Today, Independent Projects, which bills itself as “an art fair, an exhibition, and a curatorial platform,” debuts at the Dia Art Foundation’s old building in West Chelsea, stacked with 40 galleries, from heavyweights like Gagosian, David Zwirner, and Lisson, to closely watched younger outfits, like Brooklyn’s Journal Gallery and Los Angeles’s Hannah Hoffman. However, one name on that list is, in a way, surprising: Jay Gorney, the New York dealer who last October left Mitchell-Innes & Nash after eight years there.
“I don’t have a gallery,” as Gorney put it to me, excitedly, over lunch last week. “I don’t have a space.”
It’s the first time in his adult life he can say that. Gorney, a lifelong New Yorker (save for four years at Oberlin) worked at the Sidney Janis and Hamilton galleries after college, and then opened his own space, Jay Gorney Modern Art, in 1985 in the East Village, making his name showing artists like Haim Steinbach, Barbara Bloom, and Tim Rollins & K.O.S. He moved the gallery to SoHo in 1987, and in 2000 it became Gorney, Bravin + Lee, based in Chelsea. In 2005 he joined Mitchell-Innes & Nash, where he brought on board fast-emerging artists like Keltie Ferris, Virginia Overton, and Sarah Braman.
All of which is to say that he’s spent his career showing up to a gallery every day, meeting with collectors and artists, and hopping planes to art fairs. He’s zealous about the business of being a dealer, and so it still seems fairly astounding that he hasn’t already set up shop again.
“I don’t rule it out, but I haven’t looked at spaces—not now,” Gorney said. “What I’m doing is, I think, kind of unique because of the mix of advisory, working with collectors, organizing shows, and even working with Sarah Charlesworth’s estate,” for which he serves as a special advisor. (He showed Charlesworth, who died in 2013, for years.)
“It does make me think about alternatives to bricks and mortar,” he added.
For Independent Projects, he’s working with the artist Mathew Cerletty, who makes meticulous, bewitching paintings whose subjects—a ghost, a postal worker delivering a love letter, a hand gingerly holding eggs between its fingers—he typically renders in an uncanny style somewhere between photorealism, computer-imaging, and caricature.
“He uses realism in a very odd way,” Gorney said. “They’re extremely polished paintings of very slight or commonplace things. I think there’s something funny and very interesting about his work, especially right now because we’re not in the habit of looking at realism and thinking about realism, or even figuration.” One might think of them as potent, and very necessary, antidotes to the bland process-based abstraction that clogs so many galleries and art-fair booths today.
In January, Gorney will be at the Outsider Art Fair (which will also be at the Dia building, as it happens), with a show he’s curated with Anne Doran (who, full disclosure, is a senior editor at ARTnews). Titled “If I Had Possession Over Judgment Day,” it will feature Mark Lombardi, Emory Blagden, Melvin Way, Adolf Wölfli, and the Philadelphia Wireman—“five artists who are essentially talismanic, in that they make art that’s meant to ward off chaos, ill health, death, evil government, and drug cartels,” he said.
He’s also been organizing shows—like a stunner of unseen Ray Johnson works that closed at Karma in NoHo earlier this month. “I find Ray Johnson collages so satisfying, and really beautiful,” Gorney said. “I love how intricately referenced they are. They’re like a rebus—you have to puzzle out a Ray Johnson. I also love the kind of gay iconography. Anybody who makes collages that go from Anna May Wong to Shelley Duvall, I’m there.”
I asked Gorney how he defines his taste. He thought for a while. “I think I look for formal resolution,” he said. “I love things that succeed on their own terms.”