Retrospective

From the Archives: 13 Key Shows in Mary Boone Gallery’s History

Installation view of “Ai Weiwei,” 2012, at Mary Boone Gallery, New York.

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Last month, ARTnews reported that Mary Boone Gallery, one of New York’s most celebrated art spaces, will shutter, following its eponymous founder’s sentencing to 30 months in prison for falsifying her tax returns. Looking back on the gallery’s decorated 42-year history, we’ve collected a list of some of Mary Boone Gallery’s most important shows, along with excerpts from reviews by ARTnews critics of the exhibitions. Reflections on shows by Ross Bleckner, Barbara Kruger, David Salle, and many more follow below.

David Salle
March 6, 1982–March 31, 1982

The show: Having been introduced to Mary Boone by artist Ross Bleckner, David Salle was given his first solo show at the gallery in 1981. A second solo exhibition—held alongside another one at Leo Castelli Gallery—followed the next year. On view were some of his signature paintings, crafted by meshing together appropriated imagery from mass media and art history, which Salle placed on equal footing.

What ARTnews said: “Rather than make icons out of these bits and pieces, appropriated from art’s recent past and from culture more broadly, Salle equalizes them through a deliberately non-committal treatment. His images, dispersed without regard for a coherent sense of space or scale, discourage narrative interpretation. Although he is generous with visual information, Salle’s disjointed imagery adds up to little more than deep-seated skepticism about the assignation and value of meanings in contemporary culture, particularly as they formulated in art. That he chooses to express this loss of faith in such visually seductive terms, however, undermines his message of disavowal.” —Deborah C. Phillips

Mary Boone.

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Francesco Clemente
April 2, 1983–April 30, 1983

The show: The first Francesco Clemente outing at Mary Boone Gallery was complemented by another solo show by the artist that ran simultaneously in New York at Sperone Westwater. At Boone, the artist, who was then based in Italy and India, debuted new paintings, which offered surrealist narratives shot through with eroticism. It was Clemente’s first New York solo show, and it effectively launched him to stardom in the U.S.

What ARTnews said: “At Mary Boone, a series of large panels, each measuring 78 by 93 inches, was located high up on two long facing walls. While intended to facilitate viewing, the installation also brought out the monumental qualities in these paintings. The featured motif in the paintings, which are untitled, is an iconic face, varying in type from masklike to painfully human. Among the unforgettable images were one of a man in which every orifice is filled with another face apparently trying to escape, and one of a woman from whose tears two other figures are created. The strong emotional impact of these paintings is enhanced by their intense colors and textured surfaces, elements that were equally important in two standing screens in the show.” —Ronny Cohen

Jean-Michel Basquiat
May 5, 1984–May 26, 1984

The show: Jean-Michel Basquiat’s first exhibition with Mary Boone is one of the most storied exhibitions in the gallery’s history. Having already shown with Gagosian Gallery, Annina Nosei Gallery, Galerie Bruno Bischofberger, and Marlborough Gallery, Basquiat had already become well-known, and his Boone show only helped build excitement around his career. Works on view there have ended up in notable collections—Deaf (1984), for example, is now held by the Broad museum in Los Angeles.

What ARTnews said: “Basquiat insists on imposing his vocabulary of signs and squiggles, but then he makes them either very easy to understand or superfluous. His paintings are offhand, disorderly and random, mixing rough and smooth, drawn and barely drawn, to create an impression of facility and ease. The painter clearly tries not try, going slack instead of slick. Ultimately, though, the bright surface supplants an internal glow, toys replace people, a big smile substitutes for happiness.” —Eric Jay

Parker Posey (foreground) playing Mary Boone in the 1996 film Basquiat.

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Sigmar Polke
January 5, 1985–January 26, 1985

The show: The first Sigmar Polke show at Mary Boone featured nine large canvases, each of them blending together kitschy imagery and abstractions. Critics at the time drew connections between then-emerging artists on Boone’s roster and Polke, who had already become famous as one of the foremost Pop artists hailing from Europe.

