Odd Couple: Mitchell Algus and Amy Greenspon Are Showing—and, Yes, Selling—the Unknown, the Emerging, the Dead

  • After working at Pace, Ms. Greenspon became an art advisor and then worked for dealer Marianne Boesky, where she organized a Krushenick show after Mr. Algus put her in touch with his widow. Her father, William Greenspon, whose extensive art and Bauhaus furniture collection has been profiled in The New York Times, had impressed on her a mission similar to Mr. Algus’s. “‘There are these opportunities, Amy, you should be looking for,’” she said he told her of the underrated Krushenick.

    Mr. Algus’s gallery, which he moved to a small second-floor space in Chelsea in 2002, was also an inspiration for her. “I would go over and see his shows and sit down and talk. It was a refreshing and interesting place, a very special environment. Artists were always coming in and out.” She proposed a partnership.

    “I had been doing it for so long by myself, it sounded like something that was worth trying,” Mr. Algus explained. “It’s easy for me to do shows, and it’s better if I don’t have to deal with all the other stuff.” Plus he has a lot more space.

    Mr. Algus and Ms. Greenspon have had what’s referred to in couple’s therapy as constructive arguments. “Sometimes he would show me things, and I would be like, ‘My God, that is the most hideous thing,’” said Ms. Greenspon. “Then I would think, ‘He’s right. This artist is up to something interesting.’ The same goes in the other direction. Artists of my generation who I found to be really intelligent, if it didn’t look like it was made by a 75-year-old man or woman, it wasn’t really his vibe, but he also comes around.”

    She began representing her artist friends Emily Sundblad, Adriana Lara and Mathew Cerletty, who helped design the space. “Because it is much more professional, suddenly artists saw it as something hot,” said Adrian Dannatt, an art journalist and friend of Mr. Algus.

    “A more effective way for a gallery to make money is to chase trends,” said Mr. Cerletty, a painter who dated Ms. Greenspon for two years. “But I think it appealed to artists that the gallery’s program has integrity.” Mr. Algus’s gallery always had integrity, but his new place also has buzz.

    The two partners don’t always agree about whom to show. “The most difficult thing right now is not having the freedom to be nice to people,” Mr. Algus said. Before, he could show an obscure artist on a whim. “Before, I could be nice to everybody.” Said Ms. Greenspon, “The space demands a certain level of quality and reverence.”

    The new space was pricey. “We don’t have a backer,” Ms. Greenspon said. “It was outrageously expensive and it was money we had saved over the years.” As she watched that new floor go in, she said she thought, “How many Murakamis did I have to sell for this?”

    At Eli’s, Mr. Algus made the partnership sound not exactly harmonious. “Wait, he went there?” Ms. Greenspon said incredulously, on the phone. “It’s not, for us personally,” she said. “But for the good of the gallery it’s pretty genius—our complementary, sometimes antagonistic approaches. We hadn’t curated or done anything together like that before, and if we had, maybe we wouldn’t have opened the gallery, but I’m glad we didn’t, because it’s forced us to work together and compromise.”

    She said she didn’t expect him to be such a “spendthrift.” She was half joking. He started calling himself “the adult” before cutting himself off. But while he’s pained about not showing some of his funkier oldies, he seems to get a kick out of her younger artists. She can now admit that her idea to inaugurate the gallery with a Balthus retrospective was “totally naïve”; then again, she’s been busy selling sculptures from their current show of Algus favorite Bill Bollinger to, she bubbled to The Observer, “really good places.” They seem to find each other amusing.

    But can such an unusual alliance endure?

    “They definitely butt heads and have fights,” Mr. Cerletty said. “It seems like the gallery is going to close every time there is a show, but it usually works out, and everyone thinks it looks better for having fought it out.”

    When we asked Mr. Algus about selling, he looked uncomfortable. “I hate telling people what to think,” he said. “The shows do it. I’ve listened to very well-known dealers do it, and it gives me the creeps. It makes my skin crawl. Why should I have to sell this to you?”

    arusseth@observer.com

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