Change continues to transform the world of contemporary art, with more and more women – including women of color – launching galleries of their own. Our correspondent Julie Chang Murphy has curated a list of 13 influential contemporary art galleries owned or led by powerful women that you can visit right now in New York, Chicago, Paris and more, including three new galleries in NYC recently opened and either owned or led by Black women.
13 influential contemporary art galleries owned or led by powerful women
The art world — despite a reputation for being inherently counter-culture and progressive — suffers from much of the same gender inequality as other traditionally male-dominated industries. Women remain dramatically underrepresented and undervalued in museums, galleries, and auction houses.
According to the National Museum of Women in the Arts, the work found in the collections of 18 prominent US art museums is 87% male and 85% white. Another depressing statistic exposed that the textbook used in every Art History 101 class (including the one I took in college), H.W. Janson’s Basic History of Western Art, features only 27 women out of 318 artists.[white_box]
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Could female-owned galleries be an agent of much-needed progress? Artsy, the NYC-based online art brokerage site, studied the rosters of the 199 female-run and male-run galleries showing at the 16th edition of Art Basel in Miami Beach. They found that female dealers are 28% more likely to show artists who are women.
A gallery is “an extension of the person who runs it and owns it” said Nicole Russo, founder of Chapter NY on the Lower East Side. This might translate into a subconscious personal connection to a female artist and supporting her day-to-day realities or consciously finding artwork from women who were previously overlooked.[white_box]
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As new collectors of contemporary art ourselves, as women of color we wanted to know more about the most influential and up-and-coming female-owned or led art galleries in the United States. You can use this as a guide for where to purchase your next piece. Or as travel inspiration for post-pandemic life circa 2022. And you can support some galleries led by powerful boss women in the contemporary art world in the process.
13 influential female-owned or led contemporary art galleries to visit right now
1. Marian Goodman Gallery
Goodman, the venerated art pioneer is now a legend. But she became an art dealer almost by accident, as a new divorcée who needed to support herself and two children. In 1963, she was the only woman in her art history graduate program at Columbia University.
Today, she owns three contemporary art galleries in New York, Paris, and London and is most known for introducing avant-garde European artists to American collectors. She has represented some of the most respected and celebrated artists in her career like Steve McQueen, Gerhard Richter, Tacita Dean, Annette Messager, Giuseppe Penone, and Rineke Dijkstra.
2. Paula Cooper Gallery
Credited with turning Soho and then Chelsea into an art mecca, Cooper’s eponymous galleries, first established in 1968, have represented a who’s who of Minimal and Conceptual artists. Including Carl Andre, Sol LeWitt, Sophie Calle, Zoe Leonard, Christian Marclay, Robert Gober, Rudolf Stingel, Kelley Walker, Mark di Suvero and Tauba Auerbach.
Cooper, who was 30-year old divorcée and a mother of two young children at the time she launched, reflected in a W Magazine interview that “having to support two children forced me to become better at developing and supporting artists’ careers.”
Her gallery was the first to embrace multi-creative disciplines under one roof. She has also been defined by her commitment to activism. Proceeds from her first show went to the Student Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam, and most recently to the March for Our Lives campaign against gun violence.
3. Gladstone Gallery
In 1980, Barbara Gladstone was twice divorced art history professor with three sons when she opened a small gallery and began showing Jenny Holzer, the American artist known for her truisms broadcast in public spaces. She has said, “Being a parent, a mother, means that you’re responsible for helping someone develop to the best of their potential.”
One such artist — the singular Matthew Barney – was encouraged to climb the walls of her gallery naked among sculptural implements. As they say, the rest is history. With locations in New York and Brussels, Gladstone has represented notable artists like Shirin Neshat, Sarah Lucas, Anish Kapoor and Keith Haring.[white_box]
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4. Metro Pictures
41-year old gallery Metro Pictures, founded by Helene Winer and Janelle Reiring, closed at the end of 2021, another casualty of the COVID-19 pandemic. Even though there’s no opportunity to visit, we’d be remiss not to mention this gallery. Metro Pictures was the longtime worldwide representative of artist Cindy Sherman.
Sherman has said of their enduring partnership, “I think our bond developed because we were all new to the game, so there was this kind of fresh, innocent way of taking it on.” Over its storied history, the gallery also represented other photographers and video artists, including Louise Lawler, Robert Longo, Jack Goldstein, Sherrie Levine, and James Welling.
The New Vanguard
5. Mariane Ibrahim
The mostly white art market is overdue for a transformation. When Art Basel’s online viewing rooms went live over the summer, there were no black-owned modern and contemporary art galleries out of 281. One gallerist looking to change that is Mariane Ibrahim and her namesake gallery, with locations in Chicago and Paris. In a profile in Artsy, she is called out as already having a powerhouse reputation and a roster of trailblazing contemporary artists, predominantly from the African diaspora.
For example, at the 2017 Armory Show, her innovative presentation of German-Ghanaian multimedia artist Zohra Opoku’s textiles won Ibrahim’s booth a major prize. Further cementing her status are her sold-out booths during preview days and her success launching the global demand for works by Amoako Boafo, Ayana V. Jackson and Florine Démosthène after she showed their work at her gallery. She has an uncanny eye for talent – and she’s definitely one to watch.
6. Jenkins Johnson Gallery
Another black woman gallerist shaking up the art scene is Karen Jenkins Johnson. She owns two galleries in San Francisco and Brooklyn. Ms. Jenkins-Johnson spoke to the New York Times about being repeatedly rejected by both Frieze and Art Basel. She ultimately confronted fair executives directly, challenging them to appreciate the black artists she was showing. “I’ve had to go in through the back door and fight and fight and fight to get in,” Ms. Jenkins-Johnson said. “It was very frustrating, but I’m stubborn. I know that what I have to offer is of the same substance and quality as those other galleries and artists being accepted.”