What ARTnews said: “Immediately recognizable as a significant influence on such artists as David Salle and Julian Schnabel, Polke’s work incorporates kitschy fabrics as painting grounds, gestures and techniques derived from Abstract Expressionism and banal, ‘styleless’ line drawings of media-generated imagery. . . . Polke’s paintings give rise to issues central to the postmodernist dilemma: how to fulfill high art’s demand for a unique vision of the world without relying on style, the traditional vehicle for individual expression; and how to articulate contemporary experience when the formal language of modernism seems inadequate and the figurative styles of the past smack of cultural regression.” —Nancy Grimes

Eric Fischl
March 1, 1986–March 29, 1986

The show: Alongside a Whitney Museum solo show featuring nearly 30 canvases, Eric Fischl debuted new paintings at Boone in 1986. The works included in this show tackled psychosexual tensions underlying quaint suburban scenes, in manners that recall the brushy portraits of Édouard Manet.

What ARTnews said: “These concurrent shows offered an opportunity to assess Fischl’s achievement as debunker of the American dream. They clearly indicated that he is an artist of major stature and that he has begun to take his stature very seriously. In this latter regard, the new work at Mary Boone suggests a change of direction. Only one of the four paintings (Saigon, Minnesota, which seems, in fact, to be located in California) contains the familiar sun-drenched backyard inhabited by nude suburbanites at play. The other three paintings are more involved with art history than contemporary life, as if Fischl now feels the need to match himself against the great masters.” —Eleanor Heartney

Sherrie Levine
September 12, 1987–October 10, 1987

The show: Having made Clemente, Salle, Basquiat, and other male painters into art-market phenoms, Boone added her first two female artists to her gallery’s roster in the mid-’80s—Sherrie Levine and Barbara Kruger. Levine, who had been known at the time mainly for appropriating works by male modernists as a way of questioning authorship, had her first show at the gallery in 1987. At that show, she debuted new paintings and photographs that stripped Russian Constructivist of the originality with which it had once been imbued.

What ARTnews said: “In the untitled ‘Lead Checks’ series, for example, the exalted grid and the machine-tooled object of Minimalism stage a comeback as arty checkerboards. Like the patented formal moves of the Minimalists, however, Levine’s abstract paintings, by dint of repetition and formal poverty, function as trademarks for the artist rather than as fully autonomous works. In a way, the reduction of art to signature makes perfect sense for an artist who began her career signing the image of others.” —Nancy Grimes

Installation view of “Barbara Kruger 1978,” 2018, at Mary Boone Gallery, New York.

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Barbara Kruger
January 7, 1989–January 28, 1989

The show: Kruger had her first show at the gallery in 1987, just months before Levine. Her second outing featured some of Kruger’s most famous works, which combined slickly shot imagery related to desire, along with sans-serif text that pointed toward something darker. They appeared to be advertisements for a nonexistent product, and some critics took issue with what they perceived as the glibness of the works on view. Today, however, many of these pieces have been canonized.

What ARTnews said: “Apparently it is enough to wave vaguely in the direction of feminist and left-wing political theory and hope the viewer has read the correct books. In the past, Kruger’s sly criticisms were often rigorous and insightful. Now, because they promise a profundity they never deliver, the works come even closer to the advertisements they mimic.” —Nancy Grimes

Dan Flavin
March 2, 1991–March 31, 1991

The show: Mary Boone Gallery hosted a few shows of art that wasn’t contemporary—or not immediately contemporary, at least—and one such exhibition was this presentation of eight works from Dan Flavin’s “ ‘monument’ to V. Tatlin” series (1967–70). Composed of fluorescent lighting tubes, the works pay homage to Russian Constructivism, in the process offering a statement about the relationship between art and industry. Critics of the era noted the museum-like quality of the exhibition.

What ARTnews said: “ ‘Coolness’ is the word Flavin himself has used to describe the Tatlin series, yet by selecting such similar work for this exhibition he turned coolness into something as formal as a funeral. Then again, perhaps that was his intention. Tatlin’s original monument was a paean to the Third International at the start of the great Russian experiment, before the excesses of Stalin. Today, however, in the face of the collapse of the Soviet Union’s economic and political systems, Flavin’s project becomes as much a eulogy as a homage.” —Frances DeVuono

Tim Rollins (left) and Mary Boone (right) at a party for Rollins’s exhibition at Mary Boone Gallery in New York in 1995.

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Tim Rollins + K.O.S.
May 2, 1992–June 27, 1992

The show: By the time Tim Rollins + K.O.S., a collective of students from New York’s South Bronx neighborhood who produced art with Rollins, had their first show with Mary Boone Gallery in 1992, they had become famous for producing paintings that reinterpret literary classics. Their Boone show focused on Jules Verne’s From the Earth to the Moon and the tale of Pinocchio, the latter of which was represented via an installation featuring 50 logs strewn around the gallery.

