There was a time when suffering for your art often meant just that: years of obscurity punctuated by worried phone calls from one’s parents asking if you were getting enough to eat. But not now.
“The art world today is much more of a business than it was in the 70’s,” said Mirabelle Marden, the 28-year-old co-owner of the Lower East Side’s Rivington Arms gallery and, as the daughter of abstract art’s éminence grise, Brice Marden, genuine downtown royalty. “It’s all just so much bigger now.”
Ms. Marden and her business partner, Melissa Bent, held court at Miami’s NADA art fair this past weekend. Much of Rivington Arms’ featured work had already been sold during NADA’s opening hours, with collectors leaving a trail of sale-signifying red dots in their wake.
With prices ranging from $800 to $4,000, Rivington Arms’ wares were bargains. Many had been produced by artists just barely out of college and into their legal drinking years. Collectors’ cult of youth, meet the new professionalism.
“Art students have a different way of approaching their art now,” Ms. Marden said. “They can envision having a career.”
To sharpen that contrast, she need only look to her own father. At 68, he’s been saluted with a retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, on view until Jan. 15, 2007. This fall saw him hired by the Gap to model their T-shirts and personify the chain’s, ahem, “heritage in self-expression and individuality.”
But that hardly happened overnight. Mr. Marden dropped out of hotel-management school in 1958, married the striking Pauline Baez—sister to folk singer and then–Bob Dylan paramour Joan—and enrolled in Yale’s M.F.A. program. As he quipped last month on Charlie Rose, his original inspiration was simple: “I went into painting to meet those beautiful women that I used to see in Greenwich Village back in the 60’s.”
But in 1963, that Ivy degree had yet to resemble its current license to print money. Mr. Marden spent the next few years futilely mailing out teaching-position applications, floating from sister-in-law Joan’s California spread to father-in-law Albert’s Paris apartment, hanging with that era’s underground luminaries and, by his own admission, smoking copious amounts of marijuana.
It wasn’t until the end of the decade, following a divorce and his subsequent remarriage to Helen Harrington (now a painter as well), that Mr. Marden would blossom into an iconic top earner.
Along the way, his daughter Melia would become something of an intellectual sensualist. Robert Mapplethorpe would snap Melia Marden as a naked toddler in 1983. She would go on—at the age of 14—to interview Fran Lebowitz in Interview, then to graduate Harvard, where she designed costumes, in 2003, and to attend the French Culinary Institute—as well as to write, briefly, on fashion for Time.
Older daughter Mirabelle followed a more direct route. After graduation from Sarah Lawrence College, she and her classmate, Ms. Bent, opened Rivington Arms on the Lower East Side. “I knew I wanted to be close to art, and that was the neighborhood I felt most comfortable in,” she said. “It sounds strange to say we were meeting artists socially, but we weren’t scouting for them. We were just meeting everybody who was coming out of school at the same time as us.”
Rivington Arms drew a wealth of positive notices. Ms. Marden ascended to “It” girl status—shadowed by Patrick McMullan’s camera, profiled in Vogue, even christened the dour face of Manhattan’s “New Bohemians” by The New York Times Magazine this past fall.
This year, Rivington Arms was one of the last galleries to physically move their art inside their NADA booth, ostentatiously traipsing past their already-prepared fair neighbors, said one New York–based NADA gallery owner. The intended message seemed to be: We don’t have to hustle.
“Mirabelle shows good artists, and she obviously cares about making strong, young aesthetic statements,” said the dealer. “But she always wants to look like she’s never trying too hard, like it’s all so effortless.”
During Art Basel Miami Beach, Ms. Marden supped one evening at a private dinner hosted by Jimmy Choo bigwig Tamara Mellon, breaking bread with über-dealer and longtime family friend Larry Gagosian, blue-chip collector Aby Rosen, auction-house head Simon de Pury and—because South Beach party regulations apparently mandate the presence of at least one Hilton sister at all times—Nicky Hilton.
But the next night was decidedly more in keeping with her program. Ms. Marden hosted a fête for filmmaker Arden Wohl—a recent N.Y.U. grad, natch—with indie-rock darlings Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and what seemed like half of Williamsburg in attendance.
Ms. Marden’s downtown imprimatur seems as crucial to some of her artists’ popularity as their actual talent. Hanna Liden’s horror-flick-infused photos have an undeniable power, but many of her extremely young artists are just coming into their own. Will she and her stable “graduate” to the next level—or must they at all?
This year, NADA co-founder and Chelsea gallerist Zach Feuer, also 28, set up shop at Art Basel proper.
“NADA was always meant to be a launching pad for new galleries,” he said. “I wanted to help them develop the confidence to be able to say, ‘No, I’m not going to give you a 40 percent discount just because you’ve never heard of the artist.’”
So would he recommend that Rivington Arms jump from NADA to Basel next year? “Definitely,” he said with a chuckle.
Ms. Marden seemed a bit coyer about membership in the new establishment. True, she’d already moved her gallery from its namesake address to larger digs on East Second Street. Perhaps she’d find it uncomfortable operating so close to her father’s world? After all, the Basel fair was filled with his paintings, including one solid gray canvas being offered by New York gallerist Nick Acquavella for a cool $1.7 million. Could she envision herself someday selling seven-figure work?
“I’m not taking that bait,” Ms. Marden said. “I’ve never wanted to be judged solely by my last name. That’s why we didn’t name the gallery Marden-Bent.” She paused and wrinkled her nose. “Besides, that would’ve sounded too uptown.”