“The reality is, sooner or later—but not so much later—it’s all going to be all over for me, and I accept that. I know it,” the dealer Richard Gray said in an interview with the Archives of American Art in 2007. “It doesn’t change one iota my ability to continue, every day, to be active and involved and committed, to gain from everything around me, what people are doing—artists, musicians, family.” He stuck with that approach up until the end of his career.
Gray died today at the age of 89. His eponymous gallery, which has spaces in Chicago and New York, confirmed his passing this evening. The gallery will continue to be operated by Gray’s son, Paul, along with partners Andrew Fabricant and Valerie Carberry.
Richard Gray Gallery opened in 1963 in Chicago, becoming one of the first spaces in the city to show work by some of the day’s most prominent artists, among them Jules Olitski, Morris Louis, Hans Hofmann, Louise Nevelson, and Jim Dine, as well as works by modernists like Fernand Léger, Pablo Picasso, Josef Albers, Milton Avery, and many others. Other artists to show at the gallery would include Andy Warhol, Philip Guston, Roy Lichtenstein, Agnes Martin, Mark Rothko, and Richard Diebenkorn. But Gray’s gallery didn’t only show contemporary art—he also had a passion for work by aboriginal and African artists, antiquities, and prints and drawings. In a statement issued this evening, the gallery said that Gray was “equally clear-eyed about his life and career.”
In 1996, under the aegis of Paul Gray’s direction, the gallery opened a space on Madison Avenue in New York. In 2017, Richard Gray Gallery opened a second Chicago space. Known as the Gray Warehouse, it occupies 5,000 square feet of space and is located in the city’s West End neighborhood.
Richard Gray Gallery now regularly shows work by some of the key artists of the past half-century, among them Alex Katz, Magdalena Abakanowicz, Theaster Gates, David Hockney, Dine, and Rashid Johnson.
In addition to his work for the gallery, Gray was involved with various art institutions, both ones specific to Chicago and the entire U.S. art world writ large. He was formerly president of the Art Dealers Association of America and the Chicago Art Dealers Association, and he was a trustee at the Art Institute of Chicago and the University of Chicago’s Smart Museum of Art, among other institutions. Gray was also vice chairman of the Friends of the Farnsworth House, where he helped oversee the preservation of its Mies van der Rohe–designed building.
In 2008, the Art Institute named a wing after Gray and his wife, Mary; the museum’s holdings include prints and drawings by Peter Paul Rubens, Eugène Delacroix, Henri Matisse, and others that previously belonged to the couple. (In an interview with ARTnews that year, Gray estimated that “about 85 percent” of his collection was prints and drawings.) Three years later, in 2011, the couple gave $5 million to the University of Chicago, which went on to form the Richard and Mary L. Gray Center for Arts and Inquiry, a forum that continues to promote art-historical research.