With so many annual fundraising galas here in New York, all of them with distinguished honorees to speak at the end to help drum up funds for various arts organizations, you would think that someone would have gotten around to honoring Marian Goodman, the 88-year-old pioneering gallerist who represents some of the world’s more celebrated artists, by now. But no one ever has, apparently, which made her big speech while accepting the Leo Award at the annual benefit Independent Curators International last night all the more exciting.
Held at Cedar Lake—the West Chelsea event space that has had previous lives as a garage, Annie Leibovitz’s studio, and the home of the Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet Company—the event drew curators the world over as well as a slew of artists who came to fête Goodman, including Rashid Johnson, who had just flown back from Cleveland, where he watched his beloved Chicago Cubs drop game one of the World Series Monday night. (He missed last night’s game to attend the gala, but the Cubs won, and he’ll be going to games three, four, and five in Chicago. Recall the time he threw out the opening pitch at Wrigley Field in 2012.)
Much of Goodman’s artist roster hails from around the world and couldn’t fly in for the event, but Julie Merehtu was there, and Goodman was seated directly next to Maurizio Cattelan, who, when approached for a quote while popping some fancy nuts in his mouth, managed to slip away into the party, thus avoiding talking about Goodman and, inevitably, the famous golden toilet that landed on the cover of the New York Post earlier this fall.
Eventually we got to the speeches, and after Pérez Art Museum Miami’s director, Franklin Sirmans, presented the Independent Vision Curatorial Award to Miguel A. Lopez, the chief curator of TEOR/éTica in San Jose, Costa Rica, it was time for Goodman to be honored, it was time to present the Leo. The award—which is a work designed by Tony Matelli—was presented to Goodman by no less of an eminence than Aggie Gund, grand dame of New York art philanthropy. (Unlike Goodman, Gund is, of course, a regular on the gallery circuit, as an attendee and honoree—when she received an award from the Foundation for Art and Preservation in Embassies in 2011, the person doing the introduction was Hillary Clinton.)
“I treat her gallery the way I treat a museum,” Gund said to the crowd. “I go to get educated, to see what she sees, to test ideas. She invites all of us to see at our best.”
Gund also quoted some praise she had collected from artists such as Gerhard Richter and Jeff Wall, and addressed Goodman’s vertically challenged figure (she’s not quite five feet tall) and general shyness, which stands out in the world of brash world-conquering art dealers.
“Marian Goodman is as powerful as a small person can be,” Gund said. “She’s described almost always as shy or soft spoken. She whispers and everyone leans in to listen. She may be little but she’s larger than life.”
When Goodman came up, she expressed genuine shock that she would be the one to be awarded such an honor, saying that when approached by Peter Schjeldahl, who wanted to profile her in the New Yorker, she had no idea why he would want to write about her, and not one of her artists like he usually does. (He did write the profile—“Goodman may be the most respected contemporary dealer in New York, for her taste, standards, and loyalty to her artists” is a sentence in the first paragraph.)
Then she went into some history about her many decades on the scene in New York, when she opened her gallery in the mid-’60s.
“I think I can safely say back then I was the art world’s queen of travel, subway travels,” she said on stage. “We’d take it from the east 70s, where the gallery was, and I would go down to the lower West Side in pursuit of the few specialists in the print and manufacturing world who could capably work with artists. One of my first projects was with Larry Rivers, who had a more convenient means of transportation. I used to ride around the city with him to various shops on the back of his motorcycle. It gave me a very good education, one how not to get killed.”
“The art world was so small back then,” she added with a sigh.
And she recalled the opening of her gallery, which was not exactly a success.
“The night we opened there was a devastating electrical shutdown, a complete blackout, it was just dark outside,” she said. “And I lost my son somewhere in the underground, so I stayed home waiting for him rather than attend the opening. And so many people did attend, and they got so drunk, that when I did finally show up to the gallery, I found two of them sleeping there.”
Goodman was so overwhelmed by the whole award affair that, a few minutes after accepting the award, she went back up on stage and tried to argue that Gund deserved it more than her. Gund, standing next to her, politely declined.
All in all, a pretty great gala speech. And they raised $452,000! When I sat down next to Goodman after dinner to ask how she thought the night went, all she managed to say was “Everything is wonderful, everything is so, so wonderful.”