‘Bad Painter’ Neil Jenney Curates a Tribeca Gallery’s First Show

Contemporary Realism is in the spotlight at Isabel Sullivan's new venture

Neil Jenney, Evening (2022). Image courtesy the artist and Isabel Sullivan Gallery.

Isabel Sullivan seems too young to be called a veteran of the gallery scene, but she has nonetheless spent the last decade working in New York galleries, most recently as a partner at Chase Contemporary.

Now, Sullivan, 33, has struck out on her own with an eponymous space on Lispenard Street in the fast-growing Tribeca gallery scene.

“Opening my own space wasn’t necessarily something that I always dreamed about,” she said in an interview. “The move happened organically, as I began to grow and develop an understanding and a vision for the type of gallery and organization I wanted to create. I wanted to show work I believed in.”

Picture of various artworks installed at new gallery in Tribeca

Installation view of “New Realism” group show at Isabel Sullivan Gallery in Tribeca. Image courtesy Isabel Sullivan Gallery.

Her gallery’s inaugural show, which opened on March 14, is “New Realism: Looking Forward and Back,” which was curated by the storied SoHo artist Neil Jenney, who shot to fame a half-century ago with his “Bad Paintings.”

Jenney has included some of his recent work, as well as pieces by Elisa Jensen, Victor Leger, Joseph Santore, Mercer Tullis, and Frank Webster. A few of those figures are connected: Santore, for instance, taught both Jensen and Webster. Sullivan has filmed mini-documentaries about each artist. (More good news for Jenney fans: he will open a solo show with Gagosian on West 24th Street in West Chelsea on May 2.)

Isabel Sullivan at her new gallery in Tribeca. Image courtesy Isabel Sullivan Gallery.

“New Realism” includes roughly 30 works and aims to explore what “Realism” is today. They include Jenney’s skyscapes with sculptural frames and Jensen’s shadowy but vibrant interiors. Santore’s existential paintings reflect on the human condition, while Tullis’s striking graphite works have a meditative air to them. Webster and Leger’s paintings add a serene touch to the affair.

Sullivan met Jenney when she accompanied a friend to his studio. “When I first entered the space, I felt as if I had walked into a museum,” she said. She was taken not only by Jenney’s work, but also with a permanent exhibition he had on view of different Realist artists. “Neil gave me a tour and told me about the group exhibition he had organized, ‘American Realism Today’ at the New Britain Museum of American Art” in Connecticut, in 2022, she explained.

a painting by Joseph Santore showing a performer standing on a structure in front of a gathered crowd

Joseph Santore, Empty Lot (2022–23). Image courtesy the artist and Isabel Sullivan Gallery.

Jenney was interested in organizing a subsequent edition at a commercial gallery. “It felt fated to me at that moment,” said Sullivan, adding, “I had been thinking about the return of figurative painting, and its prevalence, and in particular that there was something fundamentally radical in such a return—and that Realism had first emerged, and then continually re-emerged following profound shifts or ruptures in society, and culture.”

Sullivan and her gallery started a search for artists in New York who were working in this mode, and found numerous artists who were included in his New Britain Museum show. “From there, the whole show began to truly take shape,” she said.

a painting by Elisa Jensen depicting a lace curtain rendered in soft pastel colors blowing in the breeze

Elisa Jensen, Lace Curtain (Limits of the Diaphane), 2014. Image courtesy the artist and Isabel Sullivan Gallery.

As for landing in Tribeca, Sullivan said she initially came close to taking a space in Chelsea, but “there was something about the energy down here in Tribeca that really moved me. It felt spirited and lively—like the future, and my future was here.”

Sullivan says she’s glad she ultimately steered away from some of the “typical white box spaces” she looked at. The location she chose, formerly the home of the now-closed Denny Gallery, “felt cozy and intimate, which was the vibe I was going for,” she said. “It gave me the feeling that I hoped others would feel in the future when they visit us.”

an image of Facade of new Isabel Sullivan Gallery at 39 Lispenard Street in Tribeca

The facade of the new Isabel Sullivan Gallery at 39 Lispenard Street in Tribeca. Image courtesy Isabel Sullivan Gallery.

“New Realism: Looking Forward and Back” runs through Sunday, April 21, at Isabel Sullivan Gallery, 39 Lispenard Street.

Follow Artnet News on Facebook:

Want to stay ahead of the art world? Subscribe to our newsletter to get the breaking news, eye-opening interviews, and incisive critical takes that drive the conversation forward.
Article topics