Thursday, January 10, 2019

Douglas Messerli | "Giving the Gallery Its Due: On the Death of Phyllis Kind"

giving the gallery its due: on the death of phyllis kind

Throughout most of his career as a curator of contemporary art, both at the Hirschhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C. and at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, my husband Howard Fox did not develop deep friendships with gallerists, which many, if not most, curators had, but rather sought to make his connections with the artists themselves.

     I am certain, in the eyes of other curators, that lack of deep business connections was highly commented on behind his back. Indeed, several of the major art gallerists in New York, Washington, D.C., and even in Los Angeles, was constituted of people we had never even met. Monthly, however, he took a group of happy museum collectors to the studios of artists, and he regularly visited other artist studios as well as intensely interviewing them when any occasion arose.

     Of course, there were major exceptions: we did become good friends or at least acquaintances with Henri, Nancy Drysdale (who later, with Max Protech opened a gallery in Manhattan) and Diane Brown, who had a gallery in Washington, D.C. and later in New York.

     We became friendly with Holly Soloman (who died in 2002), John Bernard Meyers (d. 1987), Bella Fishko (d. 1996) and Ron Feldman in New York.

      Rosamund Felsen, Margo Levin, Jan Turner, Douglas Christmas, Ruth Bachofner, Dan Saxon, Peter Goulds, and Clyde Beswick in Los Angeles, were company we always enjoyed and continue to (even if a couple of them went bankrupt and could no longer pay their artists), and then the wonderful Jean Fremon of Paris, two of whose books I also published.

     And there was the lovely Nina Sondabend, who now goes under the name of Nina Castelli Sundell, who works as an organizer of traveling exhibitions, who we befriended and loved. One day she realized we had no idea that she was the daughter of the major art curators, Leo Castelli and Ileana Sonnabend and suddenly exclaimed: “You mean you love me without knowing who I am?” And yes, we certainly did.

     There were many others, of course, and I particularly recall visiting Phyllis Kind in her New York gallery (she had one in Chicago as well) with Howard; she greeted me, I who was often perceived simply as a hanger-on, with deep friendship. And I was very saddened to hear of her death this year, particularly given her involvement with some of the outsider artists I talk about in my previous Hyperallegic essay “When “outliers” and “outsiders” are no longer useful categories in art.”

     I remember her primarily for the showing of the then very avant-garde Chicago Imagists, among them Jim Nutt, Gladys Nilsson, Roger Brown, Christina Ramberg, and others. But she soon added numerous “outsider” artists to her list, including Joseph Yoakum (1890-1972), and later, figures such as Martin Ramierz (1895-1963) (whom Howard hung in a show at LACMA) and, still later, the works of the fascinating Henry Darger (1893-1973),

     Howard and I now realize, long before he was a curator, we had seen the amazing Chicago-based art show in Washington, DC at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Collection of Fine Arts (now named the Smithsonian American Art Museum) in a version of The Hairy Who—which, alas, seems to have been basically whiped out of any computer memory—and, he recalls, given our admiration for that show, she took us into her office allowing for a long discussion with us. Perhaps that was the very fist time that I perceived that the seemingly aloof gallery directors were truly human beings who cared about art and wanted to share it with even those of us who hadn’t yet completely assimilated what it was all about.

      As Elsa Longhauser, the director of the Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, expressed it, “She was bold, outrageous and incredibly generous with her knowledge and contacts.” That was truly our personal experience.

     When I read of Kind’s death, I simply cried, recalling how much that early meeting meant to both of us.

Los Angeles, December 18, 2018

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