Marian Goodman – From Humble Beginnings, Great Things Come
Maria Goodman had no intention of becoming an art dealer. Like many women of her era who happened to find themselves in the art scene, she had no idea that this was where she would end up. While she was studying, Goodman aspired to make a positive impact on the world by joining the United Nations. Instead, she got married and had children. Goodman then followed another passion and enrolled at an art history seminar where she was the only female attendee. In 1962 Goodman compiled a portfolio of prints by New York artists as a charity initiative for her children’s school. This was how she met the painter Franz Kline, who gave her the job of selling some of his drawings.
By 1965 Goodman, in partnership with several others, had opened a print gallery named Multiples. Even though Goodman had no experience, she was passionate about art and learned as she worked. In her first week as a gallerist, Goodman sold drawings used by Jackson Pollock to pay for psychoanalysis sessions and forgot to ask for a commission! Today she is one of the world’s most highly regarded art dealers.
Goodman is one of seven female pioneers in the New York art scene, along with Angela Westwater, Paula Cooper, Janelle Reiring, Mary Boone, Barbara Gladstone and Helene Winer. These women surfaced and flourished at a time when art had yet to fully emerge as a highly profitable global industry.
Barbara Gladstone – Art Historian Turned Art Dealer
The art world was ahead of other sectors in its representation of women among its professionals. According to Barbara Gladstone, an art history professor who became a collector and dealer of prints, art was not as affected by gender bias as other industries at the time. Because it was generally assumed that serious money could not be made from it, the art world was considered harmless, and women were therefore more accepted there than they were in politics or finance.
Gladstone launched her art dealing career by opening a modest gallery in the early 1990s with Italian art dealer Christian Stein. The SteinGladstone Gallery focused on rarely presented installations by Italian and American artists. Gladstone went on to open her own contemporary art gallery in New York. Gladstone Gallery has shown the works of renowned American neo-conceptual artist Jenny Holzer, among others. Today the gallery represents leading contemporary artists like Shirin Neshat, Sarah Lucas, Matthew Barney and Rebecca Quaytman. Gladstone has also produced several of Matthew Barney’s films.
Paula Cooper – It Wasn’t Brave; It Was Nuts!
When she reflects on how she opened her gallery in the late 1960s, Paula Cooper talks about how crazy it was to make that move. She was six months pregnant, separated from her husband and had a child under two when she opened the doors to her namesake gallery in a deserted factory area, which was to become the infamous SoHo. Cooper opened with minimalists like Donald Judd, Dan Flavin and Carl Andre. Her art shows pioneered the approach of hosting multiple creative disciplines under one roof and often included poetry, dancing and music. In 1974, Cooper intentionally generated controversy by using a naked photo of artist Lynda Benglis holding a sex toy between her legs as the basis of an advertisement in Artforum magazine. Cooper was aware that the magazine in question had recently refused to use this picture as part of its own profile of Benglis. Unsurprisingly, Cooper’s ad brought about the anticipated and desired outcry.
In 2002 Cooper was named “chevalier” of France’s Order of Arts and Letters. In 2015 she was promoted to an “officier” of the order. The Order of Arts and Letters is France’s highest cultural distinction for contribution to French art and culture.
Janelle Reiring and Helene Winer- Challenging Media Saturation
Janelle Reiring began her career as a gallery assistant and then started showing art from her loft. Today she says that she would fire someone who did that if they worked for her. Reiring later teamed up with Helene Winer, who was a curator at Pomona College Museum of Art and opened Metro Pictures. They launched the careers of several artists who were using photography as a medium to speak out against an environment that was becoming saturated by media.
Angela Westwater – Bringing the Avant-Garde to America
Having entered the art world as a gallery assistant, Angela Westwater subsequently joined forces with top European dealers and was instrumental in introducing avant-garde European artists to collectors in America. She continues to represent neo-expressionists Sandro Chia and Enzo Cucchi, and leading American artists, including Bruce Nauman.
Mary Boone – Queen of the Art Scene
Known as glamorous, smart and audacious, Mary Boone had a poverty-stricken upbringing and moved to New York where she worked as a secretary at a gallery ran by her boyfriend. Boone opened a tiny gallery on the ground floor of a building that also housed larger galleries. Her trick was to draw impatient visitors into her gallery when they could not get upstairs to the other galleries because the elevator was often broken. The first piece she sold was by Julian Schnabel, who was a cook at a nearby restaurant at the time. She’s come a long way since then. Her gallery has represented a long list of internationally renowned contemporary artists including Jean-Michel Basquiat, Anselm Kiefer, Barbara Kruger and Ai WeiWei.
The women gallerists we’ve been looking at have successfully navigated recessions and massive shifts in the art scene over the years. There can be no doubt that these pioneering and highly influential women deserve recognition for their massive contribution to the art world