Legendary New York Gallerist Barbara Gladstone Dies at 89

Gladstone succeeded in growing her business in different market conditions, weathering the enormous changes the art world has been through and building an empire with locations in New York, Rome, Brussels and, most recently, Seoul.

The late Barbara Gladstone. Ph. Sharon Lockhart

Barbara Gladstone died after a brief illness in Paris this past Saturday, according to an announcement released by her eponymous gallery. Gladstone Gallery’s stellar roster includes some of the most celebrated artists of our time: Matthew Barney, Joan Jonas, Carroll Dunham, Thomas Hirschhorn, Carrie Mae Weems. Keith Haring and Robert Rauschenberg’s estates have been with the gallery for years thanks to its high-quality programming and the museum-level exhibitions, which later attracted also some of the most interesting institutional artists that emerged in the last decades, including Anicka Yi, Wangechi Mutu and Philippe Parreno.

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Gladstone, who Observer honored as one of the most influential people in the art world in 2023, was a force. Leading the gallery’s growth, she was guided by a single mantra: the artist always comes first. “I have always been fascinated to observe that artists should be the ones who are holding a mirror up to our culture and showing us so that we learn about ourselves,” she said on Charlotte Burns’s podcast The Art World: What If. And so the gallery grew, but as Gladstone told Artnet in 2020, she still thought of it as a “small operation built solely on relationships and the hard work of getting better at what we do.”

The roster benefited from gallerist Gavin Brown joining Gladstone as a partner in 2020 after closing Gavin Brown’s enterprise, bringing with him ten artists, including star Alex Katz, the estate of Jannis Kounellis and the Golden Lion-winner Arthur Jafa, among others.

Estate planning for major art dealers and gallerists has been at the center of public attention recently, and Barbara Gladstone left us with something of a blueprint: she had already nominated four partners, who will continue in their roles in leading the gallery. Max Falkenstein runs the leadership team, Gavin Brown manages artists relations and development, Caroline Luce oversees the gallery’s operations and human resources and Paula Tsai is head for Asia and leads the gallery’s communications.

Barbara Gladstone with Matthew Barney’s work. Ph. Dean Kaufman

Gladstone opened her first gallery in Manhattan in 1989 at age 40 with a show of works by Jenny Holzer in a space that, as she recalled in an interview with the Wall Street Journal in 2011, was  “the size of a shoebox” with a $700 monthly rent. She had just left her teaching job at Hofstra University and before becoming a gallerist, she was just an amateur collector of prints. By the time she opened Gladstone Gallery, she had already been through three divorces and was a mother of three—clearly, a strong woman.

Riding the wave of a growing art market all through the 1980s and showing some of the most revolutionary artists of the period, she was able to open her first proper gallery space in Chelsea in the mid-90s. In the podcast linked above, she told Burns that she was “inventing myself in a way. I had no model, I had never worked in a gallery. I didn’t have the experience. I never worked for anybody else, which I regretted my whole life.”

Arguably, she did something much better in becoming herself an inspiring model for both successful art dealers and female entrepreneurs. And she will be sorely missed.

Legendary New York Gallerist Barbara Gladstone Dies at 89