Casey Kaplan

The dealer behind New York Gallery Week talks about the event, and how much the art world has changed in 15 years.

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When did you open your gallery, and what was the art world like at that time?
I started in 1995, in a tiny one-room space in an classic loft building in Soho on Broadway. Back then, the art world was much simpler, very different from what it is today. There wasn’t the type of action that there is now. The Internet was in its infancy. Most of my days were spent duping and labeling slides. The rhythm and pace of things was radically different—you’d spend a lot of time waiting to hear back from people. My gallery was born in a non-boom time. I was 24 at the time, and I was incredibly ignorant, but also ambitious. That was the only thing that got me through—the gallery was very much month-to-month. If we got a review and people came in and bought something, then I could carry on. A year later I moved to lower Greene Street across from David Zwirner, so my relationship with David began back then. In 2000, I moved to West 14th Street in the Meatpacking District, which was my first street-level gallery. The area was still really raw—people running around, jumping over pools of blood, and Izzie’s Bagels was still there. I moved to Chelsea in 2005.

What made you become a dealer?
I grew up in the city, and my dad would take me to museums instead of to baseball games. I went to galleries on the weekends with him and my granddad. I studied art history in high school and college, and did internships and things like that. I worked at Pace Gallery for two years before starting my own operation. At Pace, I was around extremely expensive and famous art—it was my graduate school, in a way. I got to meet Donald Judd and Dan Flavin during the last shows they did before they died. Those were great experiences; they also taught me that I really wanted to work with artists my own age, and that I didn’t want to have a gallery that only reflected New York. It was right around the time of the first Gramercy Art Fair at the Gramercy Hotel—I was really influenced by seeing all these European dealers. I saw Jonathan Monk for the first time at that point; he’s been with my gallery since 1996.

Were the art fairs really different at that time?
Radically different. People weren’t shipping giant crates because they didn’t have the money or clients to do it. You didn’t have massive public art in front of the fair. I also did the Chateau Marmont Art Fair in Los Angeles at that time. For that, you’d pack your stuff in a suitcase, spread it out in the room when you arrived, and sleep in the same bed where you had stuff laid out. Now, for next month’s Basel Art Fair in Switzerland, I have boats shipping crates—our overhead is massive before we even get started. It really is night and day.

What was the impetus behind New York Gallery Week? How did you came up with the idea?
It started a year ago. I was in Minneapolis at the Walker Art Center for a show called “The Quick and the Dead.” There was so much enthusiasm for that show—so many people had flown in for it. My flight got delayed leaving Minneapolis, and I was scanning the boards, looking at the destinations, and thinking I maybe should move somewhere else—New York seemed so cynical and blas in contrast to this great energy I had just witnessed. I called David Zwirner the next day, and said, “I don’t get it, I’ve been doing everything I’ve been doing for all these years, and now people aren’t coming to the gallery, the phone isn’t ringing. Maybe we as gallery dealers are doing something wrong. Let’s do something where people get a vision of us that’s accurate—that’s not all commercial. We’re all putting on these amazing shows.” I got together a group of colleagues—Friedrich Petzel, Anton Kern, Andrew Richards, who is the director at Marian Goodman, Jane Haight from Wallspace and Pascal Spengemann. We all sat around and talked and agreed to try to change the conversation. Galleries, as far as I’ve seen, have never organized themselves, they’ve always been organized by others in temporary situations that are always commercial. New York Gallery Week is trying to break down perceptions of privilege and exclusivity, and really reach out to the public.

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