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.