What ARTnews said: “Suddenly, the classic children’s story [of Pinocchio] takes on new dimensions. The wood and the doll’s eyes allude to the puppet who wished to be a real boy. But there is much more: a sense of being scared, unformed, lost, or hiding, as well as a feeling of adventure and discovery. Tim Rollins + K.O.S. have created an artwork that transcends its literary source to say something about the nature of youth and the experience of going through life—in a way that is surprising and moving, and quite funny.” —Ruth Bass

Ross Bleckner
November 11, 1998–December 19, 1998

The show: Ross Bleckner has been one of the mainstays at Boone’s gallery, having had some 16 solo shows there. One of the first artists to show with the dealer, Bleckner became known during the ’80s for his abstract paintings, which some critics later in the decade noted shared similarities with images of cells under the stress of AIDS. His 1998 show at the gallery, which coincided with another exhibition of his at Lehmann Maupin Gallery in New York, was viewed as a departure from this style.

What ARTnews said: “While in earlier work his symbolism frequently dealt with issues surrounding death and dying and has been associated with the AIDS epidemic, his subject matter seemed to hint at an afterlife. Now his concerns are literal, visceral: disease under a microscope. Some of the paintings at Boone were clusters of sickly grayish green cells festering with red, raspberry-like malignancies. Others resembled strands of DNA, chromosomes, floating molecules, and microorganisms.” —Carol Diehl

Marc Quinn
January 10, 2004–February 28, 2004

The show: Having risen to fame as a member of the Young British Artists group during the 1990s, Marc Quinn had his first show at Mary Boone Gallery in 2004. Included were ten marble sculptures that revised Neoclassical traditions for contemporary times, depicting such subjects as the Olympic swimmer Peter Hull through centuries-old means.

What ARTnews said: “The sculptures had a sterile beauty, a cold seductiveness. And the craftmanship was impeccable. It was done, after all, by master artisans, based on Quinn’s casts of the models. But the show’s conceptual underpinnings—works of such perfection made from models whose bodies are imperfect—came off as overly clever and even preachy.” —Sarah Douglas

Installation view of “Marc Quinn,” 2004, at Mary Boone Gallery, New York.

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James Lee Byars
April 28, 2006–June, 24, 2006 (Chelsea); May 18, 2006–June 24, 2006 (Uptown)

The show: In 2006, both of Boone’s galleries turned over their space to work by the late artist James Lee Byars, whose work was also being featured simultaneously in New York at Perry Rubenstein and Michael Werner. On display were a number of Byars’s sculptures, which evoked mystical phenomena through minimalist forms.

What ARTnews said: “At Mary Boone uptown, The Soft Sphere (1989), a simple Thassos marble orb, was fit for a temple. Byars seized on ritual and ceremony as ordering principles in an increasingly secular world. But in his yearning for both luxury and simplicity he seems in line with today’s baby boomers: eager to embrace the virtues of plainness gleaned from an earlier time but firmly attached to the finery afforded by modernization.” —Carly Berwick

Ai Weiwei
January 7, 2012–February 4, 2012

The show: Sunflower Seeds, one of Ai Weiwei’s most famous pieces, made its New York premiere at this exhibition. (It had debuted at Tate Modern in London, where it was shown in the museum’s cavernous Turbine Hall.) At Mary Boone Gallery, Ai showed one million sunflower seeds—each of them hand painted by an artisan in the Chinese city of Jingdezhen, which is known for producing porcelain—that were neatly arranged into a squarish form on the space’s floor.

What ARTnews said:Sunflower Seeds, at Mary Boone, was the exciting reprise of a much larger work presented last year at Tate Modern. There, 150 tons of ceramic kernels filled the museum’s massive Turbine Hall. It was an amazing meditation on the power of the individual versus mass society: Each seed was created by a master artisan in China. Yet together, they combined into a vast gray landscape. In New York, this smaller version retained the work’s magnetic power. Five tons of seeds, installed in a 16-by-32-foot rectangle in the center of the gallery, allowed visitors to circumnavigate and contemplate it. While a bit reminiscent of Felix Gonzalez-Torres’s candy spills, Ai Weiwei’s piece requires audiences to resist the temptation to touch or take the seeds.” —Barbara Pollack

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