Fortunately for Mr. Glimcher, collectors are still buying paintings — or they were until the coronavirus struck. (Like other galleries, Pace has laid off a substantial contingent of workers, and the immense new headquarters it opened in Chelsea last September was closed for months and has only recently reopened by appointment only.)
But for broader audiences, and younger people in particular, art objects are no longer the draw they once were. This is part of a much bigger shift in favor of immersive experiences and against consumerism in general. For well over a decade, trend-watchers have noted a growing preference for experiences over things. “And this is doubly true with the coronavirus,” said B. Joseph Pine II, co-author with James H. Gilmore of “The Experience Economy,” a book that declared the crux of business today to no longer be goods or services but experiences. The pandemic, he added, “makes us sit back and think, what makes us happy? What does life mean? We’ve got enough stuff.”
For Pace, the road to experiences ran through Silicon Valley, where Mr. Glimcher — whose father, Arne Glimcher, now 82, founded Pace 60 years ago and built it into a powerhouse — forged a dense web of connections. The most critical of these was the billionaire activist Laurene Powell Jobs, the widow and heir of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, who joined Mr. Glimcher in funding the new venture through the Emerson Collective, her investment vehicle for social change. Another key figure was Mollie Dent-Brocklehurst, now a co-founder of Superblue, who set up Pace’s London outpost in 2010 and later headed Future/Pace, the gallery’s first attempt to break into experiential art. This eventually led to an initiative called PaceX that was the immediate forerunner of Superblue.
“Laurene told me, It isn’t going to be called PaceX — sorry,” Mr. Glimcher said. “We’re breaking all the rules, and we’ve got to come up with something new.” All this rule-breaking put him in mind of the Blue Rider, the radical art movement that sprang up in Germany before World War I. One of his younger employees heard that and came back with Superblue.
“I said, That’s the worst thing I ever heard,” Mr. Glimcher recalled, “but I couldn’t get it out of my head.” He mentioned it to his meditation teacher, Thom Knoles, a one-time protégé of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who introduced Transcendental Meditation to the Beatles in the ’60s. According to Mr. Glimcher, Mr. Knoles told him that the word Krishna is Sanskrit for “superblue” — a liberal translation, apparently, but no matter. Superblue it would be.
And the artists? “I loved, loved, loved the idea,” said JR, reached by phone as he was returning from a shoot in the low-income suburbs of Paris. “I started right away working and brainstorming.” Ralph Nauta and Lonneke Gordijn of Studio Drift feel much the same. “Luckily now there’s this energy and movement going on where our work fits in,” said Mr. Nauta, adding that “there is no market” for the kind of art they make — like the 300 light-bearing drones they sent swooping out across central Rotterdam in May in celebration of health and freedom.