The Most Respected US Contemporary Art Dealers of 2015
Where would the art world be without dealers?
The art world would be nowhere without its art dealers, who tirelessly support their artists, helping to create their gallery shows, advising on their next moves, and helping influential collectors develop their eye. And, though it’s not among their most high-profile activities, dealers also often generously support some of the art world’s most beloved nonprofits, ensuring that it’s not just the commercial venues that succeed.
We polled some of our trusted art-world sources to find out not just the David Zwirners and Larry Gagosians of the world (you can read about them and many more in The Most Admired Art Dealers of 2014), but some of the figures who are up-and-coming and making a difference. Whether they were fostering markets for under-recognized artists, causing a splash with a new gallery, or clocking another year quietly supporting highly appreciated artists, these are some of the top US dealers who earned their colleagues’ respect in 2014, in no particular order. (In some cases, we’ve included a few words from their colleagues about what makes them so great, but so that no one gets bashful, we’ve let them comment anonymously.)
1. Stefania Bortolami, Bortolami
Stefania Bortolami now runs a gallery in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood, but she first learned the tricks of the trade working for London’s Anthony d’Offay and for global dealer Larry Gagosian, where she brought on artists like John Currin, Mike Kelley, and Jeff Koons.
Her program includes experimental painter Richard Aldrich, risqué ceramic sculptor Nicolas Guagnini, and multimedium artist Tom Burr, whose photographs and installations often have the quality of elegies. Also part of her stable is 77-year-old French Conceptual artist Daniel Buren, who has appeared in the Venice Biennale no fewer than ten times.
Talking to artnet, a fair director said that despite having fought in the trenches, Bortolami remains “pure of soul.”
2. Sarah Braman, Suzanne Butler, Phil Grauer, and Wallace Whitney, Canada Gallery
Canada gallery started out as a scrappy, artist-run enterprise and has grown to be a major tastemaker. New Gagosian recruit, the painter Joe Bradley, had his start there; sculptor Gedi Sibony, now a veteran of the Whitney biennial and the Venice Biennale, had his first solo show at Canada (he’s now with Greene Naftali). Bradley, Matt Connors, and Michael Williams were all represented in “The Forever Now: Contemporary Painting in an Atemporal World,” the recent survey at New York’s Museum of Modern Art.
And, as recounted in a recent W Magazine profile of the gallery, Bradley, Connors, and Williams were all willing to lend work to help the gallery’s founders expand into its current home. Now that’s respect.
“It’s incredible what they’ve built,” said a fair director talking to artnet News.
3. John Corbett and Jim Dempsey, Corbett vs. Dempsey
The duo of John Corbett and Jim Dempsey have stood out in Chicago’s gallery scene since opening up shop in 2004. The gallery works with artists like Joyce Pensato, Christina Ramberg, and Diane Simpson, all of whom have experienced a resurgence of interest in recent years, and Barbara Rossi, subject of a show at New York’s New Museum (through January 3, 2016).
Both bring their interests from outside the fine art realm. Corbett has programmed jazz music at Berlin JazzFest and the Empty Bottle Jazz Series, and Dempsey contributed some programming as house manager at Chicago’s Gene Siskel Film Center. The gallery’s website includes a record store featuring releases by respected figures like David Grubbs, Thurston Moore, and Sun Ra.
The gallery’s unusual name betrays another shared interest outside the art world. James J. Corbett and Jack Dempsey were both famous boxers, and, according to the dealers, Corbett’s grandfather happened to know Dempsey. Though the two boxers never fought, the dealers’ shared handle imagines what would have been a battle royale.
4. Bridget Donahue
Bridget Donahue first made waves with Cleopatra’s, an independent Brooklyn exhibition venue she founded with Bridget Finn, Colleen Grennan, and Erin Somerville. She next moved on to stints at Gladstone Gallery and Gavin Brown’s Enterprise. This past February, she launched her own gallery on New York’s Lower East Side. In just the first few months, Donahue’s shows have gained notice in Art in America, Frieze, the New York Times and the New Yorker.
She shows an array of respected women, including Susan Cianciolo, Lynn Hershman Leeson, and Martine Syms (one of artnet News’ 20 Emerging Female Artists to Keep on Your Radar).
