Lucas Zwirner: ‘Being an artist is a calling – you can’t just want to be one’
Get a shot of weekend inspiration with the best in life, arts and culture. Delivered every Saturday morning.
My personal style signifier is a pair of pants by Vetra, a French workwear brand that uses a beautiful bleu de travail dye. They were available for a year or so when I was in my 20s – it was a collaboration with J Crew – and I bought every pair in my size. I’ve lost some over the years, but at one point I had about 10 pairs, and I probably have around five or six left. I like wearing monochrome, so I usually pair them with Fedeli’s blue cotton terry polo shirts. €126
The last thing I bought and loved was a work by Canadian artist Zoe Barcza. It’s of a face that emerges out of freely created ink stains that bleed out into paper. I bought it from Platform, the company I helped start that brings together young artists from independent galleries by curating a monthly selection of 100 new artworks.
And on my wishlist is a bespoke suit. I’ve never had one. But I’d love a beautiful blue suit by Huntsman in a light, breathable fabric that would fit like a glove. From £3,500
The gadget I couldn’t do without is my reMarkable tablet – a digital note-taking pad. I’m working on a book of Virginia Woolf’s art criticism for David Zwirner Books, so I’ve been reading the proof on my tablet. It makes things very seamless. reMarkable 2, £399
The place I can’t wait to go back to is Giotto’s Arena Chapel in Padua, Italy, which was built in the 14th century. It’s powerful – you can see his entire vision. I first visited when I was 19 with my girlfriend at the time, and I booked three time slots back-to-back.
And the best souvenirs I’ve brought home are postcards. There was a time when I had hundreds, and I’d place them around my desk while I was a student at Yale. At the centre was the main altarpiece of the Arena Chapel, which I surrounded with a mix of northern and Italian Renaissance art. It was lovely to look at them while I was studying Greek and Latin.
My style icon is Samuel Beckett. He has a careless elegance I find captivating. I also love the rapper Cam’ron, who often dresses in pink monochrome – pink mink, pink sneakers, pink everything.
The best gift I’ve given recently is a pre-1910 locket from Gray & Davis, a vintage jewellery shop in New York. Ali and Rick Miller, who run it, source incredible pieces from special periods, and this locket was once an old watch chain with an image of St George slaying the dragon. Similar from $1,950
And the best gift I’ve received recently is a reissued Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Milwaukee Bucks basketball hat. The Bucks won the NBA Finals this year. I’ve been watching them with excitement.
The podcast I’m listening to is Forgotten: Women of Juárez, a 10-episode series from iHeartRadio about a number of women who went missing in Juárez, a border city in northern Mexico. It’s a really great piece of investigative journalism.
I have a collection of books – well over 1,000. My apartment in Manhattan has a library with floor-to-ceiling shelves that are overflowing, so much so they’re spilling out into the bedroom, living room and my house in Montauk. The text I treasure the most is a three-volume German edition of Robert Musil’s Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften, or The Man Without Qualities.
In my fridge you’ll always find lots of SodaStream bottles. I like water that you can carbonate yourself – it’s better for the environment. Since New York has opened back up, I’ve been eating out a lot, so there’s not much else in my fridge. But if I’m entertaining I’ll make a classic bolognese, though recently I’ve been adding dried porcini mushrooms. SodaStream Starter Pack, £69.99
With time on my hands, I visit galleries on New York’s Lower East Side with my sister, Marlene. I particularly love James Fuentes, Essex Street and JTT – we’ll often do the rounds on weekends.
The last item of clothing I added to my wardrobe was a pair of olive Air Jordan 9s. They were released for a year in 2012, so they’re quite rare. Every couple of years I’d see someone wearing them and this year I decided to queue for an hour outside Flight Club, the sneaker store, and buy my own. I’m sure people will think I’m insane for wearing them – most keep them in shrink wrap. From $661
An object I would never part with is a collage by Raymond Pettibon, whom I’ve known since I was 11. He used the frontispieces of all these incredible books to make it – Shakespeare plays, Walt Whitman and Ruskin. I keep it in my living room.
The grooming staple I’m never without is Tom’s of Maine’s Wild Lavender deodorant. I don’t wear cologne, but I love the smell of lavender, so I use this every day.
If I weren’t doing what I do, I would be a novelist. There are definitely some bad book manuscripts in a drawer from my student days, and I’m only grateful that my real novelist friends dissuaded me from pursuing publication. Being an artist is a calling – you can’t just want to be one. But I certainly idolise writers in particular.
The best book I’ve read in the past year is The Netanyahus by Joshua Cohen, a friend of mine. It’s a fictional send-up of Benzion Netanyahu, father of the recently deposed Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. It is dedicated to the late professor Harold Bloom, and it ends with a beautiful reminiscence.
A recent “find” is Buenos Aires, a restaurant near Tompkins Square Park in New York. It’s an authentic Argentinian steakhouse with a great back garden. You order steak, of course, but I also like to get the mixed grill.
My favourite room in my house is my bedroom in Montauk. It has a balcony that overlooks the ocean, so I can hear the waves at night. It’s pretty spare – there’s a shelf of books above my head, a couple of side tables and a dresser. Then just a big sliding door that opens onto the balcony, the ocean and the breeze.
I’ve recently rediscovered that I like watching basketball. I was taken to see the Bucks by the friend who gave me the Abdul-Jabbar hat, and I realised how much I like the camaraderie of being invested in a team. I played basketball in high school, but it hadn’t been part of my life for a long time.
An indulgence I would never forgo is Sprüngli chocolate. It’s a really good noisette chocolate with whole roasted hazelnuts inside. I like to have it after dinner.
The one artist whose work I would collect if I could is the 17th-century Spanish painter Diego Velázquez. I recently saw his portrait of Philip IV of Spain as part of the Frick rehang at The Met Breuer building, and I was blown away.
My grooming guru is my hairdresser Jason Kong. I don’t know if I’m particularly well groomed, but Jason has been cutting my hair for well over a decade. And now he has his own place in the East Village called Techni Salon.
The last music I downloaded was by American singer-songwriter Alice Smith. There was a great show at the New Museum earlier this year, called Grief and Grievance, and part of the exhibition was a video by filmmaker Kahlil Joseph. The film is a homage to Alice Smith and Joseph’s brother, who died around the time the piece was made. Since watching it I’ve been listening to Alice on repeat; she has an amazing track called “Fool For You”.
Get alerts on Style when a new story is published