Keeping Pace For Forty Years

By EUGENIA B. SCHRAA

CRIMSON STAFF WRITER

“My friends aren’t a bunch of bankers,” said Arne Glimcher after giving a lecture at the Arthur M. Sackler Museum to celebrate 40 years as the founder of PaceWildenstein, possibly the most influential modern art gallery of the second half of the 20th century.

It’s a roundabout way of putting it, but the remark contains the secret to Glimcher’s extraordinary success in the art world.

A mere 20-years-old when he founded the gallery with his wife Milly, Glimcher had little more than an acute ability to connect with artists to go on.

“I knew nothing about opening a gallery,” he said in the lecture, “our only idea from the start was to live a life in art, near artists.”

Perhaps because he himself had been an artist, it did not take long for the likes of Andy Warhol, Mark Rothko and Lee Krasner to enter into Glimcher’s circle of intimate acquaintances. Glimcher founded Pace in 1960 immediately after he left the Massachusetts College of Art, convinced that he would never become a painter but confident that art would nonetheless be his life.

Pace started off on Newbury Street in Boston, where it quickly made a name for itself by showing “Stock Up for the Holidays,” the first pop art show, exhibited outside of New York City. Though it only caused a small splash—“scandalous for a second,” as Glimcher put it—it did not obtain widespread recognition; people did not realize how farsighted it was.

Glimcher recalls literally having to beg his friends and collectors to buy the works. Warhols were going for $250. It was the very underappreciation of pop art, however, that allowed Glimcher to make such enormous strides. “It was a great time,” he said, “You could get anything to show you wanted to because there were only about 25 serious collectors in the United States.”

The cash-strapped gallery was barely two years old when it held the “Stock Up” exhibit. For that show, the Glimchers asked their friends to host the artists who were being shown. Occasionally, however, they would splurge on a “judicious” risk—to tempt the famed sculptress Louise Nevelson into showing with them in Boston, they put her up in the Ritz.

“If we hadn’t sold anything, it would have been a catastrophe,” said Glimcher, laughing. Their largesse is support of her work, however, won them her friendship and loyalty, which proved extremely important to the future of the gallery. When it moved to New York in 1963, Nevelson joined with Pace, influencing other prominent artists to join as well.

The leaps of faith were far from over, however. It would seem that a large part of a gallery owner’s job description is in banking against the odds with the genius of the artists he shows as capital. Glimcher’s exhibitions have been known to radically change the way the art world thinks about particular artists and periods.

When Pace approached the Picasso family about making an exhibit around the artist’s very last works, they were “appalled––the art was regarded as the babblings of an old man,” according to Glimcher. He believed strongly in their merit, however, and not only did every piece sell, but the exhibition changed critical opinion about Picasso’s last period. “It was great satisfaction to have brought the attention of the art world to something that I thought they had neglected,” he said.

Pace would oversee much more radical changes in the art world, however. One of its most notable transactions took place when the Glimchers negotiated the deal for the sale of Jasper Johns’ “American Flags,” the first painting by a living artist to sell for $1 million dollars.

“It was a watershed moment,” Glimcher said. “I don’t know whether for good or for bad, but it was tremendous. It made the front page of the New York Times. Art had entered a new league.”

Glimcher drove up the astronomical sum on scruples alone––he could not bear to see what he saw as an archetypally American painting go to Germany, as it would have, had not he rallied four patrons to contribute a quarter each of the price to keep it in the States.

John’s comment, as Glimcher remembered it, was to say dryly, “A million dollars is not an insignificant sum…But you know that this has nothing to do with art.”

A large part of what made the gallery successful was Glimcher’s attitude that the it had to be as close as possible to the artist himself. “That’s what it’s about,” he exclaimed, leaving his notes for an impassioned aside. “What it’s about is being in the studio, seeing the work made, knowing what the inspiration is. We get to live a show—our lives are taken over by the show.”

Glimcher gains bountiful satisfaction from the fact that, unlike a museum director, he can actually help bring an artist’s vision to life. As his wife said, “Arne’s a genius at installation.”

He has unending drive when it comes to fulfilling an artist’s vision. When working with the artist Lucas Samaras, for example, he not only put up the sum of $14,000 so that Samaras could create a mirrored room, but also went around personally redecorating his gallery with nails and hammer in hand until he had created the desired effect.

For the great sculptor Isamu Noguchi, Glimcher devised a method of covering his stone sculptures with a fine layer of water, “so that it looked just like glass,” as he recalled wistfully.

“We rebuild the gallery for every exhibition,” Glimcher said. “The artists really appreciate it,” he continued wryly. It was clear that the construction involved was part of what he loved most, however, when he added with a smile, “and it’s a lot of fun for us.”

Though Glimcher certainly sees himself as more privileged in many ways than the head of a museum, he is the first to admit that there is something in the latter job that he finds immensely appealing. “I guess I’m somewhere between an art dealer and a frustrated museum director,” he told The Crimson after the talk.

Glimcher’s close relationship to the great talents gave him a distinct advantage in knowing how to organize art exhibitions. Not surprisingly, he was unafraid to indulge those insights, and the line between curatorial shows and commercial ones could be very fine.

Though Rothko is traditionally regarded as the inheritor of Matisse’s mantle for his use of color, Glimcher compared him instead to Pierre Bonnard. He said the idea came when he remembered a conversation about color he had with Rothko: “He said, ‘Sure, Matisse is great, but if you are really interested in color, you should look to Bonnard,’” Glimcher said.

