Even in retirement, Arne Glimcher, at 84, is a busy man. With his son, Marc, now fully in charge of Pace, the mega-gallery Glimcher founded as a small Boston storefront in 1960, Glimcher opens a new gallery in downtown Manhattan this week, a kind of project space that will both host exhibitions and represent a modest number of artists.
The space is called 125 Newbury, which makes for something like a Marx Brothers routine. Pace Gallery was born at 125 Newbury Street, in Boston, but now has its enormous headquarters at 540 West 25th Street, in Chelsea. And 125 Newbury Street is located at 395 Broadway, a carefully restored (Glimcher redid many of the plaster moldings) landmark building in Tribeca designed by Stanford White. During an install earlier this week, Glimcher’s miniature Schnauzer, Max, was greeting folks at the door and dashing around amongst art handlers and construction noise.
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The inaugural show, which opens Friday, is loosely inspired by the 1957 Ingmar Bergman film Wild Strawberries, in particular the surrealistic dream sequence in which the main character, before seeing his own body in a coffin, reaches out to a man who faces away from him, only to have that man turn around to reveal a strange contorted face and then disintegrate into a puddle of clothing and goo. The new exhibition, like that scene, is all about “attraction and repulsion,” according to Glimcher.
“What you anticipate is not always what you get, and what you don’t want is often what you end up admiring,” Glimcher told ARTnews. “Take Rembrandt’s Slaughtered Ox. For a moment, you can’t look at it, and then it’s a celebration of brushwork and painting.”
Wild Strawberries is also about film itself, which has been important to Glimcher over the course of his career (he’s made a few major movies himself). A monitor plays snippets from various films that gel with the exhibition, from that Wild Strawberries dream sequence to more contemporary fare, like Hellraiser (the iconic box that contains the demons looks strangely akin to a Lucas Samaras box sculpture!). Driving the attraction/repulsion point home, Luis Bunuel’s famous Surrealist film Un Chien Andalou, with that iconic eye-slicing scene, will be playing on a screen mounted high on the wall, so that you have to crane your neck to see it.
The artworks in the show reflect Glimcher’s long history as a gallerist, and his continued interest in new art. There are pieces by Samaras, a longtime Pace artist, that look a bit like Daniel Spoerri’s work — forks stuck in cracked plates with bits of actual food underneath, for instance. For another piece, Samaras stuck pins into a French dictionary, creating a voodoo doll that gives new meaning to the old chestnut about “sticks and stones.” There are meat-slab pieces by Paul Thek, who Pace showed in the 1960s. More meat: a film of Pace artist Zhang Huan wearing his famous meat suit, the one that inspired Lady Gaga. There’s a Lee Bontecou that looks like it has teeth, and a Robert Gober sculpture from Gober’s personal collection that imagines the birth of grown man, coming out feet first. Another artist who loaned a piece: longtime Pace artist Kiki Smith, whose life-size Virgin Mary is here — not the well-known bronze version, but the wax one she kept for herself.
Glimcher sees the show as demonstrating his broad tastes. “There are different sides to what I like. There is a quasi-narrative side and a pure formal side. I like both of them. I despise work you can read immediately. I’d rather read a book,” he said.
While Bontecou, Samaras and Thek are the foundations of the show, according to Glimcher, he convinced younger talents like Julie Curtiss and Max Hooper Schneider to make new work for his exhibition with a cold call. (Collectors, too, have been generous. Mitchell Rales has loaned a David Hammons sculpture from his Glenstone Museum.)
“All of the artists in this show are wild strawberries,” Glimcher says. “They’re highly individual.”
Although 125 Newbury marks a new beginning of sorts, Glimcher has been doing his fair share of looking back. He has been working on his memoirs for five years with an ETA of this year. “I think it’s time to bring it to conclusion,” he said. “Several times I’ve wanted to throw it away. [My wife] Milly stopped me every time.”
ARTnews sat down with Glimcher at the new gallery to talk about 125 Newbury, how the art world has changed since he started, and the dangers to young artists today.
ARTnews: What were you doing in 1957 when Wild Strawberries came out?
Arne Glimcher: I was in high school. My friends and I decided we had no use for American movies. It was the time of La Nouvelle Vague and Italian Realism. An exciting time. The films were raw. I had always made art as a kid, but film brought me to art in a different way. During college [at Harvard], my wife, then girlfriend, Milly, and I were at this theater that showed all the radical movies and it was winter so we were waiting in the basement where there was this art gallery and they had this Picasso print that he made on the eve of Guernica. It was $110. Milly and I had a little conference and we said, let’s buy it together. The gallery gave us a year to pay.
AN: Do you still have it?
AG: I don’t just still have it. I liked it so much I gave each of my kids a set of those prints.
AN: I feel like there’s a potential misperception of what you are doing here as “I’m leaving Pace, I’m just going to go downtown and have my own thing.”
AG: That was the danger that Marc and I discussed. Doing this isn’t in any way—I mean, I think I’m still Pace! We—Pace—don’t have time for this kind of show. We have extraordinary artists who all need exhibitions to be done. And I love making this kind of show. And I’ve done it since the inception of Pace. This may sound egotistical, but I did the first museum-quality themed gallery shows, starting in the ’60s. Shows like “Beyond Realism” in 1965 [which included Lucas Samaras and Paul Thek], which examined the Surrealist edge of Pop Art; Grids, for which Rosalind Krauss wrote the catalogue. Right now, I want to do the shows I want to see. I’m still doing shows at Pace.
