Barbara Gladstone, Remembered: Curators, Writers, and Friends Pay Tribute to the Revered Dealer

Lena Dunham, Jerry Saltz, Matthew Higgs, and many more have shared stories.

Barbara Gladstone and Gavin Brown. Photo by Andy Kropa/Getty Images)

This week, the art world lost one of its most prominent art dealers, Barbara Gladstone, who died at the age of 89. Gladstone was known for hosting boundary-pushing exhibitions by acclaimed artists before they were established, such as Matthew Barney, and was admired in the industry for her lean-and-mean approach to doing business. She expanded her gallery’s footprint judiciously, while focusing on New York, and placed an emphasis on retaining an all-star staff. The partners that will now lead the business are Gavin Brown, Max Falkenstein, Caroline Luce, and Paula Tsai.

Below, we’ve collected some of the tributes that prominent figures have been sharing via email or Instagram that illustrate the towering legacy that Gladstone leaves behind.

Scott Rothkopf, director of the Whitney Museum: “The night I met Barbara Gladstone, during my first weeks in NY 20 yrs ago, I asked her what the first piece of art she collected was. “A black Nevelson,” she replied with a tight grin, “What else does a good Jewish girl get from her father for her wedding?” I remember blushing. I had never met a woman like this. In just a few words so funny, so honest, so tender, so dry, so chic, so true to where she came from and to where she was going. Just like she always was.”

Lena Dunham, writer: “Barbara Gladstone was—will always be—an icon and an iconoclast. She went from house wife to force of nature who built the modern art world. Her taste, her wit, and her passion were unmatched. I feel so lucky for the time we spent together, from Greece to Norway, Berlin to Chelsea, Paris to Connecticut. She told me never to go out without sunscreen but also to “never refer to a woman as well-preserved.” She was always honest about an outfit. She had the most discerning eye—it set her apart—but most deeply she understood artists. I am especially grateful for the decades over which she supported my father’s work [Carroll Dunham], both in her galleries and across the world. It made my education (and therefore my life) possible, and I am one of hundreds of people for whom that’s true.”

Jay Sanders, executive director and chief curator of Artists Space: “Barbara was an invaluable and central part of Artists Space. She joined the Board in 2018, shortly after I began as Executive Director & Chief Curator. Knowing she was there to guide me and Artists Space in those early years was beyond reassuring. She was integral to opening 11 Cortlandt Alley, and year after year, she remained a constant support to all of us in so much of what we do, across many endeavors. I know this has been especially true for our Board members LaToya Ruby Frazier, Joan Jonas, and Rirkrit Tiravanija, with whom she was fundamentally and intimately connected through Gladstone Gallery.

Carroll Dunham and Barbara Gladstone.

Carroll Dunham and Barbara Gladstone. (Photo by JONATHON ZIEGLER/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)

Barbara was a force and a leader at Artists Space and across our field. I am endlessly grateful to her, both for her service to our organization and for her friendship. All of us at Artists Space extend our sympathies to her family, her community at Gladstone Gallery, and everyone she worked with throughout the years. She will be greatly missed.”

Linda Yablonksky, critic: “A few moments in the circle of artists and colleagues that Barbara Gladstone held dear in an enriching life that consistently, and unusually, made the art world a benevolent and enlightening place to be. For me personally, a divine presence whom I first encountered through another, Clarissa Dalrymple, with whom she met Matthew Barney. Every conversation I ever had with Barbara was illuminating, warm, deep, and enjoyable. A figure who earned universal esteem for her integrity, honesty, and her dedication to art, her artists, and support of some of us writers too. It’s hard to accept her passing and chastening to remember the hundreds of electric moments she provided. R.I.P. #barbaragladstone and deepest sympathies to her the gallery’s artists, partners, and staff.

Loic Gouzer, founder of the auction platform Fair Warning: “There is class, like the Mercedes G wagon “class” and then there is real Class like Barbara, Barbara Gladstone. Thanks Barbara for infusing this industry with what I would like to call a radical nobility. Although you had absolutely no tolerance for small talk, you expanded the field of the art conversation like no other. Since I moved to New York I always felt so privileged and lucky that you not only tolerated me, but in your way challenged me to sharpen my eyes rather than my ears and my tongue. I will miss those Saturday mornings where I would roll up into your office and blabber on my latest art discovery, conspiracy theory or hypochondriac alert, until you ultimately kicked me out of your office saying “I need to work now”. I will miss those openings where I would come and find you hiding from the crowds in your office in order to finish reading the New Yorker. Your legacy will be like your program, deep and multifaceted. I have zero doubt that Gladstone will thrive under Max and Gavin because what you created is not just a “brand” but a spirit and a culture that will endure and thrive under their leadership and deep understanding of art. Miss you very much already.”

Alissa Bennett, director at Gladstone Gallery: “No words suffice. I am heartbroken. Barbara was an unmatched mentor, a champion of difficult art and a great believer in difficult people, the best and most hilarious shit talker, and probably the most powerful person I have ever had the grace of knowing. I loved her deeply and I will miss her forever.”


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A post shared by Lena Dunham (@lenadunham)

Matthew Higgs, director of White Columns: “In late 2005 Barbara Gladstone, who I didn’t know well at the time, invited me to organize her gallery’s 2006 summer exhibition. (This is from a time when organizing summer group shows was a kind of competitive sport among New York galleries!) I had only moved to New York in the previous year and Barbara’s invitation was both an honor and a challenge. The resulting exhibition ‘Dereconstruction’ remains one of my personal favorite curatorial projects and working with Barbara and her team remains among the best experiences – professional and otherwise – that l’ve had in 30+ years working in/around the art world. Barbara’s sensitivity to art, artists – and curators – was a thing to behold. She will be greatly missed.”

Jerry Saltz, critic: “R.I.P. Barbara Gladstone. Gallerist in extreme. A friend, tremendous business woman, a force behind the scenes, whose gallery was always changing but grew and grew without going “mega,” into one of the greatest galleries in the world. This is a big one. When I was a very young artist, Barbara represented me for a time. Before I stopped making art and self-exiled into the trucks. We were friends. Then estranged. Then friends. Had many dinners with her. Then didn’t. But absolute respect for her achievements, her life, her will, and her love.”

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