allow potential clients to discover my tastes,” he says, “I tend to keep things more blue-chip for Hong Kong shows, but still with a mix of work across the whole spectrum, with prices from a couple of thousand dollars to 15 million. Many of my clients become friends. Whether they are in their 80s, 50s or 20s, I have a very personal relationship with all of them. It is easier that way; they know what I’m made of, and conversations are easier.
The advisory service and the shows feed into one another, but for Van Hagen, it all comes down to collecting. “Ultimately, I am building a collection for myself. It is a real challenge to be able to buy contemporary art, especially for young people, but I think everyone should simply collect what they can, whether it’s a print or a poster or anything. The art of collecting is an amazing thing. It’s something to be proud of in the long run: to see what you have put together, what you have curated, how your taste has developed. I think it is a wonderful thing to do.”