PACE WILDENSTEIN is no secret in the art world. The collective is rumored to be the most powerful multisite art gallery in the world. In 1993, Pace Wildenstein was formed when the 100-year-old Wildenstein & Company, the premier Paris-based dealer of museum-quality Impressionist and Old Master works, joined Pace Gallery of New York, one of the biggest dealers of six- and seven-figure contemporary art for 30 years.
The merger in New York was followed Sept. 29 by the opening of a Los Angeles branch of Pace Wildenstein in Beverly Hills, housed in 10,000 square feet of white-washed elegance. The structure was designed by Charles Gwathmey, who recently renovated New York's Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.
Holding the purse strings of Pace Wildenstein is Daniel Wildenstein, whose family has sold the likes of Van Gogh to the likes of English royalty for about 118 years. At the day-to-day helm of the new giant is Arnold Glimcher, Pace Gallery owner since it opened in 1961.
The old money and tradition come from the Wildenstein side of the marriage, while Mr. Glimcher brings his own substantial financial base and an eye to the future of collecting: Hollywood.
Glimcher is a dealer turned producer-director (his movie credits include ''The Mambo Kings'' and ''Gorillas in the Mist''), and his art credentials include the selling rights to major international artists like Julian Schnabel, Alexander Calder, Claes Oldenberg, and the estate of Pablo Picasso, to name a few.
Glimcher enjoys longtime ties to Disney mogul Michael Ovitz, and one imagines that Glimcher is banking on Hollywood-based collectors with lots to spend but no time to travel East for requisite doses of culture.
This summer under the Pace Wildenstein aegis, its new director in Los Angeles, Marc Selwyn, pulled off a pre-opening coup by organizing an outdoor exhibition of major sculptures by preeminent modernist Henry Moore.
The artist's huge bronze nudes dotted streets, parks, and the Beverly Hills City Hall. The major municipal, logistical, and financial undertaking was shouldered by Pace Wildenstein, but the display's oddly grass-roots twist (joggers, kids, and the itinerant interacted with Moore's ''lumpy ladies''), demonstrated Mr. Selwyn's passion for art and his commitment to public education.
This summer, a Los Angeles satellite opened in Beverly Hills by Larry Gogosian, another blue-chip New York dealer with strong ties to Hollywood's other powerhouses - David Geffen and Steven Spielberg, two of the three owners of the entertainment company Dreamworks SKG.
When the media hype, gala openings, and name-dropping die down, what does all this mean to the topography of art dealing in Los Angeles and around the world?
First, Pace Wildenstein in Paris, New York, Los Angeles, and a London outpost planned for next spring will consolidate the gallery's grip on upper-echelon art, old and new, in the world's four art centers.
Second, these moves by major East Coast dealers may add just enough heat to a Los Angeles art scene that has been percolating but unable to reach a boil.
The unfathomably expensive Getty Center, an adjunct to the J. Paul Getty Museum in Malibu, is expected to open next year. It is now being carved into the mountains above Los Angeles. Downtown has seen the renovation and reopening of the Museum of Contemporary Art's Temporary Contemporary, a cutting-edge space designed by architect Frank Gehry.
In the Wilshire museum district, a multimillion-dollar renovation of the Craft and Folk Museum of Art took place, and Otis College of Art, one of the country's oldest art schools, announced its move to the art deco May Company building adjacent to the Los Angeles County Museum. On the west side of town, Tom Patchett has built a major art complex, Bergamot Station.
Perhaps the New York influx will provide just the fuel needed to launch Los Angeles's art momentum; only time will tell. But one thing is certain: The new proliferation of big-ticket private galleries here is sure to require adjustments from auction houses like Sotheby's, who acted as the sole purveyors of art in this price range on the West Coast.
Both Pace Wildenstein and Mr. Gogosian will be able to show and sell six- and seven-figure art on an ongoing basis rather than via the one-shot ''on the block'' auction format.
* Current and upcoming exhibits at Pace Wildenstein (L.A.) include: Sol LeWitt: New Gouaches, Nov. 9 to Dec. 29; Alexander Calder: The 50s, same dates; Chuck Close: Recent Paintings, Dec. 2 to Jan. 6.