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Gallerists at Frieze are saluting their pioneering forebears

Stands pay tribute to dealers who were ahead of their time

by Julia Halperin, Melanie Gerlis  |  17 October 2015
Gallerists at Frieze are saluting their pioneering forebears
Iris Clert in her gallery during the exhibition of Arman Le Plein, Paris, October 1960. Courtesy Arman Studio Archives, New York
In 1960, the French-born American artist Arman filled Galerie Iris Clert in Paris with rubbish from floor to ceiling; the show could only be seen through the window. This week, Luxembourg & Dayan (FM, D7) is paying homage to the art dealer behind the exhibition, with a dedicated stand at Frieze Masters. It is one of a raft of recent tributes to dealers of the past.
 
Iris Clert “was more modern and gutsy than many others”, Daniella Luxembourg says. Long before the rise in popularity of installation art, Clert allowed Yves Klein to empty her gallery of everything except for a display case. But “there was no market in Paris” and Clert died “penniless”, Luxembourg says. The gallery sold two oversized matchbooks by Raymond Hains (priced at €70,000 and €80,000)—works once shown by Clert—during Tuesday’s VIP preview at Frieze Masters.

Dickinson (FM, C4) has dedicated its stand to the French gallerist Léonce Rosenberg, who championed late Cubism after the First World War. The influence of Léonce—long overshadowed by his brother, fellow dealer Paul—has been “unduly unrecorded”, Dickinson’s John Swarbrooke says. Most of the works on the stand, including a 1918 portrait of the dealer by Gino Severini (£295,000), passed through Rosenberg’s gallery in Paris.

Earlier this year, the National Gallery in London mounted the UK’s first major exhibition devoted to Paul Durand-Ruel, the dealer who championed the Impressionists. In 2013, New York’s Museum of Modern Art opened its celebration of Ileana Sonnabend, who helped to establish the careers of Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns.

From “the early 1990s recession sprang the curator as personality, and now the spotlight has shifted to the dealers as mini-celebs in their own right,” says the writer and dealer Kenny Schachter. The myth of the old-school, nurturing gallerist has become even more appealing in today’s global, cut-throat market. “Dealers today are more akin to Goldman Sachs than Sonnabend or [Leo] Castelli,” Schachter says.

Next spring, Franklin Parrasch (FM, E11) will stage a show in New York dedicated to Michael Walls, who ran galleries in New York and San Francisco in the 1970s and 1980s. “As an intellectual, he represents a side of the art world that has been overtaken by facts and figures,” Parrasch says. “Every time a dealer says ‘this is art’ about something nobody has said ‘this is art’ about, they are potentially altering art history.”

Although some say that taking a historical view of market forces takes attention away from the artists, this emphasis on the dealer’s role is part of a larger trend for examining the context in which art is created. “People have tried to divorce the art market from the work, as if artists create out of nothing,” says Tamar Margalit of Luxembourg & Dayan.

Ironically, these tributes come as the dealer’s primacy is being challenged. Artist agencies are springing up as an alternative, while the internet enables collectors to access information that was previously impossible to get without a dealer.

“If anything has changed, it’s the increasing viability of other intermediaries to serve artists’ and collectors’ needs” so they feel “they can skip the gallery model entirely”, says Edward Winkleman, the author of the new book Selling Contemporary Art. “We’re not quite there yet, but the stronghold the gallerist used to have is loosening.”

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