Barbara Gillman Offers a "Recession-Proof" Exhibit

Categories: Art Basel
Uncle Sam.jpgFew dealers in town can claim the longevity of Barbara Gillman, who began peddling art out of her home 40 years ago. "Back then I was selling to local banks and thought, 'Wow! This is easy.'"

The self-styled doyenne of the fledgling South Florida arts scene went on to open her own gallery in 1979 and quickly began inviting monster names to the Big Orange at a time when local collectors were a rare breed.

"I brought Andy Warhol here in 1980 and James Rosenquist in 1982," Gillman says. When she convinced Andres Serrano to exhibit at her space in 1990 she had trouble selling the artist's work at a time when he was embroiled in controversy.


Serrano, who had recently become famous for his Piss Christ, a photograph of a crucifix submerged in a glass of his own urine, had drawn the thunder of Senator Jesse Helm and other conservatives.

"I was selling his work for $3,500 and people didn't understand what they were seeing. Andres was very shy. At a dinner party for him at my home, he asked me for a needle, I gave one to him and created a small work for me on the spot with his own blood after pricking his finger. Andres was into fluids you know."

The past three decades Gillman has seen Miami's art fortunes rise and fall. She has been a nomadic presence having opened nine different spaces across town as the fickle scene shifted focus.

After her long march in the trenches, Gillman is closing her Design District space (4141 NE Second Avenue, #202, Miami) citing "astronomical rents and an over saturation of the market."

The Book Disappears for the Fast Student.jpg 

Gillman, who is recovering from a corneal transplant, is going out fighting. Her current show "Recession Proof" features works by Andy Warhol, Jim Dine, Christo, James Rosenquist, Robert Rauschenberg, Picasso, Jasper Johns, Claes Oldenburg, Bob Thiele and Judith Page and runs through December 13. 

The scrappy dealer says she wants to offer Baselites value for their bucks in an environment where fly-by-night operators are mucking up the market.

"I believe in competition, but after the fairs are gone a lot of these new spaces will fold in a few months and it will be dead as a doornail," Gillman observes. "People should buy stocks to make money not art. There is a sense here of instant gratification."

It's unsure whether Gillman will be able to shake the art bug and remain idle. "I might change my mind and come back, who knows. But you are never a prophet in your own town," she sighs.

-- Carlos Suarez De Jesus

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