NEW YORK—Kennedy Galleries, founded in 1874, will close its gallery space and operate as a private dealership, reports president Martha Fleischman.
Looking back at more than 30 years with the gallery—the last 17 spent as president—Fleischman told ARTnewsletter that the nature of the business has endured a dramatic shift. “Some of the obvious things . . . at the upper end, prices for the really important works are increasing exponentially,” which has fueled intense competition, she says.
“The works of art are no longer just walking into the gallery,” Fleischman explains. “The days of us having 15 Edward Hoppers to exhibit and sell are gone. Because of the nature of our business—dealing in high-quality, historic American material—we are facing a diminishing supply.” Fleischman further points out that “there is less and less material for a big operation. I had to make a decision about whether to explore other areas, such as photography, to continue to have the same level of material.”
Established in 1874 as H. Wunderlich & Co., on John Street in Lower Manhattan, the gallery has a long and prestigious history in handling American art. Edward G. Kennedy, for whom the gallery is named, was the first U.S. dealer to exhibit the etchings and paintings of James McNeill Whistler, and he compiled a 1910 catalogue raisonné of the artist’s work.
In the course of more than a century in business, the gallery has promoted work by artists the likes of Albert Bierstadt, William Merritt Chase, Frederic E. Church, John Singleton Copley, Thomas Eakins, Winslow Homer, Georgia O’Keeffe and Ben Shahn, among others.
Fleischman’s father, Lawrence A. Fleischman, joined the gallery as a partner with the late Rudolf G. Wunderlich in 1966, when he moved to New York from Detroit.
Under Lawrence Fleischman’s guidance, the gallery acted as an adviser to the Vatican Museum, Rome, in the early 1970s, helping to guide the institution in its selection and acquisition of modern art. Fleischman’s title was vice president of the Committee of Religion and Art of America, headed by Terence Cardinal Cooke.
Lawrence Fleischman was a founder of the Archives of American Art, now under the auspices of the Smithsonian Institution, and of The American Art Journal. He also served on the White House Committee for the Fine Arts during the administrations of Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson.
In 1966, the same year that Lawrence Fleischman joined the gallery, it moved to space on East 56th street; and in 1974, the year of its centennial, it moved into a newly constructed gallery on West 57th Street. The gallery’s present address, since 1994, is 730 Fifth Avenue.
Fleischman says she plans to open office space in midtown Manhattan some time in March and is looking forward to the opportunities and flexibility that running a private dealership afford. “We have a wonderful inventory, including modernist works and Hudson River School paintings,” she notes. “The gallery will still exist as an entity. The important thing is that even though it is going private, the gallery will continue to be a figure in the landscape of American art.”