"It never occurred to me to show Jean-Michel because he was black or to show Barbara [Kruger] and Sherrie [Levine] because they were women...I just tried to show art that I liked, that I thought was powerful and strong."- Mary Boone
If there were a Mount Rushmore for important New York gallery owners, Mary Boone would definitely be one of the faces. Boone moved to the city when she was 19 years old and began to make a name for herself. She opened her first gallery in SoHo in 1977 and went on to show and represent some of the most famous artists of the 1980s and beyond, including Jean-Michel Basquiat, Julian Schnabel, Ross Bleckner, Francesco Clemente, Barbara Kruger, Jeff Koons, Ai Weiwei, and lots of others.
Boone sat with painter Eric Fischl to talk about her early years as a gallery owner, the artists that she worked and became friends with, and how the art world has changed over the past 37 years, in a piece published by Interview Magazine.
During their chat, Boone admitted that she didn't "get" Fischl's work when she was first introduced to it by David Salle in 1979. "The work didn't click for me at all. I just didn't get it," she told the artist. "A lot of times I don't really believe in the first glance—I believe in the residual effect. But then I found that I kept thinking about the work." It was her own personal feelings about an artist's seriousness and their work that dictated whether or not Boone wanted to add them to "the family," not how much money they could make for her gallery.
In speaking of her experience with Basquiat, Boone says she was hesitant to work with him. "I remember being reticent to take him on, because he was almost too hot—he was showing with Annina [Nosei] and selling all his work and showing at the Fun Gallery. I thought he was maybe too unserious and too hot." When Julian Schnabel left the gallery, she says that Basquiat came in to find her crying, so he put his arm around her and said, "don't worry, Mary, I'm going to make you much more rich and famous than Julian ever would."
The family mentality that Boone had during those years is not something that she thinks other galleries and dealers have today. "Collectors have changed as much as dealers have changed," she told Fischl. "Young dealers want famous artists that they can sell for a lot of money, and that's considered a coup. The same thing for collectors...In some ways they were as creative as the artists. Whereas now, collectors often just want a laundry list of the top names. There's not as much discovery, which I think is unfortunate." Fischl and Boone agreed that now artists are treated "more like brand names" and that collectors are buying students' work "before they even have a voice," stunting their growth and doing them a disservice as creatives.
Boone and Fischl also shared their thoughts on art school and the "tremendous debt" that students are left with before starting their careers. "They have to find a job that's paying $60,000, $70,000 a year to service what they owe for school," said Fischl. "That's changed, and it's a crime that universities charge the same amount for art school as they do for law school or business school or engineering." Boone had a slightly different opinion, stating that "people shouldn't go to school to become artists anyway. They should just move to New York and work for an artist."
Click through to read the full transcript of the conversation over at Interview Magazine.
[via Interview Magazine]