Gavin Brown: The Heir Apparent

And like Mr. Deitch, who declined to comment for this story, Mr. Brown knows how to create a scene. His Passerby art bar in the meatpacking district was the establishment for much of its eight-year existence. And for now, he has no plans to reopen. But even though Mr. Brown’s bar-back days might be over, his program remains intrinsically social. Mr. Pruitt’s “Art Awards” was but one of these endeavors—in the sendup-of-a-gala gala, various members of the Brown clique gave awards to each other and friends. The Guggenheim confirmed that it will host a second installment in December.

“It feels like he’s everywhere,” said Alex Zachary, a former GBE director who recently jumped ship to open his own gallery on the Upper East Side. 

Mr. Brown admitted that Mr. Deitch’s departure for Hollywood, to run the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, got him thinking. “For any person who owns a gallery in New York, the news of that was sort of ‘Huh … could I do that?’” he told The Observer. “I thought about it and came to the conclusion that no, I probably shouldn’t. Probably couldn’t do it—I’m not sure I’d feel my life would be my own anymore. I’d probably make a complete hash of it.” He’s also pretty tied to New York, he noted: The father of three is in the midst of moving to a new home in Harlem.

“I think one of the best aspects of a gallery is its very intimate relationship with the artist,” Mr. Brown said. “The process is much faster and more immediate. You have a one-to-one, almost simultaneous translation [that can’t happen in a museum]. I suppose it is actually a thrill and kind of a privilege to be there with culture as it happens.” 

This, of course, is not exactly a charitable venture. Mr. Brown represented Mr. Doig’s work, for example, when it was selling for a few thousand dollars; in 2007, the artist’s White Canoe set an auction record for a living artist when it brought $11.3 million. But, ironically, the man whose Internet address is gavinbrown.biz doesn’t like talking about money.

Mr. Brown’s program has been so successful, in fact, that harsh criticism arose last year over the dealer’s relationship with the New Museum (i.e., “Gavin’s Place,” to the naysayers), where four of his artists have had substantial showings in the past two years. Brown outright denied any insider politics (as did the New Museum at that time, though the institution declined to comment for this piece).

“I’m not sure I ever saw what was so controversial,” he bristled of the much-rehashed issue. “I just don’t buy into that cynical way of seeing it. In terms of my role in the supposed controversy, you could see me as a lobbyist. That’s one way of looking at it. Another way of seeing this is that people, curators amongst them, really believe in the voices of these artists. I don’t see the problem—are people upset about the works in the exhibitions? Do they not want to see that work? The ones who do see a problem are small-minded people keeping score in their small-minded game.”

Mr. Brown ended the interview waxing eloquent. “I wonder about the future and how people will communicate,” he said. “We’re at an epochal moment and I’m just trying to figure out what goes in the trash and what is to be taken up and passed on to future generations.”

When asked to explain, Mr. Brown said he’d rather not.

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