AN: You told me you will be representing artists here at 125 Newbury. Will that be artists of your generation? Mid-career or late career artists? Young artists?
AG: It will be anything I like that seems right for this smaller space.
AN: Do you think there are artists who would want to show here who would not want to show with Pace?
AG: We’ll see. There won’t be a lot of artists on the roster here. There are so many shows I want to do.
AN: When a gallery gets to a certain size, I’m talking about the mega-galleries, which Pace is now, there by definition can no longer be a super-cohesive sensibility. Which is not to say these galleries are promiscuous in their choices of artists to represent. There are just too many artists on the roster.
AG: Marc and I were talking about that exact same thing recently. About how there used to be a specific look to, say, Gagosian, or Zwirner, or Pace.
AN: The close link between art and money that started in the 1980s—or maybe a bit before, with the Scull sale—you were such a big part of that. It wasn’t just your selling a Jasper Johns painting for a million dollars to the Whitney Museum in 1980—an unheard of sum back then—and having that splashed across the cover of the New York Times, it was also getting a sprawling feature in Vanity Fair in 1986 about your Picasso Notebooks show. The things you were doing back then contributed a lot to the creation of what is now an art circus of money and fame and celebrity. Former Met director Tom Hoving’s famous quote that dates from that era “Artissexy!Artismoney-sexy!Artismoney-sexy-social-climbing-fantastic!” Larry Gagosian came along in the ’80s and sort of embraced all of that whereas I feel like you’ve always had something of an ambivalent relationship with the art world that you helped to create.
AG: When I was building the gallery, I was very young, I went to all the artists’ studios, I took my children to the studios. It was my life. I couldn’t satisfy myself as a painter. I would paint something in my studio, and I’d be very happy, and I’d come there the following morning and I would ask myself, “Is this as good as Picasso?” And a resounding “No” was hanging in midair, like a Saul Steinberg cartoon. It was making me crazy. The next best thing was to live a life with artists. And that’s what I did. My relationship with artists is my whole life.
AN: Is there something different about gallerists who are former artists?
AG: When I look at a painting, I can see it being made. And it’s thrilling. It satisfies me a great deal. Going to the studios and seeing art being made, especially artists who are part of my life. I visit Lucas [Samaras] every two or three weeks. We talk to each other two times a week. I talked to Agnes Martin every day. I talk with Bob Irwin at least every other day. Those are the people who have influenced my life and shaped my taste. This is very serious business today. I think a lot of people who should be living with art can’t afford it.
AN: The Vogels not be possible today. [In the 1960s, Herbert and Dorothy Vogel were able to buy art based on their salaries as civil servants. Works from their collection are now housed in museums across the U.S..]
AG: But I met a young collector the other day who is so passionate. He came in [to Pace] with a friend. He bought a few things, small things. But I could see how much he loved it. That’s the kind of person I would offer the best in the exhibition, rather than the most famous collector, because I know he adores it, and that he is our future. So it’s selfish as well. That kind of person is not going to flip art. That’s how Mike Ovitz came in. And that’s one of the greatest collections in the world.
AN: When I heard you were going to be sitting at the front desk here occasionally, I thought, Well, that makes sense. Despite the growth of the art world in terms of museum attendance and the market, people who go around to galleries—it’s still a self-selecting group. So there’s maybe a sense of wanting to meet your people—people who are interested in strange, challenging, and beautiful objects—and gauge their reactions.
AG: Yes, definitely. I want to meet people. I love to talk to young people, young artists.
AN: We’re in a climate right now where people are going out and buying young artists when they are $10,000 and flipping them at auction for multiples times that amount.
AG: It is the most precarious time for young artists. A young artist has a show and it sells out and there are 30 people waiting for the next paintings. It sold out because the artist was interesting and relatively inexpensive. Is that artist going to be able to say, “This series is over, I’m interested in something else”? I’m very worried about artists today. What is their inspiration? Is the art fair in Miami an inspiration? It’s outrageous to ask artists to make work for an art fair. At Pace we don’t do that.
AN: It seems like one of the things you’re getting back to here is the act of putting together an exhibition being itself a creative act, that you’re excited about getting back to the creative act of exhibition making.
AG: I’ve been a curator, more than anything else. At Pace, we’ve been lucky enough to curate the right things, and people respond. The difference between the old [Pace at] 125 Newbury and the new 125 Newbury is that I opened the old 125 Newbury with $2,500, and we struggled for ten years. Here I can afford to not have a show for a month, or show something that is experimental. That is my pleasure.
AN: But you’ve always experimented.
AG: In the ’60s when Lucas [Samaras] signed with Pace—and he could have signed with anyone back then, he was the enfant terrible of art—we got him the money to build a mirrored room. You know, the mirrored room that is at the Albright Knox. It cost $20,000 to make it. I don’t mean to sound melodramatic but we didn’t pay rent one month. We borrowed the money. And Seymour Knox came in and bought it. It was a miracle. Right now—I just love art. I feel my age. I’m a vigorous 84 years old, but I am 84 years old. And I love art so much. Creating this gallery is a pleasure. And I hope this pleasure benefits the community as well.