‘She Changed My Life for the Better’: Read the Letters Ai Weiwei and Other Art Figures Wrote to Advocate Leniency for Mary Boone
Prominent members of the art world have written letters testifying to the art dealer's character after she pleaded guilty to tax fraud last year.
New York art dealer Mary Boone, who pleaded guilty to tax fraud last year, is facing up to six years in jail. But the art world has rallied to her side, writing letters imploring the judge to go easy on Boone, who has a history of childhood trauma, her lawyers recently argued.
Among those who came forward in support of Boone are collector and former arts publishing magnate Peter Brant (who himself served time for tax fraud in 1990), artists Julian Schnabel, Ross Bleckner, Ai Weiwei, and Hillary Harkness, as well as numerous art dealers and gallery professionals. Outside the art world, Boone also received praise from church leadership, members of her AA group, her doorman, driver, all of whom testified to her impeachable character and remorse for her crimes.
Read a few excerpts from the letters below.
Allan McCollum, artist
Mary organized an exhibition of my work back in 2017, for which there was virtually no likelihood of making any sales, and yet the exhibition helped me enormously, to achieve an expanded recognition of my work. Yet she spent thousands and thousands of dollars organizing the installation. This is typical of Mary—helping artists achieve recognition while not necessarily earning any profit whatsoever.
In all the years of knowing her, I have never experienced, or heard of, Mary being dishonest in any way whatsoever. My experience of Mary is that she has devoted her life to helping others.
Peter Brant, art collector and former magazine publisher
Mary has always taken the side of her artists and always represented them in the most concerned and thoughtful way. In addition, Mary has helped artists who had financial difficulties as well as emotional problems.…
I have spoken at length to Mary on many occasions about her wrong-doings in this case and I can clearly see how remorseful she is for her transgressions, and she has suffered greatly for her actions. Mary has lost a tremendous amount of self-esteem and questions herself daily whether she can recover from the decline which she has experienced in her gallery’s business, as well as her own public disgrace. I know that Mary has learned a great deal from the experiences she has gone through in the past five years facing up to what she has done, and I am positive she will be a person who will turn her life around and be a good example to others.
Will Cotton, artist
As my art dealer for the last 19 years, Mary has been exceptionally supportive to me as an artist and a friend. It’s thanks to her that I have been able to build and maintain a thriving career in the art world. On a personal level, working with her has been life changing. When she saw that I was struggling with drug and alcohol problems, she took it upon herself to be sure that I got the treatment I needed and has been instrumental in helping me maintain my sobriety for the last 16 years.
I understand the trouble Mary is in, and she knows she brought this upon herself. In speaking to her about what she’s done, I’ve found her to be eager to correct this mistake and to continue to do the next right thing moving forward.
Mary Boone has made the careers of some of the most significant artists of the last 40 years. Many of whom, including me, still depend on her for their livelihood. I don’t think society would benefit from sending her to jail.
Ross Bleckner, artist
Mary has represented me for approximately 40 years. I give Mary a lot of credit for helping me to establish myself as an artist, and to maintain a career that has been international in scope. She has been a loyal advocate for me and of my work the entire time. I would like to emphasize the loyalty aspect of Mary’s representation, and I think many artists would agree with me. She stuck it out through the uncertainties and vicissitudes of artists’ careers. Mary was there for many artists when others wouldn’t have been. One of the things that has always impressed me is her determination to do good for and on behalf of the people she’s worked with, who are many and varied.
Richard Johnson, “Page Six” columnist for the New York Post
I have known Mary and written about her and her artists for more than 30 years, and found her, without fail, to be truthful, honest and totally professional. She persevered in a male-dominated business as ruthless rivals with less integrity tried to poach her artists, and sometimes succeeded.
Despite the best efforts of the cliquey cabal, she has continued to nurture some of the most creative artistic careers and to run one of the world’s most important galleries.
Hillary Harkness, artist
Mary has been fiercely protective of my safety and sense of well being as a person and as an artist.
…Hard work and a positive attitude weren’t enough to protect me from the rampant sexual and psychological abuse aimed at young female artists in the NYC art world. After Mary learned of a traumatic encounter that I had with a well-known and beloved artist just days before joining her gallery, she became a fierce protector of me from those individuals (including powerful collectors) who showed interest that was more prurient than pure even before the #Metoo movement and without regard for the cost to her commercially.…
In 2006, my personal life was in crisis because I was coming out of the closet to myself and my family as a lesbian and was disowned for several months because I wouldn’t go to Texas for “deprogramming.” … Out of everyone I knew at that time, Macy was by far the #1 most understanding, caring, and supportive. She made me feel better about myself and pulled me out of depression, and unbeknownst to her, a PTSD diagnosis.