“She’s totally tops,” a museum curator said of Donahue.
5. Carol Greene, Greene Naftali Gallery
For a small outfit, Greene Naftali Gallery packs a huge punch.
Carol Greene was one of the first to open a gallery in Chelsea, way back in 1995. Her first show there included Laura Owens; also among her first shows there was solo presentation of the work of painter Alex Katz. The gallery doesn’t shy away from challenging work, representing conceptually inclined artists like Paul Chan, Harun Farocki, Dan Graham, Rachel Harrison, and Allen Ruppersberg, who have been honored with countless museum shows worldwide.
And while other galleries are being priced out of the neighborhood, Greene Naftali’s investment in challenging art is obviously paying off. In 2014, the gallery expanded from its 8th-floor aerie to an imposing ground-floor space in the same building.
“She does a great job for her artists,” said a fellow-dealer.
6. Margaret Lee and Oliver Newton, 47 Canal
Not that many galleries evolve from party venues, but 47 Canal, started by artist Margaret Lee and her boyfriend Oliver Newton (A veteran of Alexander & Bonin), started life that way; Lee has said that the challenging business of running a gallery actually seemed easier because parties brought noise complaints and visits from the police.
The gallery shows innovative artists from Antoine Catala (with solo shows this year alone at the Musée d’Art Contemporain in Lyon, France, and the Carnegie Museum of Art, in Pittsburgh) to Anicka Yi (with 2015 solos at Kunsthalle Basel and the List Visual Arts Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts) and the influential Josh Kline (who had a prominent installation this year in the New Museum Triennial).
7. Lisa Overduin, Overduin & Co.
Art dealers can be a competitive bunch, but when New York dealer Jose Freire (of Team Gallery) opened an LA outpost, he talked up Lisa Overduin, telling Art in America that “anybody who is not up with what [she is] doing is kind of behind.”
Overduin gave up-and-comer Math Bass her first LA show in 2014 (she went on to a solo at New York’s MoMA PS1 in 2015), and her shows have merited reviews in the Los Angeles Times and L.A. Weekly, as well as Jason Farago’s new magazine, Even. Overduin also dependably puts on impressive presentations at art fairs; her booths caught artnet News’ eye at Frieze New York and NADA Miami Beach in 2015, showing works by Bass and by Erika Vogt, respectively.
8. John Riepenhoff, Green Gallery
Art dealer and artist John Riepenhoff was way ahead of the giant growth of art fairs over the last decade. He was one of the organizers, way back in 2006, of the first Milwaukee International Art Fair, which drew dealers from cities as far as New York, Los Angeles, and Zurich. That’s right, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The Green Gallery, owned and run by Riepenhoff and his cousin and business partner Jake Palmert, is the only gallery in Milwaukee that’s committed to conceptual art practices. It shows artists like Matthew Higgs (who runs White Columns, in New York), Margaret Lee of 47 Canal (also on this list), Tyson and Scott Reeder, and Anicka Yi.
And fellow artists look to Riepenhoff to do more than just show their work; he sometimes even appears in it. Scott Reeder’s sci-fi film Moon Dust (2014) features Riepenhoff in a key role.
If all that didn’t keep Riepenhoff busy enough, he’s also taken to brewing beers to benefit Midwestern art venues like Michelle Grabner and Brad Killam’s Poor Farm.
9. Adam Sheffer, Cheim & Read
Cheim & Read partner (and sales director) Adam Sheffer got a huge nod from the field this year, when he succeeded Dorsey Waxter as head of the Art Dealers Association of America, the organization that organizes the annual Art Show at New York’s Park Avenue Armory. Also a veteran director of Mary Boone Gallery, Danese Gallery, and Robert Miller Gallery, Sheffer recruited artists Ghada Amer and Sean Scully, among others, to Cheim & Read’s program.
His commitment extends beyond the gallery doors; he’s a producer on a forthcoming film about the life of Joan Mitchell, and in 2014 he was named a patron of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston.
He became ADAA board president the old-fashioned way, says a fellow-dealer, “by working his ass off and by being an incredibly collegial and trustworthy guy.”
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