Mid 2021 will Arne Glimcher, the 84-year-old founder of Pace Gallery, the oldest of the global mega-galleries, stood in front of an abandoned storefront on Broadway below Canal Street. It was a block from the famous semi-legal street markets selling counterfeit Gucci bags, a stretch of Broadway where the last edges of Chinatown merge into Tribeca. After going to the abandoned room, the octogenarian art dealer asked his son: Marc, who now runs the shop his father started in 1960 at the age of 21, which he liked about the place.
As Marc looked inside, he noticed architects were walking around and the rough square footage was being prepared for a very specific thing: a gallery.
“I saw that he was starting to turn pale – he realized it was real,” Glimcher told me in September of this year. “So he said, ‘Dad, this isn’t the most elegant neighborhood. The streets are dirty. It’s this corner of Broadway. There are all kinds of people.’ He said, “You’re a very… elegant Man.’ He said, ‘Do you belong here?’”
Then Glimcher sat up in his chair, chuckling.
‘And then, flattering me, he said, ‘Does the world’s most famous art dealer belong down here? I think you’re much better off uptown.’ I said, “Marc, I rented it.” So he was shocked, but it just happened spontaneously. But my whole life happened spontaneously.”
We were chatting, not in Tribeca, but in Glimcher’s office at Pace’s Chelsea headquarters, a fourth-floor corner of a five-story behemoth, his desk strewn with framed photos of Arne Glimcher with his family, or Arne Glimcher with David Hockney. Behind his desk hung a giant painting of Chuck Close – Glimcher told me that if I looked at the pixelated Close, I’d see it was a portrait of him; but really, you didn’t have to squint because it was pretty obvious. The face in the portrait betrayed the same sense of deserved bewilderment as the face of the old-fashioned art dealer sitting in front of me, the same tip-top-shape elderly statesman who didn’t show his age until he stopped halfway through the convo to pop a cough drop.
Next week, the storefront opens as Gallery 125 Newbury, a space that technically falls under the Pace umbrella, but is run separately by Papa Glimcher and his small team. The inaugural group exhibition features works by artists who have long been loyal to its gallery –Kiki Smith, Lucas Samaras, Zhang Huan-as well as works by those who have never shown with Pace, artists Glimcher has admired but never worked with: Alex DaCorte, Robert Gober, Max Hooper Schneider. The doors swing open next Friday, followed by dinner at – where else? – mr. chow.
“Michael and I go back a long way,” he said, referring to Michael Chow, Peking duck garland for the art stars. “I was at the opening of his first restaurant in London.”
Arne Glimcher goes back with everyone, having ruled his position at the old Pace headquarters on 57th Street for the past six decades, along with a years-long stint making movies in Hollywood, a virtually unheard of at the time for a art gallery owner – even if the movie moguls he worked with became customers of Pace Gallery. He spent nearly a decade developing the Pace business in China, an effort that ended when the Beijing gallery closed in 2019 amid political turmoil. And along the way, he gradually handed over the gallery to his son, actually content with a full dance card in the East, and received friends at his East Hampton estate with a sprawling sculpture garden.
That seemingly contented, laid-back retirement is over as of this month — and not half of it. Glimcher’s corner space is located in the city’s hippest art hall, a new gallery that competes with the roughly ten fledgling galleries showcasing in-demand young artists, all within spitting distance. And I’m not kidding, the Pace Gallery founder will take turns working the front desk. Why on earth would he do that?
“Well, it’s my gallery,” he said.
In 1960, Arne Glimcher was a 21-year-old student at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design, about to enroll in an MFA program at Boston University alongside, among other students, fellow twenty-somethings. Brice Marden. Glimcher was a good artist. “Today, mediocrity is across the board and announced. I go from gallery to gallery and I see all the things I made in art school, and I was better than most of these shows,” he told me, but added, “I wasn’t Leonardo, I wasn’t Picasso.”
One day, while walking down Newbury Street, the famous shopping aisle in Back Bay, he saw an abandoned storefront. He thought it would be a nice place for a gallery and his brother urged him to take the plunge. He borrowed money from his brother and named the gallery after his father, Pace, an immigrant rancher who moved his family from Minnesota to Boston at the urging of Glimcher’s culture-hungry mother. His father had just passed away. Coincidentally, the Glimchers were walking down Newbury Street the day after the funeral.
It was slow at first – he sold some prints and shipped some small works sent from galleries in New York. “We played to a small audience and every time we sold something it was a miracle,” he said. After a few years in business, he moved to New York, the center of the universe, and scored a coup when he convinced Louise Nevelson to join the gallery and buy her out from mega-dealer Sidney Janis.
At the time, Leo Castelli had cornered the market of American masters like Rauschenberg and Johns and then conquered the pop masters: Warhol, Lichtenstein, Rosenquist. Glimcher went west instead and brought the radical conceptual sculptures of Robert Irwin and James Turrel. Across the pond, he befriended Swiss mega-dealer Ernst Beyeler, one of the founders of the Art Basel fair, who arranged a meeting with Jean Dubuffet – the art brut master was a big fan of Louise Nevelson and wanted her meet with a fresh face. trader.
As Glimcher recalled, they were having lunch in Paris, and Nevelson’s confidence in Glimcher pushed him over the edge. “Une dame extraordinaire, j’adore Nevelson,” Dubuffet said, stunned Glimcher as he boarded Pace Gallery.