Lux Contemporary’s Emanuel Friedman on the Business of Art 

June 5, 2024

Text: Jeremy Whitaker

Lux Contemporary, the sleek gallery that shares itself with the floor of the Chelsea Rolls Royce showroom, is a gallery that seamlessly blends the opulence of luxury automobiles with world-renowned sculpture and compositions ranging from classic to contemporary. 

Among the astonishing array, art lovers will immediately recognize hand-embroidered work from Naeem Khan, miniatures of the grandiose sculptures of Enrique Cabrera, pops of color from King Saladeen, and the three-dimensional abstraction of Jonty Hurwitz. This is only scratching the surface. 

Founder, curator, and gallery manager Emanuel Friedman is not only a boundless creative, but a charming businessman who recognizes art's importance as an industry. His methodology is a collaborative community, where big artists offer support to up-and-comers, and his space is shared with established artists and novices alike. 

“It's like a family gallery. Everybody works together. It's building everybody up together.” he says.

With the latest exhibition highlighting the work of the undeniable 16-year-old Henri Reed, Friedman’s tastes are undeniable. One would never suspect that the world of art was something learned by the entrepreneur. 

Under the watchful eye of a burgundy Brendan Murphy, Friedman walked me through his journey into the art world and schooled me on the business of art. 

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Lux Contemporary came about by pure coincidence and an accidental obsession. “Take me through it from the beginning,” I asked of Emanuel, as we sat in the sunlight of the bright and breathy gallery. 

To fully understand the story of the gallery and gallerist alike, it is important to note that Friedman was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York City. “If I didn't get on the train when I was 17 and 18 to come to the city every day, I would have a different life,” he says. 

The truth of this statement would not become apparent until he took me through his entire journey. Although art is his latest venture, growing up his aspirations were never focused on the art world. 

“I would be lying if I said it was my dream to be an art dealer or gallerist. I was not the arts and crafts type of guy. I wouldn't say I'm an engineer, but I'm really good at understanding something, dissecting it, and being able to figure out how to put it back together no matter what it is.” He always felt like his skills were found in the abilities of his analytical mind. “When I can apply that type of mentality to a business, an industry, a product, maybe looking for something that's not solved yet in the marketplace,” that is when he shines. 

Henri Reed x Lux Contemporary

The journey to Lux Contemporary started at Brooklyn College, where Friedman attended for all of two weeks. “I went to Brooklyn College and my actual professor saw me dazing out… she looked at me, she goes, ‘what are you doing in school? You shouldn't even be here right now.’ So he dropped out and began to rely on his undeniable people skills. 

At age 22 he began working as a fine jeweler. “I started creating custom pieces that were commissioned to me, but my commissions were in gold and diamonds. So I started working with a lot of celebrities.” Fine jewelry and a business approach to nightlife were how he created a network from such a young age. 

It was through nightlife that he became connected to some of the most beautiful faces on the scene. He scorns the idea that he was a promoter, instead, he states the business he developed within nightlife was image elevating, a sort of “image promoting.” 

“I would bring all these people to the biggest clubs, the biggest parties in the city, and get paid.” This tackling of nightlife culture as a business didn’t suit him, but it was a means to an end. At the time, he was interested in real estate, but as he continued on, he started getting close to nightclub owners and VIPs who frequented the establishments where he was also a regular. 

It is in these moments, from the time he left college to the present, that Friedman has flexed his knack for being in the right place at the right time, and he isn’t the type of person to let a creative opportunity pass him by. 

It was a regular night for him, a party, an after-party, and a chance meeting that brought art into the forefront of his mind. 

Henri Reed (L), Emanuel Friedman (R) Courtesy of Lux Contemporary

“I was at a party where I met a guy and this guy invited me to his after-party with my friends. The first time I ever met the guy he said to me, ‘Hey, if you'd like, let me give you a little tour of the place.’ So he's showing me around the beautiful penthouse, and he points up at a painting. It's not a painting of anything. It's a black canvas, a big black square. He told me that it was worth $28 million dollars.” 

I knew immediately what he referred to, Anish Kapoor and his unmistakable Vantablack, the world’s darkest shade of black, whose value, like he said, is in the tens of millions. To say this boggled Friedman’s mind was an understatement. This idea was unfathomable to him. 

“I was up all night. Think about coming home from a party. You get home at 7-8:00 AM and instead of knocking out, you're on the internet reading up. Why do people buy art? I just couldn't accept it in my head.” 

As it turns out, the man he met that evening was the founder of Masterworks, an art investment LLC that was valued at over $1 billion in 2021.

Friedman is a man of action, and it wasn’t long until he had positioned himself as an exclusive representative for one of the world’s biggest artists, Zurab Tsereteli. The Georgian artist is known for his larger-than-life sculptures, but to New Yorkers, he is most recognizable for his work Tear Drop Memorial, housed in New Jersey, which honors the lives of the victims of 9/11. 

Simultaneously, he found himself in the realm of art dealing. With the many celebrity and VIP clientele that he had become acquainted with over the years, he started shopping for art on their behalf, which garnered a good and honest reputation within the Chelsea gallery scene. 

“Once we started finishing all of these little deals up and getting through the art world, I was introduced to these guys from West Chelsea Contemporary, coming from Texas to New York.” West Chelsea Contemporary gave him the hard skills that he needed to understand the business of running a gallery.

Henri Reed x Lux Contemporary

His creative approach to drawing people into West Chelsea Contemporary is what cultivated his relationship with the owner of the Rolls Royce showroom, where Lux Contemporary can be found today. “We were having a show with these British artists, and then the week after we had a show with some Italian artists. So I said, ‘Excuse me, would you mind pulling up with some Rolls Royce for the British show and some Lamborghinis for the Italian show? We'll park them right in front of the gallery and put up some cones.’ 

When people are walking by the gallery, it just drags your attention psychologically. When you're on the block with three other galleries and yours has the Lamborghini in front of it, people aren't going to go left. So I started doing that with him and he was very kind and open and helpful. That was our relationship.” 

Friedman was 24, nearly 25 when the owner of the showroom mentioned that he was interested in creating a gallery. “I had no idea the back end of a gallery business. I had no idea about the structures. I had no idea how to get collectors, how to bring in studios and artists. As a gallerist, you're everything. I was just a sales guy.” Yet, he dove into the idea, and from it was born Lux Contemporary. 

The energy of the space is honored by Friedman’s curatorial skills. He understands that people want to feel like they are a part of the art world, while also obtaining a worthy asset. “I deal with this different spectrum, that different spectrum shows you that people want to buy art, they want to get into the world, but they're also not stupid. Usually, an active businessman who's actively going into a dealership on his Monday to buy a Rolls Royce is a busy guy. It's a physical asset that you can actually hold, you can touch.” 

“What in your opinion makes good art? You clearly have a distinct taste,” I said. 

I would be lying if I said performance isn't a factor. Performance is reputation. I feel like that's not such a big secret because the collector understands that I'm doing the job of digging through the garbage and offering only things that I believe in. This domino effect of being in galleries, it's actually pretty incredible because you're simultaneously building a career of an artist. They're happy, you're building a portfolio of a collector, they're happy, and you're making sales for both sides.” 

At Lux Contemporary, Friedman is always keeping it fresh. “Everything's always moving. No piece owns any wall.” His dynamic approach will surely keep the art world on its toes as he prepares for his next exhibition and the new addition of Lux Loft, which will be a private social club for VIP clients.

Don’t try to predict Emanuel Friedman’s next move, he will always deliver the unexpected. 

Text: Jeremy Whitaker

Images Courtesy of Lux Contemporary