13 Exemplars of Art-World Independence

  • More than 200 years ago, a group of brave men decided to break away from the British Empire and form the United States of America. Ever since, the people of the U.S. have been known for their independent thinking and fierce individualism. That is certainly true in the case of people who work in the art industry. (See what we did there?) Over the years, scores of dealers have declared independence from their bosses, opening up their own shops, and scores more artists have broken with their dealers, left collectives or quit day jobs to make art. Examples of independence are numerous. In the slide show above, 13 sterling examples.

  • Société des Artistes Indépendants was founded in 1884 with the motto "Sans jury ni récompense" ("No jury nor awards"). Its original members included Albert Dubois-Pillet, Odilon Redon, Georges Seurat and Paul Signac. The point was to give artists complete freedom to show their work to the public without having to be backed by the Académie de peinture et de sculpture.

  • It would be fair to say that until the end of their relationship, when Picasso biographer John Richardson moved to New York, the art historian was in the shadow of the collector Douglas Cooper. Since then he has been knighted and is one of the most prominent living voices in art history.

  • Frank O'Hara, who had a day job working as an assistant curator in MoMA's painting department, wrote many of the works in Lunch Poems during his breaks at the museum, which is about as literal as art-world independence gets.

  • By 1969, Leo Castelli was at the height of his powers, exhibiting many of contemporary art's leading practitioners. Nevertheless, its director Ivan Karp decided to start his own gallery that year in unexplored Soho on West Broadway. Mr. Karp died last week, though the gallery he started, O. K. Harris, remains in operation after more than 40 years.

    Courtesy Patrick McMullan Company

  • Lynda Benglis paid for a two-page spread in Artforum to promote her upcoming show at Paula Cooper Gallery. The image featured Ms. Benglis posing with a double-sided dildo. In an altogether different show of independence, several editors--including Rosalind Krauss--soon after left the magazine and went on to found the more academic journal October.

  • After 10 years in a relationship and as part of a collaborative partnership, the "grandmother of performance art" broke up with her lover Ulay. Both walked the length of the Great Wall of China and met in the middle. “That walk became a complete personal drama," she said later. "Ulay started from the Gobi desert and I from the Yellow Sea. After each of us walked 2,500 kilometers, we met in the middle and said good-bye.”

  • After years at Gagosian, working as that dealer's "top lieutenant," according to art-market maven Josh Baer, Mr. Van de Weghe set up his own shop, dealing in top-flight 20th and 21st century art. He hasn't looked back since.

    Courtesy Patrick McMullan

  • Damien Hirst broke with his dealers Larry Gagosian and Jay Jopling in 2008 to sell some $200 million worth of art through Sotheby's. His independence firmly established, he's since gone back to selling through Messrs. Gagosian and Jopling.

    Courtesy Shaun Curry/AFP/Getty Images

  • After 12 years with Christie's, Guy Bennett resigned from his position as co-head of Impressionist and modern art at the auction house. Now working as an independent art adviser, he's rumored to be working for the Qatari royal family.

    ©Patrick McMullan

  • For years PaceWildenstein was an international powerhouse gallery, but in 2010 Marc Glimcher led the charge for the two parties to split their way. The Wildensteins now face tax charges in their native France, along with accusations that they had a secret vault of "lost" artwork owned by their clients. Huzzah for independence!

  • New York dealer Elizabeth Dee and London dealer Darren Flook joined forces to make an Armory Week art fair that they billed as a "temporary exhibition forum." Independence par excellence.

    Courtesy Independent

  • After 17 years at Sotheby's, Emmanuel Di Donna left the company in September 2010 and teamed up with contemporary art dealer Harry Blain to start a secondary market gallery in New York named Blain/Di Donna.

    ©Patrick McMullan

  • Last week, Paul Schimmel, chief curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, departed suddenly to become an independent curator. Though a release issued from the museum stated that Mr. Schimmel had resigned, the Los Angeles Times has reported that he had been fired by the museum's board.

    ©Patrick McMullan