Buy This and Call Me in the Morning: Meet Marc Straus, the Art-Collecting Oncologist-Bard Who Just Opened a Gallery Downtown

And stole George Michael's curator to help him do it

Messrs. Straus and Cope have debuted with a lineup of 14 artists—none stolen from other gallerists, the former emphasized. Many have never had a solo show, though more than half have had been in at least one exhibition at the HVCCA, where Livia Straus first met Michael Brown, who showed at Yvon Lambert in New York, before the esteemed Paris dealer closed his gallery last year. The Strauses were the first collectors to buy one of his pieces. Now Mr. Straus, who helped introduce Mr. Brown to Yvon Lambert, shows the artist in New York. “I didn’t have to think twice,” Mr. Brown told us, of joining the gallery.

Mr. Brown showed at the temporary space in October, and when Mr. Straus walked in he told us that he said, “‘Holy shit, this work is so good.’ I never thought for one moment I would ever represent him. Now my job is to get him a great gallery in Europe, and I know it’s going to happen. Now my job is to give a larger voice to his work.”

It’s not just Mr. Brown who is devoted to him. “The depth of experience [Marc] brings with him is what sets him apart from your average dealer,” painter John Newsom, whom the couple has known for a decade, told us in an email. “He knows artists. He knows what they need, and what makes them tick. Marc expects the best, a type of ‘exceptionalism.’”

Mr. Straus has roughed it like some of today’s Lower East Side dealers before, albeit only for about a year, as a partner in the East Village gallery called Piezo Electric in the mid-1980s, which showed talent like Richard Hambleton, sculptor Michael Gonzalez and geometric abstractionist Richard Kalina. “It was very successful, and when I say successful, I mean we didn’t lose money,” he said.

As a poet—Mr. Straus has been writing for 20 years—he has lectured and taught at universities and conducted workshops. Still he gets the occasional doubter. He told us about “some snobby guy,” another poet, who once claimed that, “well, Marc Straus is only here because he’s a doctor.”

“Nobody is going to ask me, when they walk into this gallery, if this something I’m just doing as a hobby.”

He continued, “This is a business, and I have to say—this could be misunderstood—it’s not a good business.” Every month, he explained, you have to reinvent yourself. You don’t know if you’ll be able to sell an artist’s work, or what that artist will do next year. But you do it because you believe in the artists you represent. “You have to be crazy,” he said, “to go into this business.”

Buy This and Call Me in the Morning: Meet Marc Straus, the Art-Collecting Oncologist-Bard Who Just Opened a Gallery Downtown