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Rags To Rothkos - According To The Influential Art Review Magazine, Gil Perez Is The 50th Most Influential Figure In The Art World
Not bad for a doorman, he tells Stuart Jeffries.
November 4, 2003
It has been a bad year for Rolf Harris. And an even worse one for Tracey Emin. Last year, Rolf, the Aussie dauber and TV art populariser, was number 100 in Art Review magazine's influential list of the top artworld players. This year he is nowhere. And endearing BritArt bad girl Tracey was riding high last year at number 41. This year, she is consigned to a similar oblivion.
But it is an extraordinary year for Gil Perez, who has leaped into the top 100 with a bullet. The New Yorker is straight in at number 50, joining the likes of Charles Saatchi, Nicholas Serota, Ronald Lauder and Jay Jopling among the ranks of top art world movers and shakers. Jeff Koons is 48th, Damien Hirst 49th, so Perez can be no slouch when it comes to moving and shaking arts-wise. According to the shady criteria behind the Art Review list, he is more powerful than hot photographer Cindy Sherman and hip gallery owner Victoria Miro, who are some way further down the list. Gil who, you might well ask? Gil Perez, that's who. He's a 52-year-old Puerto Rican who lives in Queens with his wife, his 22-year-old daughter and 19-year-old son. He recently became the proud grandparent of a little boy named Christian.
And what does he do? Are we soon to be favoured with one of his installations in Tate Modern's turbine hall? Not even close. Has he got an unexpectedly large collection of hitherto unseen Breughels in his house in the Hamptons? Hardly. No, Perez is arguably the world's most important doorman. He stands at the door of the Christie's Rockefeller Plaza headquarters in New York greeting clients and helping to organise auctions.
Yesterday, Perez was very busy screening and greeting clients hoping to be admitted to private views of the auction house's multimillion dollar sale of impressionist and modernist paintings, but not too busy to speak briefly to the Guardian. What did he think of being included on the list? "It's a great honour for me, for my family and for Puerto Rico. I have no idea why I'm on the list, but - as we say in the States - it's pretty cool."
Perez is pretty cool, but not quite as cool as his boss Francois Pinault, the sole owner of Christie's. He personally owns more than 1,500 reportedly great works of art and is shortly to open his private museum on the site of the origianl Renault car factory in France, and as a result is number two in the Art Review chart.
How does one become a doorman? "Good question," says Perez. "Well, for me, I did a year of college studying accountancy. I hated it - sitting behind a desk, people cussing you out for telling them they're behind with their bills. I just thought, 'Forget about it - I want a job outside.' So I got a job as a taxi driver and then started work at the Delmonico hotel right here in New York. I loved meeting people and getting to know them, but you really don't get to know them. So I wanted the Christie's job next door so badly because I knew I would get to know clients and form a bond with them. So I did an interview and got the job."
What's the secret of his success? "I'm very positive and enthusiastic. I've always got a smile and a friendly demeanour. I love seeing clients, getting to know them and becoming part of their families. They're people from all over the world, so I feel as though I gotta lot of friends from around the world. It's beautiful."
Perez, who was born in Santurce, Puerto Rico, moved to New York with his parents when he was 10. "I'm just a Puerto Rican immigrant with a high-school education, but I guess I did pretty good." And he did: he's now an assistant vice-president for Christie's and has a salary reputed to be $100,000 ( £62,500).
Yesterday, Perez wasn't prepared to discuss his remuneration, but said that he put in "150% of effort". When Christie's sold Rudolf Nureyev's collection, Perez performed his doorman duties while wearing a Russian Cossack outfit. "I've been doing this job for 26 years, sometimes seven days a week. Like today? I'll be working 15 hours today, looking after clients and organising the art. It's a lot of work."
Today, Christie's in New York will auction a Modigliani nude for a sum expected to be between $20m and $25m, a Cubist masterpiece by Fernand Leger ($10-$15m), and three stunning works by van Gogh - all painted in Arles in the span of less than eight months (one of which is due to sell for between $16-18m), and a particularly lovely Gustave Caillebotte called Chemin Montant ($6-8m). Does Perez get a kick out of being around all this money and beauty? "You'd better believe it. It's not just the glitz and the glamour - although don't get me wrong I love all that - but it's been a real education about art appreciation. I wouldn't have had that if I'd stayed at the Delmonico."