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In Conversation with Art Director Joe La Placa, about his Art Business Career.

Updated: Apr 19, 2021

This month at Nicholas Wells Antiques, we spoke with Joe La Placa on Instagram Live, Director at Cardi Gallery, based in London, UK and Milan, Italy. As well as a discussion about his work in the contemporary art arena, we also discussed his favourite piece in our collection, the Lapiz Lazuli Mounted Coral Specimen, available to purchase now.

Coral Specimen Mounted on Lapiz Lazuli Base, at Nicholas Wells Antiques.

La Placa described how he came to be heading up Cardi Gallery and how his experience dealing art in New York in the eighties set him on the path for a very interesting career in the art business.

La Placa says 'I'm like a locust I guess, I work for seven years and then go into hiding. After all Visual Arts disbanded, very happily I might say, I worked on other projects, the Poppy Project at the Tower of London with Fiona Montague. Then someone said to me, I longed to get back into London after living in the countryside, I'm an urban kid! For me, the Cardi family were monumental players, I met Nicola's father in New York. He was the king of the Arte Povera, one of the great collectors of the movement. I thought, I've got to go and see him. I have good intuition about people these days and had a good feeling about it. We had a meeting and decided to work together. Four years later, we are still standing.'

Later on, we asked La Placa about his thoughts regarding working online during the past year and how Cardi has adapted during the pandemic. La Placa says: 'The gallery is now like a stage set, we are now in the Hollywood film making business these days. We have an amazing show on four floors of the gallery at the moment which is Paolo Canevari. We thought we would open the show and enjoy visitors, we haven't been able to but we made a great walk - through video which you can see on the gallery website.'

Of the gallery staff, La Placa has missed his daily contact with them and the overall buzz and hive of activity that working in a gallery inevitably offers. He says 'That's one of the reasons my job as a director is such a joy, because I work with a small staff, our Gallery Manager is Elisa Tosoni and Carla Schoffel; Head of Digital Content and Research. They are absolutely amazing. We are three, but make fifteen in terms of work - load. I'm grateful to work everyday with such incredible people.'

La Placa's network is strong and he has an extensive one. He knew Jean Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring from his time studying and from art dealing in New York. La Placa reminises: 'I was steeped in art history. I started more as an art historian and artist, selling nineteeth century masterworks like Frederick Church. Even in my early days, of Galazzi La Placa, we were like Robin Hoods, young and arrogant. We refused to take backers. For me to understand art history and working in the inner circle of collectors and dealers, what you see behind the scenes, that informs how you interact with contemporary artists, understand continuity and see what is relevant.'

La Placa shared a special story with us about a Jean Michel Basquiat painting that he'd sold. One of the paintings Jean Michel Basquiat made when I was working with him that sold for five or six thousand dollars in the eighties, got sold last year to a great Japanese collector, for one hundred and ten million dollars. La Placa met him and jokingly said to him that he had worked with Jean Michel Basquiat on the painting, to check the back of it, there's a footprint. It almost sounded as if La placa was pulling his leg and the client didn't look impressed. At Christie's several years later, La Placa just so happened to meet him again, and this time, the collector mentioned the story and then said 'Joe, you were right, there is a footprint on the painting!' Both laughed off the story.

At this point in his career, La Placa has dealt with so many pieces of important art and artists and met some amazing people, such as Princess Diana and Prince Charles. He remembers a time when he had forty Basquiat paintings and none of them sold, whereas now they are worth millions.

La Placa said that he used to do eleven fairs a year, Miami Art Basel, TEFAF, Frieze and more and he can't wait to get back to them. 'I'm one of the few people that loves art fairs, a lot of the dealers say oh, they're a drag. They are an important part of our business. I'm a people person and love this brave new vicarious virtual world, it's been fun to delve into making films, it's been great to use that technology but having the accessability of a physical space is important. There's no way you can get the same physical sensation by looking at the art online. The bottom line is, with the NFT stuff, it will be part of the future but art is about connectivity.'

La Placa also talked about the all round sensory experience of being in a gallery and viewing works in real life. La Placa observes; 'I miss the families coming. It's that random flow that makes it magical'.

And finally on to an object of particular interest for La Placa on the Nicholas Wells Antiques website, the Coral piece. La Placa says; 'While I was at All Visual Arts I worked with titan Mike Platt, and I wanted to look at Wunderkammer and look for a parallel with the room of wonders idea and art history. It inspires awe and wonder from things and ideas from anthropology, jewellery, minerals and fantastic sea animals. A great German collector that I worked with on The Age of The Marvellous exhibition where we commissioned hundreds of works, to create a contemporary Wunderkammer alongside his historical one. the older works inform the newer works'. Art - works can cross pollinate each other, juxtaposing the new and the old, which is what we strive to do here at Nicholas Wells Antiques.

Cardi Gallery London will be open in April, do contact them in advance of a visit, just to check on the up to date covid restrictions and to let them know that you are planning a trip. Francesco Vezzoli will be showing in September. Mimmo Paladino, an Avant - garde artist show, is on at the moment in Milan, Italy.

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