On July 29, Maxwell Anderson was named director of the Whitney Museum of American Art, replacing David Ross, who resigned in March to assume the directorship of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. A Greek and Roman classicist who graduated from Dartmouth College and has most recently been the director of the Art Gallery of Ontario, Mr. Anderson brings a decidedly more conservative approach to the museum, which was widely criticized under Mr. Ross for pandering to trends in art that were high on concept and low on substance. The day that his appointment was announced, he was presented with his first challenge, a gift of a conceptual art video from Peter Norton, a California collector who had been appointed by Mr. Ross to the board of the museum.
In an interview from his office in Santa Monica, Mr. Norton explained that he decided to give Mr. Anderson the video “to demonstrate my fealty. To send him a message that I support him.” Mr. Norton, the board’s vice president, was on the search committee that selected Mr. Anderson and gave him a tour of his cutting-edge art collection, which is housed in his New York apartment. Although Mr. Norton allowed that Mr. Anderson “could be called more conservative than Mr. Ross,” he said that he found him to be receptive to cutting-edge art. The video he chose was Electric Mind , a room-size installation that is loosely based on a science fiction story by Pat Murphy about a scientist who saves the brain of his deceased daughter by planting it in the body of a chimpanzee. The piece is by Diana Thater, a California artist.
“He had not been physically interested in this work or in Diana Thater,” Mr. Norton said of Mr. Anderson. “But he is very interested in the place of video work in the whole realm.”
For his part, Mr. Anderson dealt with Mr. Norton’s gift with the kind of diplomacy that his new job will call for. “Peter and I have had a lively conversation about some of the problems that installation art poses to the museum,” he said. “I don’t think we can show it right away. We are going to think about ways to show it in the future, and to tour it.”
Mood Lighting and Silent Backers
The typical contemporary art gallery represents artists, shows their works in regular public exhibitions and also handles the resale of those and other artists’ works, usually from the back room of the gallery. When the Grant Selwyn Gallery opens in October at 37 West 57th Street, that concept will finally be turned on its head. Joint partners Anthony Grant and Marc Selwyn, who both left key positions at the Pace Wildenstein gallery earlier this year, are also planning to open a showroom in an as yet undetermined location in Beverly Hills, Calif., and have hired an architect with expertise in lighting to set the right tone for the spaces. But the gallery in New York will be opening without a single artist in its stable.
“I think Marc and I are somewhat unique in what we bring to the market,” Mr. Grant said in an interview from his temporary office on Madison Avenue. Allowing that he and Mr. Selwyn would eventually like to represent artists, Mr. Grant said that the resale market for contemporary art is so strong right now that they can focus on the secondary market in a primary market space. “We have recently done very good business in secondary situations,” he stated optimistically. Both men have a strong grasp of the resale market. Mr. Grant headed contemporary art sales for Sotheby’s Inc. in New York before he was wooed away by Pace. Mr. Selwyn headed the Sotheby’s fine arts department in Los Angeles before he was hired by Pace to run that gallery’s Beverly Hills showroom.
“I think the defection of some of the auction-house people provides an interesting part of the market because we kind of know, in a sense, where a number of collectors are,” Mr. Grant pointed out. “We know who bought and what they are buying. We intend to service those collectors in the gallery, to help them find blue-chip art by contemporary artists.” Mr. Grant wouldn’t say who the collectors were, but a source close to the gallery maintains that Don Fisher, chief executive of Gap Inc., and a client of Mr. Grant’s, is a silent backer of the gallery. (Through a spokesman, Mr. Fisher denied that he has invested in the gallery. Mr. Grant and Mr. Selwyn would not comment on whether Mr. Fisher was a backer.)
The secret to the anticipated success of Grant Selwyn Gallery, is, it seems, in the lighting. The partners have hired Michael Gabellini, a classmate of Mr. Grant’s at Rhode Island School of Design and a noted designer of boutiques, to design the interior of the 57th Street space. Mr. Grant said that he was impressed by the store Mr. Gabellini designed for Jil Sander on Park Avenue, and he thought that would be a good kind of space for his own gallery.
Dispensing with the usual spotlights and floodlights that are used to light art in galleries, Mr. Gabellini intends to duplicate the kind of spaces he has created for boutiques. He will do this, he said, by using a series of scrims and veils in the gallery to create “several emotions of being in a very intimate space rather than just a commercial art gallery.” He hopes to achieve this slight of hand by using a titanium-based paint for the walls of the gallery, which together with the lighting will create the feeling of natural daylight.
“Lighting will become a very active component to fill the space with this sensation of daylight,” said Mr. Gabellini. “The air system, the quality of the air, the flow of the air, the conditioning of the light as it falls on the wall will be more veil-like, rather than just very harsh spotlights or floodlights that you find in most galleries. It won’t even necessarily have the feeling of being inside.