Mary Sabbatino, director of Galerie Lelong, New York
All of us make mistakes, sometimes grave ones, which cannot be repaired. Every parent has at least one hurtful sentence which they cannot take back, every marriage has fault lines, and every medical and legal professional has a case which haunts them. Ms. Boone has acknowledged her wrong-doing and shown remorse for her actions. She is not a danger to society. I ask you to consider other restorative justice for her to make further amends. I believe her long career in business and skills can be used in service to society and communities in a more positive way than a jail sentence.
Jerry Saltz, art critic, New York magazine
Among the best, most open, and honest gallerists of her generation, Mary Boone is one of the very, very few women art dealers who—in an art world dominated by powerful male dealers—has fought against and overcome every imaginable obstacle and, in the process, discovered, identified, nurtured, and overseen the entry into art history of almost a dozen deserving artists. The art world is made up of people who do what they do from passion, for love, for others—for history, for changing the world with works of art.
Ms. Boone’s reputation over these many decades is impeccable. She is known for being a straight-shooter, for showing her cards and always being completely forthright in her dealings with collectors, museum directors, curators, critics, clients, staff, and art critics. Boone is admired, emulated, and revered among the best gallerists of the last 35 years, which makes her in the roll-call for the greatest, most influential art dealers of all time.
She has done all this almost entirely on her own, again in an art world that has continually poached her artists, tried to undermine her at every turn, trying to overturn the valuable work she is trying to do. Every form of underhanded chicanery has been publicly and privately aimed at this lone woman gallerist.
Sandy Heller, New York art consultant
I know Mary as a kind and gentle person who is perhaps a victim of circumstance rather than a person who is pernicious and scheming. I know that Mary has so much to offer and perhaps long term mentorship and community service would benefit everyone so much more. She has inspired a generation of women artists, curators, and dealers and remains a beacon of hope for people who aren’t born into the privileged world of art collectors or connectivity. I hope Your Honor finds some way to see Mary’s infractions as an opportunity to the children and young adults who could glean life-changing benefits from her stewardship.
Ai Weiwei, artist
Through my contact with Mary, I come to know that she is caring with a kind heart and a clear discipline in art dealing. She always shows her cherishment towards art more than anything else and treats artists fairly, like family. I am writing this letter in support of her character and her integrity.
Andre Balazs, founder and CEO Andre Balazs Properties
I have, over decades, steered hundreds of hotel guests and potential purchasers of real estate to [Boone] and her renowned gallery. Not once have I ever heard a complaint about any aspect of her professional conduct—and this in the course of what I am certain involved millions of dollars of transactions. In fact, I have been thanked repeatedly for introductions to her and her gallery.
Francesco Clemente, artist
I am a person of a certain age and I notice that if one lives long enough one may find himself or herself in places that do not fit the general pattern of one’s life. In Mary Boone’s life, one can see a pattern of dedication to art and community. This dedication, this passion, can become one’s entire life, and occupy one’s entire time. Other patterns and circumstances may diminish in one’s view and cause a negligent act. Mary Boone has made a memorable mark on the narrative of art of the last quarter of a century. She has consistently contributed to the discourse of the art community in New York. I wish for her the opportunity to continue her commendable work for years to come.
Jeffrey Deitch, New York art dealer
l am writing in support of my long time colleague Mary Boone. Mary Boone is the most important and influential art gallerist of her generation. Her gallery represented the majority of the great New York artists of the 1980s: Jean-Michel Basquiat, Eric Fischl, Barbara Kruger, David Salle, and Julian Schnabel, among many others. For many years, the Mary Boone Gallery was the most important gallery of new art in the world. Mary’s contribution to the culture of New York and beyond has been enormous. The culture of New York during the past 40 years would not have been the same without Mary Boone. Her gallery has been the center of the artistic discourse and the social network around it. Her exhibitions draw art collectors and viewers from around the world, giving business to restaurants, hotels and the many other companies that serve the art community.
I have done business with Mary for 40 years. I have always found her to be impeccably honest and correct in her business practices.
Beth Rudin DeWoody, collector
I have known Mary Boone for over 30 years as a collector and friend. In all of my dealings with Mary I have found her to be honest and very professional. She has been a great proponent of her artists always tirelessly working on their behalf. Her whole life has been dedicated to art, whether at her gallery or her home. She has helped make most artists in her stable very well known, placing their work in great collections and museums. No one works harder than Mary.
Jose Freire, founder of Team Gallery, New York
Three of my gallery artists were included in the Whitney Museum’s Biennial exhibition of 2004. Overnight, I was beset with interest from supportive patrons and unscrupulous figures alike. I was in way over my head.