The “duet” show that Glimcher put on as a result of the insight met with popular success. “We had to keep the gallery open late because the line to see the show went all the way down the block,” he said.

Glimcher’s historical exhibits are successful ventures, which often receive loans from the major museums. “It’s a great way to see the exhibitions that I want to see but that museum’s aren’t showing,” Glimcher said, “but it’s also my way to give back to the community.” In fact, the majority of his sales are to major museums.

Above all, Glimcher sees Pace as a product of its age. It has championed such contemporary artists as Chuck Close, Julian Schnabel and Claes Oldenburg, but has no intention of championing-up-and coming artists today. “Our youngest artist is Kiki Smith––and she’s 40,” he says. “It would probably only be detrimental for a young artist to show with us, as dwarfed between the giants as they would be. We’ve grown up with these people––it’s a grown up gallery!”

Glimcher has always allowed his instinct for the art that he knows and loves to have free reign. He has no ambitions beyond following this passion. “Art is my obsession,” he said after the lecture. “Of course I had no idea I would rise this high. You just put one foot ahead of the other.”

extremely important to the future of the gallery. When it moved to New York in 1963, Nevelson joined with Pace, influencing other prominent artists to join as well.

The leaps of faith were far from over, however. It would seem that a large part of a gallery owner’s job description is in banking against the odds with the genius of the artists he shows as capital. Glimcher’s exhibitions have been known to radically change the way the art world thinks about particular artists and periods.

When Pace approached the Picasso family about making an exhibit around the artist’s very last works, they were “appalled––the art was regarded as the babblings of an old man,” according to Glimcher. He believed strongly in their merit, however, and not only did every piece sell, but the exhibition changed critical opinion about Picasso’s last period. “It was great satisfaction to have brought the attention of the art world to something that I thought they had neglected,” he said.

Pace would oversee much more radical changes in the art world, however. One of its most notable transactions took place when the Glimchers negotiated the deal for the sale of Jasper Johns’ “American Flags,” the first painting by a living artist to sell for $1 million. “It was a watershed moment,” Glimcher said. “I don’t know whether for good or for bad, but it was tremendous. It made the front page of the New York Times. Art had entered a new league.”

Glimcher propelled up the astronomical sum on scruples alone––he could not bear to see what he saw as an archetypally American painting go to Germany, as it would have, had not he rallied four patrons to contribute a quarter each of the price to keep it in the States.

John’s comment, as Glimcher remembered it, was to say dryly, “A million dollars is not an insignificant sum…But you know that this has nothing to do with art.”

A large part of what made the gallery’s success possible was due to Glimcher’s attitude that the it had to be as close as possible to the artist himself. “That’s what it’s about,” he exclaimed, leaving his notes for an impassioned aside. “What it’s about is being in the studio, seeing the work made, knowing what the inspiration is. We get to live a show—our lives are taken over by the show.”

Glimcher gains bountiful satisfaction from the fact that, unlike a museum director, he can actually help bring an artist’s vision to life. As his wife said, “Arne’s a genius at installation.” He has unending drive when it comes to fulfilling an artist’s vision. When working with the artist Lucas Samaras, for example, he not only put up the sum of $14,000 so that Samaras could create a mirrored room, but he went around personally redecorating his gallery with nails and hammer in hand until he had created the desired effect.

For the great sculptor Isamu Noguchi, Glimcher figured out a way of covering his stone sculptures with a fine layer of water, “so that it looked just like glass,” he recalled wistfully.

“We rebuild the gallery for every exhibition,” Glimcher said. “The artists really appreciate it,” he continued wryly. It was clear that the construction involved was part of what he loved most, however, when he added with a smile, “and it’s a lot of fun for us.”

Though Glimcher certainly sees himself as more privileged in many ways than the head of a museum, he is the first to admit that there is something in the latter job that he finds immensely appealing. “I guess I’m somewhere between an art dealer and a frustrated museum director,” he told The Crimson after the talk.

Glimcher’s close relationship to the great talents gave him a distinct advantage in how the organization of art exhibitions. Not surprisingly, he was not afraid to indulge the insights, and the line between curatorial show and commercial one could often be very fine.

Though Rothko is traditionally regarded as the inheritor of Matisse for his use of color, Glimcher had the idea of comparing him instead to Pierre Bonnard. He said the idea came when he remembered a conversation about color he had with Rothko. “He said, ‘Sure, Matisse is great, but if you are really interested in color, you should look to Bonnard,’” Glimcher said.

The “duet” show that Glimcher put on as a result of the insight met with great popular success. “We had to keep the gallery open late because the line to see the show went all the way down the block,” he said.

Glimcher’s historical exhibits are successful ventures, which often receive loans from the major museums. “It’s a great way to see the exhibitions that I want to see, but that museums aren’t showing,” Glimcher said, “but it’s also my way to give back to the community.” In fact, the majority of his sales are to major museums.

Above all, Glimcher sees Pace as a product of its age. It has championed such contemporary artists as Chuck Close, Julian Schnabel and Claes Oldenburg, but has no intention of championing up and coming artists today. “Our youngest artist is Kiki Smith––and she’s 40,” he said. “It would probably only be detrimental for a young artist to show with us, as dwarfed between the giants as they would be. We’ve grown up with these people––it’s a grown up gallery!”

Glimcher has always allowed his instinct for the art that he knows and loves to have free reign. He has no ambitions beyond following this passion. “Art is my obsession,” he said after the lecture. “Of course I had not idea I would rise this high. You just put one foot ahead of the other.”

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