Mary Boone’s Chelsea Outpost; Keith Sonnier Leaves Castelli

Three years after she abandoned SoHo for Fifth Avenue and 58th Street, gallery owner Mary Boone is negotiating a lease for a Chelsea outpost. She has no choice.

“The artists [I represent] are midcareer,” said Ms. Boone, during a quiet moment in her uptown gallery at 745 Fifth Avenue, where she moved from SoHo in 1996. “I know that they like the space with higher ceilings and skylights.”

Ms. Boone is trying to prevent another defection like the one last spring, when Ellen Gallagher, a Boston-based artist who showed at Mary Boone when the gallery was located in SoHo, elected to show at Gagosian Gallery in SoHo instead. Ms. Gallagher went to Gagosian because it was a downtown-style space.

The flood of galleries into Chelsea is not lost on Ms. Boone, either. “I think when you are showing living artists and you are showing younger artists as well, they want to have a connection to the art community,” she said.

“I am looking for a space like I had [in SoHo]–a garage, sky-lit, ground-floor space,” said Ms. Boone. “I already have a space that I have made an offer on and we are trying to negotiate terms. It is on 26th Street.” Ms. Boone said she would keep the uptown gallery.

“I am not thinking about it as a business tactic. I am more thinking about it in terms of what spaces do for work … In terms of business, I think it makes a lot of sense to be uptown,” Ms. Boone said. “Uptown is really about collectors and history and being aligned with the museums.”

Keith Sonnier Debuts at Marlborough

With the Jan. 14 opening of a 30-year survey of 31 of Keith Sonnier’s sculptures at the Marlborough Gallery at 40 West 57th Street, Mr. Sonnier marks his departure from the Leo Castelli Gallery. He is the most recent of Mr. Castelli’s original stable of artists from the 1960′s–Cy Twombly, Richard Serra, Ellsworth Kelly, Robert Rauschenberg–to decamp from the SoHo gallery. After the big survey show, Mr. Sonnier is scheduled to have a smaller show of new works at Marlborough’s Chelsea gallery in 2000.

“I still am in touch with Leo and Barbara,” said Mr. Sonnier of Mr. Castelli, 91, and his wife, whom he last saw last summer in the Hamptons. “And it was just an arrangement that we made together because the gallery was not going to be ready for me to show. It was time basically to move on because other people had moved on [from Castelli Gallery]. People I worked with for years were no longer there.”

At 57, Mr. Sonnier is a distinguished-looking man with long gray hair and a roly-poly frame. He still speaks in the languid dialect of the town in southwestern Louisiana where he was born and raised, in which 80 percent of the residents still speak French. But for the last 30 years, he has been an integral part of the downtown art scene, a regular at the Odeon bistro and twice married to downtown divas–first, artist Jackie Winsor; then, Brazilian socialite Nessia Pope, who was a partner at the restaurant 150 Wooster. He and Ms. Pope have a 10-year-old daughter, Olympia, a student at Brearley.

“I wasn’t so interested in moving uptown because I have always worked downtown,” said Mr. Sonnier, who lives in a fifth-floor walk-up in TriBeCa, a collegial loft with old worn furniture and battered filing cabinets that gives the impression that neither he nor his growing staff of assistants have acknowledged the 1980′s or 1990′s.

But Marlborough was very interested. Robert Buck, a Marlborough director who curated the current exhibition, has known Mr. Sonnier since 1968, when he curated a show at Washington University in St. Louis that included Mr. Sonnier, Bruce Nauman, Richard Serra and Fred Sandback. Last year, Mr. Sonnier worked with Dale Lanzone, the director of Marlborough’s Chelsea gallery when he did a large commission in the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Washington, D.C. “He had tremendous respect for what Dale was able to do in terms of public art and commissions,” said Mr. Buck. “So he was quite determined that it was time for him to wean himself from the Castelli stable. All of the signals were right.… And [he knew] that Marlborough would be interested in also changing directions to some degree in seriously considering Keith. I think he needed the kind of oomph at this time that we can try to do.” Mr. Buck came to an agreement with Mr. Sonnier to join Marlborough last September.

Mr. Sonnier was most interested in showing right away. “It was very difficult for me to get things done,” he said of the later years of his relationship with his former gallery. “At one point, I was really only doing commission work.… Doing a gallery show does feed into all of the other projects that I do. My work is not something you can put up on the wall. So it gives me a great opportunity to see certain works I haven’t seen in years.”

In his loft, looking up at his neon sculptures, which emit a hot spectrum of reds and purples, Mr. Sonnier said, “I don’t think [Marlborough has] had stuff that plugs in very much.”