It was at this time that I fortuitously met Mary Boone…. Mary soon engaged me to put together three ambitious group shows at her uptown space.… Everything was possible with Mary. She supported my vision for the shows wholeheartedly and I got to witness first hand the manner in which Mary dealt with the many galleries that consigned works—always with utmost professionalism, honest, courtesy and respect.…
Mary’s gallery is firmly a part of art history and her contributions to the culture of New York City are immeasurable, however, her kindness is littler spoken of. Perhaps it’s because the glamour and allure that surround her make for better press? Regardless, Mary shared her wealth of experience, her insights and some of her business connections with me and my gallery simply would not exist today if it weren’t for her help. I’ll always be indebted to Mary Boone and know there are many others in this business who would say the same thing.
Fred R. Anderson, pastor emeritus, Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church, New York
During my 23 years of active ministry at MAPC, I saw Mary in worship virtually every Sunday she was in New York, usually accompanied by her son Max, who is, without a doubt, the most precious thing in her life.… I also saw Mary almost weekly in [an]other setting as she is one of the core leaders and regulars at the Cocaine Anonymous meetings… Mary has been open about that phase of her life and has become a role model for many in the business and arts communities…
What I want to talk with you about here is Mary as a woman, a single mother, a person of faith, and a mentor to younger women, struggling to live in a male dominated, cut-throat business. Mary has come to me to confess errors in judgment and to seek guidance and comfort.… Talking to me about this current situation, she readily acknowledges her own culpability and is deeply sorry.
Julian Schnabel, artist
The Mary I know is careful and responsible and always paid attention to detail even if we didn’t agree sometimes. Her love for art has realized some amazing exhibitions of many artists that made the landscape of what we know as art today.
She changed my life for the better.
Jack Shainman, founder of Jack Shainman Gallery, New York
Mary is known throughout the community as a stalwart advocate for the arts. In my personal experience I have had two artists represented by my own gallery mount exhibitions at her space. In these instances, communication was always upfront and transparent, and we never experienced any logistical or financial issue.
Laurie Simmons, artist
Our world, the New York art world, is ultimately very small and we (artists, dealers, collectors, curators, critics) know each other well. Relationships are generally enduring and news travels fast and not only would I vouch wholeheartedly for Ms. Boone’s character in this situation but believe that every person I know who is asked to write a letter on behalf of Mary Boone would do so.
Kathe Burkhart, artist
In recent years, Mary has embarked on an extended ‘corrective’ program of solo exhibitions by underrepresented women artists. While these exhibitions have been critically well received, because of prevailing discrimination and the wage gap, they have not always been that lucrative. In providing this platform to women artists, Mary ‘pays it forward’ and provides a much-needed service to the art community, art history, the general public who visits galleries and museums, and, ultimately the world. I did an exhibition with Mary in this program from January–March 2018. I found Mary forthright and honest in her financial dealings with me. She paid me promptly for the painting that she sold.
Thea Westreich Wagner, art collector and advisor
Mary Boone Gallery is central to my personal history in the art world and inseparable from the history of art in New York. In the 1980s, when I began my career, her gallery was the center of artistic discourse and I credit her with setting the scene for many young artists, dealers, curators, and writers to subsequently find their way. Her ability to withstand the many boom and bust cycles of this fickle industry over the years has won her my admiration, and she continues to represent opportunity for strong women in the field. I cannot say enough about her influence and my impression that she has conducted herself with grace in the many years I have known her.
Ron Warren, Mary Boone Gallery employee since 1985
I have worked for Mary Boone since 1985—longer than any other person in her employ. Throughout the 33 years I have known Mary she has shown steadfast dedication to the artists her gallery represents and appreciation for the extensive network of people that make it possible for her to sustain a world-renowned program in a highly competitive field. Mary is unquestionably hard working, decisive, opinionated, and demanding of herself and others, but she also harbors a deep well of generosity, empathy, and humor.…
My many years with Mary give me a unique perspective on her capacity to change. I have seen her deal with her own challenges both personal and professional. Mary owns her mistakes and rectifies them with the same determination and focus that has fueled her success.
Lief D. Rosenblatt, art collector
Mary has had a major and singular impact on the cultural life of our city. She has educated not only her clients, but an entire generation of art-interested New Yorkers. She has launched and nurtured the careers of dozens of artists, many of them unknown to the public before her involvement. Artists are notoriously complex, needy, temperamental, and insecure. Mary’s devotion to, and advocacy for her artists, has required deep compassion, sensitivity, understanding, and commitment.…
Since the 1980s Mary Boone has been a legend and a leader in the art industry. When Mary opened a gallery in Chelsea in 2000, it was transformative. Until then, a number of pioneering but smaller, less well known galleries had started to locate there. But when the Mary Boone Gallery planted its flag in a large and prominent space in Chelsea, it validated the neighborhood as the new hub of the New York art world. Today, with the relocation of the Whitney Museum of American Art and the development of the High Line, the economy, life and liveliness of the Chelsea area is booming. None of this is likely to have occurred had Chelsea not become a thriving art district, and that would not have transpired—or certainly would have occurred much more slowly—had Mary not led the way as an early participant by opening a major gallery there.
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