Koh creates sculptures and installations that trade in emotionally and sexually charged ephemerality—fragile works often made with unstable organic substances, like chocolate and even his own dried semen. They should be tough sells, but Peres has the magic touch.

Three years after launching Peres Projects with a Koh solo show, the gallerist landed on the “Art World Hot 100” list published by the British newspaper the Guardian, outranking heavyweights such as sculptor Richard Serra. (Using that buzz, Peres lured Dan Colen away from Rivington Arms.) Meanwhile, not only was Koh’s work being snatched up by powerful collectors and institutions around the world but he landed a solo show at the Whitney. “When I first met Javier,” says Koh from behind his dark sunglasses, “I didn’t even know I wanted to be an artist.”

No matter. The moment—in Los Angeles, and in the art world generally—was exactly right. I later catch Peres on his cell phone in Berlin, where he’s opened a Peres Projects branch, and he tells me he’s now selling mostly to European collectors and museums; he’s traded up, because he can. “All my L.A. guys? I don’t sell to a single one of those people anymore. There are a lot of these people in L.A. who sort of feed on youth. When I started, it was like sharks—they could smell the fresh blood. It was like, ‘Ahhhh, this is awesome! Holy shit, Terence Koh, $2,500! Who the fuck is Terence Koh? Who cares?! It’s only $2,500!’” He lets out a sharp laugh. “And then five years later they’re like, ‘Dude, I want to resell this. What do you think, 250 G’s?’ And you’re like, ‘Uh, yeah, that sounds right.’”

I happen to be in Sotheby’s New York auction room when Takashi Murakami’s My Lonesome Cowboy, a sculpture of a naked anime character with a raging hard-on who is using a stream of his own ejaculate as a lasso (there’s a lot of sperm flying around the art world these days), goes for $13.5 million. Murakami happens to be there too, and both of us are forced to stand during the entire hours-long auction because the room is packed with so many of the megarich from around the world, who are seated first.

Not far from where Murakami is standing, an auction assistant whose job it is to call attention to subtle bidders points vigorously at an aging blue blood. Given that the potential buyer is white and her appointed auction helper is not only dark-skinned but wearing white gloves, there is something vaguely colonial about the tableau. But it’s not entirely clear who’s serving whom—or who’s using whom. The artist, of course, can’t survive without the collector, the collector has nothing without the artist, and both are in thrall to a market that may or may not be delusional. Meanwhile, the drone of the auctioneer ticking off bid increments would be almost soporific were it not for the fact that tens of millions of dollars are being spent every few minutes.