The new coronavirus (Covid-19) reached New York, one of the central nodes of the art world, just as galleries were beginning to open their spring exhibitions. As part of ARTnews’s Hop from Home initiative on Instagram that highlights businesses in the art world as they adapt to the pandemic and the temporary closures and social distancing it brought, we spoke to Nick Olney, a director at Kasmin Gallery, which has four locations in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood. The conversation appears in two forms: a short video, below, and a longer podcast episode, at the end of the article.
In this conversation, Nick Olney talks about the life and career of Paul Kasmin, who died earlier this month after suffering from cancer. Kasmin was, according to Olney, “a singular figure in our world” with a “one-of-a kind and idiosyncratic vision” amid a “wonderful sense of enterprise and constant energy and agility.”
“He was always really interested in aesthetics,” Olney continued, “and how you show work to its best.” Kasmin was always someone who was “ahead of the game and really nimble and often looking for what might have been out of fashion for a bit that needs to be in fashion now.” To sum it up, Olney says Kasmin “was always looking for quality and interesting characters.”
When New York imposed a mandatory closure of non-essential businesses, Kasmin Gallery had just opened two shows. The first was “Valley of Gold: Southern California and the Phantasmagoric,” curated by Sonny Ruscha Granade and Harmony Murphy, which examines Man Ray’s role in bringing Surrealism to Southern California in the 1940s during the decade that he lived there. As the gallery points out, Man Ray’s role was supported “by the introduction of other key Surrealists such as René Magritte, Joseph Cornell, Yves Tanguy, Roberto Matta, and Max Ernst to California through William N. Copley’s eponymous Beverly Hills gallery in 1948–1949.”
Shortly thereafter, Copley abandoned art dealing to become a painter. His work is the subject of Kasmin’s other show, “William N. Copley, The New York Years.” Olney describes Copley’s journey from San Diego through World War II to Paris and eventually New York where he became a provocative postwar painter informed by decades as self-described Surrealist but painting in an altogether different proto-Pop style.
Although these shows are currently closed, Olney looks toward a time when they will re-open to the public again as well as the High Line where an outdoor exhibition of Barry Flanagan’s sculptures can be seen.
“We have this brand new space to move back into it,” Olney said. “So it’s going to be like Christmas morning when we when we get back in there […] and, you know, really run this machine that Paul created.”