Murray Guy, a Chelsea art gallery that is closing after an eighteen-year run next month, offered an education in challenging art. The program skewed toward conceptually driven photography and film; the gallery was often filled with the sound of a 16mm projector whirring away. It served as a pipeline to the best museums: An My Lê’s photographs of staged military exercises and Moyra Davey’s intimate postmarked images went from Murray Guy’s walls to public collections. But faith in the vitality of ideas rather than a commitment to any particular medium is what held the project together. Memorable exhibitions in recent years featured Sergei Tcherepnin’s sound sculptures and Leidy Churchman’s myth-making paintings.
The commercial side of the art world is often cast as a problem, an embarrassing fact to be suppressed or wished away. But in reality these institutions sustain us all. This is true in a financial sense, of course, but Margaret Murray and Janice Guy showed how galleries could sustain an intellectual conversation as well. Not enough critical and historical attention is paid to how galleries construct networks of artists and foster distinctive aesthetic perspectives, though this final exhibition suggests that such attention might be yield important insights. The show, a veritable retrospective for Murray Guy, brings together a sprawling group of artists who have been represented by or shown work at the gallery, among them Fiona Banner, Alejandro Cesarco, Matthew Higgs, Ann Lislegaard, and Barbara Probst. Though the work is eclectic in form, the show feels coherent; entering it is like joining an ongoing conversation that is lively, engaged, and perhaps a little meandering and obscure. It is a fitting farewell for a New York institution that will be fondly remembered. —William S. Smith
Pictured: View of the group exhibition at Murray Guy, 2017.