Barbara Gladstone, 89, dies; Art dealer with global reach and a personal touch

Barbara Gladstone, an art dealer whose eye for spotting talent and skill in cultivating it helped her build one of New York's largest and most influential contemporary art galleries, died Sunday in Paris. She was 89 years old.

His gallery says that his death, in hospital, was caused by an ischemic event, the symptoms of which are similar to those of a stroke. Mrs. Gladstone, who was on a business trip to Paris, lived in Manhattan.

Mrs. Gladstone represented more than 70 artists and estates, including Americans such as Robert Rauschenberg, Keith Haring and Elizabeth Murray; the provocative video and installation artist Matthew Barney; key figures of the Italian Arte Povera movement such as Mario Merz and Alighiero Boetti; Richard Prince, the pioneer of photographic appropriation; the wary realist painter Robert Bechtle; Iranian-American filmmaker and photographer Shirin Neshat; and more recent vintage stars such as the sculptor Wangechi Mutu and the photographer LaToya Ruby Frazier.

What united these disparate artists on his list was his abiding interest in them personally and the devoted manner in which he curated their work.

“Basically,” Barney said in a phone interview, “Barbara was a romantic.”

He recalled the trust she showed him when he was preparing their first show together, in 1991, which turbocharged their careers. “We made a video inside the gallery and ended up having to shoot it all night because we weren't very organised,” Mr Barney said. “Barbara gave me the keys and said, 'Make sure you lock up when you leave.'”

In addition to occupying two large exhibition spaces in Manhattan, the Chelsea art district and the Upper East Side, Ms. Gladstone's gallery has opened branches in Brussels, Seoul and Los Angeles in recent years.

In 2020, as part of a deal that made gallery owner Gavin Brown a partner after his business closed, he hired 10 of his artists, including Ms. Frazier and the painter Alex Katz, as well as the estate of Jannis Kounellis, a another titan of Arte Povera.

By the standards of her colleagues at the mega-gallery, this amounted to a fairly modest type of expansion, but she liked it that way.

“I think that in a mega-gallery there must be such a division of labor that, whatever the gallery, it is not possible to talk to all the artists. This is impossible,” Ms. Gladstone said in a recent interview with journalist Charlotte Burns. But she added: “I'm talking to the artists. This is what I want to do.”

These conversations could go on for decades, he told the Wall Street Journal in 2011, likening his practice of raising artists to that of raising a family. “Being a parent, a mother,” she said, “means that you are responsible for helping someone reach their fullest potential.”

The artists felt his attention. “It was a lovely thing,” painter Carroll Dunham said by phone. “You felt incredibly supported and believed, and you felt like you had this person in the world working on your behalf.”

Although she denied being guided by a long-term vision beyond her own curiosity, Ms. Gladstone made plans for the gallery's future in his absence. Max Falkenstein, his senior partner, took an ownership position in 2016 and will continue to lead operations in collaboration with his partners, Mr. Brown, Caroline Luce and Paula Tsai.

Mrs. Gladstone was born Barbara Levitt on May 21, 1935 in Philadelphia to Evelyn (Elkins) Levitt and Joel Levitt. Her father produced children's clothing.

Two marriages, to Elliot Regen and Leonard Gladstone, ended in divorce.

Ms. Gladstone began her career in the 1970s as a collector on a limited budget. “If you couldn't have a Frank Stella painting,” she told Mrs. Burns, “you could have a Frank Stella print. Or you might not have a Jasper Johns painting, you might have a print.

At the time, she was raising three children in Roslyn, New York, on Long Island, and teaching art history at Hofstra University, where she had earned a master's degree after dropping out of the University of Pennsylvania to get married. She sold some of her prints through classified ads in the back of an industry newsletter, but she had a restless hunger for broader horizons.

“At a certain moment I thought: 'There must be other artists, they just have to be there,'” he said.

She sought out unrepresented artists to drop off slides of their work at young nonprofits like Artists Space or Drawing Center, where dealers like Ms. Gladstone could look at them.

“So I would go find and see artists who weren't affiliated and who were just coming to New York,” he said. “I went to visit them, I became friends with them, I talked to them, I ate with them.”

He opened, with a partner, what he called a “gallery of works on paper” in 1979 on East 57th Street in Manhattan. Within a year the partnership dissolved and Ms. Gladstone began branching out from prints into one-of-a-kind works by opening her own space, on West 57th. She subsequently moved her gallery to SoHo, on Greene Street, in the midst of the neighborhood's thriving art scene.

He is survived by his sons, Richard and David Regen; three grandchildren; and a sister, Joan Steinberg. Another son, Stuart Regen, died in 1998.

One of the secrets of Gladstone's success has been its agility to change direction. “Barbara is someone who really loves to reinvent herself,” Falkenstein said in an interview Tuesday.

Another was his talent for collaboration (despite that first failed partnership and other departures). Long before absorbing Mr. Brown's gallery, Gavin Brown's Enterprise, Ms. Gladstone ran spaces with the gallerists Rudolf Zwirner and Christian Stein. And in 1996 she came to Chelsea, partnering with Metro Pictures and Matthew Marks Gallery to purchase a 29,000-square-foot warehouse on West 24th Street.

The real secret, however, according to Barbara Jakobson, an art collector and longtime friend, was that Mrs. Gladstone never stopped asking questions and always knew who to ask for advice. On one occasion, as Mrs. Gladstone recounted in the interview with Mrs. Burns, her critical source was her husband at the time, Mr. Gladstone, a businessman.

“He said: 'If every time you have to make a decision you think: what if it doesn't work? What will I do then? Can I survive? If you can survive, then do it,'” she recalled. “And I've done it my whole life.”

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