Jay Gorney is an independent advisor, curator and current advisor to the estate of Sarah Charlesworth. Upcoming projects include shows of Deborah Remington at Wallspace and Roger Brown at Maccarone.
Did you have a formative experience that influenced you to become an art advisor and curator?
I have been interested in contemporary art for a long time. I studied art history at Oberlin College with Ellen Johnson and I was in the Whitney Museum Independent study program in 1972, which was one of its first years in existence. When I graduated from Oberlin, I started working in galleries right away. In fact, I was an intern at Leo Castelli when I was a junior in college.
I love art and have always been inspired by it. As my interests change and shift over the years, artists continually surprise me. I feel a great satisfaction in working with an artist for a long time. For instance, I worked with James Welling, Martha Rosler, Sarah Charlesworth, Barbara Bloom and Jessica Stockholder for twenty years at Jay Gorney Modern Art and Gorney Bravin + Lee. More recently, I worked with Chris Martin at Mitchell-Innes & Nash for at least seven years. When you work with an artist for a long period of time it can become very meaningful.
Can you tell us about when you owned your own gallery and the progression of your career?
Jay Gorney Modern Art opened in the East Village in 1985. I moved the gallery to SoHo in 1987, and later started a partnership with John Lee and Karin Bravin to create Gorney Bravin and Lee in 2000, based in Chelsea. It seemed like a logical progression in the early 2000s. For many reasons, we decided to close the gallery, and at that point I became interested in working with Lucy Mitchell-Innes and David Nash, so I joined their team as Director of Contemporary Art in 2005. At that time the art world was definitely changing, and some of the things we are feeling now we were beginning to feel then. One began to sense the rise of very large galleries, and drastic change in price structure, which mirrors the economy at large. I think that right now, more money goes to fewer and fewer galleries and sadly to fewer and fewer artists. As a paradigm, it’s a much less interesting.
Do you have any particular memories of your gallery in the East Village or SoHo that you’d like to share?
One example that stands out to me was a mixed-media exhibition we did with Barbara Bloom, “The Reign of Narcissism.” That show turned the entire gallery into a 19th century museum and eventually went to the collection of MOCA in Los Angeles. Another show that stands out was the one featuring Haim Steinbach’s rustic wall, Adirondack Tableau. There are some small group shows that I am very proud of, like Peter Halley’s painting paired with Ettore Sottsass’s furniture and ceramics, Jessica Stockholder’s sculptures with Joan Snyder’s paintings in the early 90’s. Martha Rosler’s first installation of airport photographs , also in the early 90s, was also memorable.
I am very proud of the fact that we sold some major works to museums. Working with curators is very different from working with collectors; it involves the logistics of acquisitions committees, and can be very satisfying but takes a great deal of patience and time.
Having had these varied professional experiences, is there any particular insight you’d like to share?
It all comes back to the old cliché: show work you really love and believe in. Of course, one can’t turn a blind eye to the market. However, if you’re being directed by the market, you’re in trouble. You must be directed by your own vision.
Right now the art world has gotten so large that it permits the possibility of doing a lot of things without a bricks and mortar space. I thought very carefully about whether it would be a good idea to open a gallery at this time and, while it is still a possibility for the future, there are a lot of opportunities to organize exhibitions, work with other galleries, and do challenging things without my own space.
Can you talk about working with Sarah Charlesworth’s estate and your involvement with the upcoming New Museum show?
I am currently the special advisor to the Sarah Charlesworth estate. I worked with Sarah at Jay Gorney Modern Art and Gorney Bravin and Lee. After Sarah passed away, the estate reached out to me. It seemed like a great opportunity to work with art that I love and know well, and to help the estate after Sarah’s death. We were very happy to work with Michele Maccarone last year to create a fantastic show: Objects of Desire: 1983-1988. We are really looking forward to the New Museum show opening June 24th, curated by Massimiliano Gioni and Margot Norton. It’s a selected survey including work from the Stills series, Objects of Desire and the Renaissance series, among others. Not every series is represented in the show, but certain themes about light and the nature of photography shine through.
What do you hope that people take away from the show?
I hope people will take away a renewed interest in Sarah Charlesworth’s work and that their understanding of her work will deepen. I think Sarah has always been seen as a “Pictures Generation” artist, but she was very much a conceptual artist as well as an artist who worked with pictures. Sarah made photographs that were more than just images; the object quality of Sarah’s photographs is very important as well as the imagery presented in the photograph.
Can you talk about the upcoming shows you’ve organized independently?
I am working on an exhibition of paintings and drawings made by Deborah Remington from 1963 through 1983, to open at Wallspace Gallery on June 26th. I knew Deborah and was interested in her idiosyncratic work when I was very young in the late 70’s. I subsequently had a wonderful studio visit with her in 2008. She died in 2010 and it left me with a sense of how much I really liked her work. Her work is underappreciated and I hope that this show at Wallspace will be really interesting for today’s viewer.
I’m also organizing an exhibition at Maccarone of work by Roger Brown, one of the Chicago Imagists, who is better known by viewers. Shortly before his death in 1997 he made his Virtual Still Life works, which are sculptural paintings with shelves that display ceramics from his collection. They’re dramatic, absolutely engaging, and act as dioramas, or stage sets.
Can you tell us a little bit about your personal art collection and what your strategy is as an advisor?
I collect with my partner, who is also a gallerist. Sometimes our tastes are divergent and that makes it very exciting. We have a lot of photographs by artists of the pictures generation–works by James Welling, Louise Lawler, Sarah Charlesworth. A few younger artists we’ve collected have included Anicka Yi, Joe Bradley, Michael E. Smith, Charles Mayton and Virginia Overton. I’m also an avid collector of self-taught and outsider artists’ work. We own two Judith Scott pieces, one of which we lent to the Brooklyn Museum show recently. I’ve always been very interested in collections that tell you something about the collectors themselves. Hopefully, my own collection shows that my interests are very diverse.
I not only collect myself, but also I work as an advisor to collectors. It can be very satisfying to help someone form a great collection. You try to give the best advice you can, find the best examples of an artist’s work and help them secure those works (which these days can be difficult on your own). You want people to think carefully about the nature of their collection and to purchase works that complement and explicate other works in their collection. I try to create concentrations within a collection. Collecting art which will stand the test of time is ultimately fulfilling.