Arne Glimcher, the art world’s original pacesetter, is starting over at 84 – 71Bait

mid 2021, Arne Glimmer, The 84-year-old founder of Pace Gallery, the oldest of the global mega-galleries, stood in front of an abandoned storefront below Canal Street. It was just a block from the famous semi-legal street markets selling fake Gucci bags, a stretch of Broadway where the last edges of Chinatown merge into Tribeca. After entering the deserted room, the eighty-year-old art dealer asked his son Mark, who now runs the shop that his father started in 1960 at the age of 21 what he thought of the shop.

Peering inside, Marc noticed that there were architects running around and that the raw square footage was being prepared for one very specific thing: a gallery.

“I saw him turn pale — he realized it was real,” Glimcher told me in September of that year. “So he said, ‘Dad, this isn’t the most elegant area. The streets are dirty. It’s that corner of Broadway. There are all kinds of people.’ He said: “You are a very elegant Man.’ He said, ‘Do you belong here?’”

Then Glimcher sat up in his chair, grinning.

“And then he coaxed me into saying, ‘Does the world’s most famous art dealer belong here? I think you’re much better off uptown.’ I said, ‘Marc, I rented the place.’ So he was shocked, but it just happened spontaneously. But my whole life happened spontaneously.”

We didn’t talk in Tribeca, but in Glimcher’s office at Pace’s Chelsea headquarters, a corner seat on the fourth floor of a five-story behemoth, his desk littered with framed snapshots of Arne Glimcher with his family or with Arne Glimcher David Hockney. Behind his desk was a huge painting of Chuck Close – Glimcher told me if I squinted at the pixelated Close I’d see it was a portrait of him; but really, you didn’t have to blink as it was pretty clear. The face in the portrait betrayed the same well-deserved bewilderment as the face of the old-fashioned art dealer seated in front of me, the same perfectly formed Elder Statesman who only showed his age when he stopped mid-conversation to pop a cough drop.

Next week the Canal Street store will open as Gallery 125 Newbury, a space technically under the Pace umbrella but run separately by Papa Glimcher and his small team. The first group show features works by artists who have been loyal to his gallery for a long time –Kiki Smith, Lucas Samaras, and Zhang Huan– as well as works by artists who have never shown with Pace, artists Glimcher admires but has never worked with: Alex Da Corte, Robert Gober, Max Hooper Schneider. Doors open next Friday, followed by dinner at – where else? – Mr Chow.

“Michael and I go back a very long way,” he said, referring to it Michael Chow, Peking duck slingshot to the art stars. “I was at the opening of his first restaurant in London.”

Arne Glimcher goes back with everyone, having spent the past six decades reigning over his place at the old Pace HQ on 57th Street, along with a year-long stint as a filmmaker in Hollywood, a rather unheard-of change at the time for an art gallery owner—although the movie moguls he worked with became Pace Gallery clients. He spent almost a decade building 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 the gallery over to his son, who was basically content to maintain a busy dance chart in the East and welcome friends to his East Hampton estate with an expansive sculpture garden.

This seemingly content, relaxed retirement is over as of this month – and by no means. Glimcher’s Corner Space is located in the city’s hippest art venue, a new gallery that competes with the dozen or so up-and-coming galleries showing in-demand young artists, all in close proximity. And, I’m not kidding, the founder of Pace Gallery will be taking turns at 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 who wanted to enroll in an MFA program at Boston University alongside other students in their 20s Brice Marden. Glimmer was a good artist. “Today, mediocrity is omnipresent and hip. I go from gallery to gallery and see all the things I did in art school and I did better than most of those shows,” he told me – but he added, “I wasn’t Leonardo, I wasn’t Picasso .”

One day, as he was walking down Newbury Street, the famous shopping arcade in Back Bay, he saw a deserted storefront. He thought it would be a nice spot for a gallery, and his brother urged him to take the plunge. Borrowing money from his brother, he 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 died. The Glimcher family happened to be walking down Newbury Street the day after the funeral.

It was slow going at first – he sold a few prints and shipped a few small works consigned from galleries in New York. “We played to a tiny 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 landed a coup when he convinced Louise Nevelson to join the gallery by buying her from megadealer Sidney Janis.

Back then Leo Castelli had conquered the market with American masters like Rauschenberg and Johns and then conquered the pop masters: Warhol, Lichtenstein, Rosenquist. Glimcher went West instead, bringing the radical conceptual sculptures of to the New York scene Robert Irvin and James Turell. Across the pond, he befriended Swiss megadealer Ernst Beyeler, one of the founders of the Art Basel fair, who set up a meeting with Jean Dubuffet – the Art Brut master was a huge fan of Louise Nevelson and wanted her meet fresh-faced traders.

As Glimcher recalled, they had lunch in Paris, and Nevelson’s confidence in Glimcher drove him over the edge. “Une dame extraordinaire, j’adore Nevelson,” Dubuffet said, overpowering Glimcher by boarding the Pace Gallery.

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