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One doesn’t have to be a connoisseur of contemporary art to be familiar with the name of Larry Gagosian, internationally renowned art dealer, whose popularity and financial power can afford to host museum-quality gallery exhibitions.
In the 1970s he opened a small poster shop in Los Angeles, just a few blocks from the UCLA, and soon after he started his first gallery in West Hollywood, showcasing American artists the likes of Chris Burden and Jean-Michel Basquiat. Since then, he established 14 exhibition spaces to his private collection, located across the globe from Hong Kong to Paris, and in 2004 a young Italian director joined his prestigious gallery in Madison Avenue, New York City.
Valentina Castellani, born in Boston and raised in Turin, Italy, where her father was a university professor and former mayor, is among the most influential women in the art world.
After graduating in Greek Archaeology and Art History, on which even the aesthetic ideal of contemporary art is based, Valentina Castellani moved to London in the UK with her future husband Gianluca Violante, who currently works as a professor of Economics at the New York University.
She started her career as a trainee at Sotheby’s auction house in the 1990s, organizing and cataloguing the works of art to be sold, and almost by chance discovered an Italian collector interested in selling his high value paintings by Piero Manzoni, Lucio Fontana, and Andy Warhol.
In just a few years, her initiative, ambition, and expertise drew the attention of the American art magnate, who offered her a job. With Gagosian’s blessing, she has curated some of the most acclaimed exhibitions of the last decade, featuring big names like Pablo Picasso, Alberto Giacometti, and Francis Bacon, as well as the contemporaries Rudolf Stingel and Francesco Vezzoli. And yet, representing the Italian excellence abroad, Valentina Castellani has always saved a special spot in her heart – and in the gallery that she runs – for Italian masters such as Lucio Fontana and Piero Manzoni, whose retrospectives were among her first accomplishments as an artistic director of the Gagosian NY.
Her successful career – as well as her fellow Italians in the arts, like Cecilia Alemani and Massimiliano Gioni - also reveals a particular attention towards contemporary art. Despite its sometimes cryptic language, in fact, it hasn’t suffered much from the latest economic crisis; on the contrary, it has been quite a safe investment for buyers who had the means to seize the opportunity. And both the established and the new emerging markets constantly look at the Gagosian Gallery worldwide as trendsetters in the field, capable of gathering stunning masterpieces, combined in unprecedented exhibitions. Proudly, behind some of those gorgeous shows is the curiosity and determination of an Italian woman, who loves the U.S. as her new home but also values her Italian education and often returns to Italy to visit her family as well as the local art treasures.