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Barbara Gladstone Dies in Paris at 89

Robert-Mapplethorpe,-'Barbara Gladstone,'-1988

After a brief illness, influential dealer Barbara Gladstone passed away in Paris on June 16, having influenced not only the New York art scene but also the careers of artists ranging from Jenny Holzer to Matthew Barney through her namesake gallery. She was eighty-nine. News of her death was confirmed by her gallery. First opening shop in 1980, the famously private Gladstone brought a measured, thoughtful approach to exhibiting pathbreaking, bleeding-edge art, always putting the concerns of the artist before those of herself. The slow-burning combination over the years produced incendiary results: By the time of her death, the gallery was renowned for its museum-quality exhibitions and represented seventy-two artists, from the estates of by-now canonical artists such as Keith Haring and Robert Rauschenberg to emerging firebrands such as Ian Cheng and Rachel Rose. “It takes some wisdom to steer a path through what everyone else wants you to do and what serves you best,” Gladstone told the Wall Street Journal’s Linda Yablonsky in 2011. “There’s no formula. I trust my instincts.”

Barbara Gladstone was born in 1935. By 1980, she was middle-aged, twice divorced, the mother of three sons. Though she had originally been interested in law, she was working as a professor of art history at Hofstra University on Long Island. Having bought and sold prints on her own for some years, she decided to open her own gallery. Entering the business as a woman was considered “harmless” in the art world of the day, she told W in 2018. “You could still be a good wife and mother. It wasn’t dangerous, because you weren’t going to make any money anyway.” Initially planning to show works on paper, she trawled experimental spaces, looking for work by up-and-coming artists who lacked representation. Gladstone Gallery launched on Fifty-Seventh Street in Manhattan that year with a show of work by Holzer, in a $700-a-month space that Gladstone later told Yablonsky was “the size of a shoebox.”

The operation proved almost immediately successful, and Gladstone soon moved downtown, to a bigger space in SoHo, where she continued to introduce avant-garde artists. Among these were Richard Prince and Matthew Barney. She awarded the latter his first solo show, in 1991; that pioneering exhibition, “Facility of DECLINE,” is now considered a touchstone of contemporary performance art. In 1996, Gladstone collaborated with Matthew Marks Gallery and Metro Pictures to purchase a massive space in Chelsea, then a desolate area pockmarked with warehouses, taxi garages, and light-industrial businesses. She opened a second space in Chelsea in 2008 and expanded into Brussels that same year. In 2020, she absorbed Gavin Brown’s roster when he closed his esteemed gallery, bringing him on as a partner and taking over his outpost in Rome; two years later, she inaugurated a branch in Seoul.

Gladstone is survived by two sons, David Regen and Richard Regen. A third son, Stuart Regen, a cofounder of the well-regarded Los Angeles gallery Regen Projects, died of cancer in 1998 at the age of thirty-nine. As was typical of her nature, she had a succession plan in place when she died: Senior partner Max Falkenstein will have charge of the leadership team, while Brown will oversee artist relations and development. Caroline Luce will head up the gallery’s operations and human resources divisions, while Paula Tsai, the gallery’s Asia chief, will manage communications. Among the artists on the gallery roster at Gladstone’s death were LaToya Ruby Frazier, Arthur Jafa, Alex Katz, Joan Jonas, Wangechi Mutu, Philippe Parreno, Rosemarie Trockel, Carrie Mae Weems, and the estates of Alighiero Boetti, Huang Yong Ping, Jannis Kounellis, and Robert Mapplethorpe.

“I have always been fascinated to observe that artists should be the ones who are holding a mirror up to our culture and showing us so that we learn about ourselves,” she told podcast journalist Charlotte Burns earlier this year. “What is really interesting is that [art is] not over. It’s not even over when the artist dies because there’s constant evaluation and re-thinking going on. And when you put one work in proximity to another work fifty years later, something new can happen. I mean, I think that’s why it’s important.”

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