Fast forward to 2019 where her gallery was a Frieze NY Stand Prize recipient. She also exhibits the works of 20th century masters including David C. Driskell, Jae and Wadsworth Jarrell, Ming Smith, Aubrey Williams and Gordon Parks.
7. Salon 94
Jeanne Greenberg-Rohatyn, former Vogue “It” girl and judge on the Bravo reality series “Work of Art,”. She is the founder of Salon 94 which has three locations in New York City. She is known for discovering emerging artists and kick-starting the reputation of those in midcareer.
Her unorthodox approach has won her clients outside of the typical art world. This includes rapper-mogul Jay Z and Alex Rodriguez of the Yankees. She represents artists working across media and methodologies. These artists include Judy Chicago, Huma Bhabha, Sylvie Fleury, Laurie Simmons, Lyle Ashton Harris, and Marilyn Minter.[white_box]
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GAVLAK is a contemporary fine art gallery based in Los Angeles and Palm Beach. Since 2005, Founder Sarah Gavlak has been devoted to her mission to advance marginalized women and LGBTQ artists. She has presented pioneering exhibitions. This includes early solo presentations by Wade Guyton, Marilyn Minter, Betty Tompkins, Rob Wynne, Simone Leigh, Sheila Hicks, and others.
In 2018 she founded New Wave Art Wknd. It’s an Art Basel Miami alternative for VIP collectors featuring extraordinary private blue-chip art collection visits, dinners, lectures, and robust public programming. It is based on the theme of immigration and migration through a cultural lens.
9. Berry Campbell
The co-founders of Chelsea’s Berry Campbell Gallery, Christine Berry and Martha Campbell, are kindred spirits. According to their website, “both studied art history in college, began their careers in the museum world, and later worked together at a major gallery in midtown Manhattan.” They opened their gallery in 2013, later doubling the size of their space.
Their curatorial vision is to shine a light on postwar American modernist artists who were left behind due to race, gender, or geography. And there are many unsung and little-known artists who created brilliant abstractions. Including Syd Solomon, Frederick J. Brown, Lilian Thomas Burwell and Frank Wimberley, all of whom are represented by Barry Campbell.
10. Nicola Vassell
Previously a director at Deitch Projects and the Pace Gallery, where she worked closely with Kehinde Wiley, Vassell opened her eponymous gallery in Chelsea in the fall of 2021 at age 42. The Jamaican-born gallerist began her professional life as a model. But she quickly discovered a passion for art. In addition to her gallery stints, Vassell has been an influential art advisor for celebrity collectors, including Swizz Beatz.
Leading one of the rare contemporary art galleries owned by a Black woman – and in the heart of Chelsea, no less – has given Vassell a platform to showcase painting, drawing, sculpture and film. Her inaugural exhibit was a show of the Black female photographer Ming Smith. Future exhibits will feature Alvaro Barrington, Fred Eversley, Frida Orupabo and Wangari Mathenge.
11. 52 Walker
52 Walker, the new David Zwirner gallery space programmed and led by Director Ebony L. Haynes, opened in October 2021. The gallery takes its name from its location at 52 Walker Street in Tribeca. The gallery will present four exhibitions per year, and is intended to function as a hybrid commercial gallery and kuntshalle. Shows will have longer durations and there will be ample opportunity for ancillary events surrounding the artist and the show.
The inaugural exhibition presented new works by Kandis Williams. The LA-based artist is known for her work addressing issues of race, nationalism, authority, and eroticism across a variety of media, including collage, performance, video, assemblage, and installation. 2022 will see exhibits featuring Nikita Gale, Nora Turato, Tiona Nekkia McClodden and Tau Lewis.
12. Anna Zorina
Founder and Director Anna Zorina launched her eponymous gallery in Chelsea in 2013, and moved to a larger space in 2019 (she happens to be next-door neighbors with the aforementioned Berry Campbell Gallery, so if you feel some powerful female energy emanating from that stretch of West 24th Street, now you know why).
The gallery is “devoted to the presentation of the powerful positive image,” and its roster of artists includes several who are women and/or of color. Including Kambui Olujimi and Alvin Armstrong.
13. Hannah Traore
The newest entrant on our list is the eponymous Lower East Side gallery opening in early 2022 led by Hannah Traore. The debut show, “Hues,” features artworks by artists of color working with color, including Arielle Bobb-Willis, Dan Lam, and Patricia Renee Thomas. Also on view is “Mi Casa Su Casa,” an installation of work by Moroccan artists curated by artist Hassan Hajjaj.
Traore, 26, is one of the small and powerful group of Black women in the contemporary art community in Manhattan. A project manager at the New Museum since 2020, she was also a contributor to “INWARD: Reflections on Interiority” at the International Center of Photography. The Toronto native was working as an installation coordinator at the newly-opened New York branch of Fotografiska when the COVID-19 pandemic forced the museum to temporarily close in early 2020. She lost her job as a result. And used that as the catalyst for opening a gallery that will, in her words, “focus on artists who have traditionally been left out of art spaces. Artists of color, indigenous artists, immigrant artists.”
13 influential art galleries owned by women
Those are the 13 female-owned art galleries that you must know if you are serious about supporting women in the business of visual arts. These powerful women – both majority culture and Black – who run an influential gallery in a major city have surely earned their place in the spotlight.
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Crediting her training as a cultural anthropologist at Wellesley College, Julie has immersed herself in various industries in the last 15 years including fashion design, event planning, and fitness. Julie lives in New York where she loves trying every ramen and dumpling restaurant with her husband and three children. She finds joy in bold prints, biographies of fierce women, kickboxing. And spending way too long finding the perfect polish color to express her mood.