When late art dealer Richard Gray opened his eponymous gallery in River North in 1963, he acquired works by Willem de Kooning, Arshile Gorky and Fernand Léger and set out to establish himself and the brand as a global leader in the industry. Now with locations on the Mag Mile and in West Town as well as New York City, the gallery celebrates its 60th anniversary in January—a milestone marked by decades of growth and a rise to becoming an internationally renowned name in the art world.
Principals Valerie Carberry and Paul Gray
Here, we check in with principals Paul Gray and Valerie Carberry to talk all things art and the gallery’s forthcoming anniversary exhibit, GRAY at 60: On Paper, which debuts at the West Town space before traveling to New York. Jan. 26-March 11, 2044 W. Carroll Ave.; 875 N. Michigan Ave., Ste. 3800
How has the gallery evolved since its opening in 1963?
PG: In its first decades, the gallery was very much a kind of evolving ‘passion play.’ Its narrative arc traced the unfolding of its founder’s developing connoisseurship, with meaningful forays into European modern art, midcentury American abstraction, contemporary movements such as pop art, and even some ancient, Mesoamerican and African tribal art. What emerged by the 1980s was a dual focus on historical, principally European, modern masters and leading artists of the major postwar American movements.
In addition to that, and because of some especially close relationships, our reputation for integrity allowed us to build, and we became instrumental in helping to form a number of significant private collections. By the 1990s, contemporary artist representation and a focus on their career development began to become more central and as Valerie and I, together with the other directors, shape the gallery today. That strongly remains our focus: being a strong platform for artists whose work we care deeply about to pursue their dreams.
Theaster Gates, “Black Painting Study: Roofing Binary, No Content” (2018, roofing paper and tar), 78 inches by 36 inches, will be featured in GRAY at 60.
How does the Chicago market differ from New York?
PG: Since any and all ambitious art galleries, no matter where they are based, do business with artists, collectors and institutions around the country and the globe, I think the more interesting question is, how does being based in places outside of New York make a gallery different from those based in New York? On the one hand, since a majority of collector interactions no longer take place in one’s home gallery, but at art fairs by phone, digitally through email or online, where one is based isn’t as limiting as it used to be.
On the other hand, there are competitive advantages to being based at a crossroads as important as New York, but it is also far more expensive and distracting to distinguish oneself there than it is elsewhere. We thrive on a combination by having significant presence in both cities, allowing us to have the advantage of being able to attract artists to represent and exhibit in Chicago we might not be able to in New York, show them there on a grand scale, and meet and interact with art world actors at our gallery there whom we might not often see in Chicago.
Evelyn Statsinger, “Final Burial of a Very Young Dead One” (1949, pen, India ink and crayon on paper mounted on canvas), 30 ⅜ inches by 57 inches, featured in GRAY at 60.
What has been your proudest moment during your time as a principal at GRAY?
VC: The opening of our grand warehouse space on the West Side of Chicago in 2017 will remain one of my proudest career moments. The exhibition space is of a scale and design that offers the artists with whom we work a place to dream big—to incubate ideas, to realize ambitious projects and installations. Every exhibition we produce is radically different from the one prior, and it gives me no small thrill to see the energy and creativity of artists come to life and physical form in the space.
How were the artists featured in GRAY at 60 selected?
VC: The artists featured in GRAY at 60 represent who we are now. Our long history of presenting major artists of the 20th century is also an ever-renewing history of art in our own time. For instance, when we showed de Kooning, he was a contemporary artist. The anniversary exhibition expresses our enthusiasm for supporting artists’ careers over time and for always building for the future.
McArthur Binion, “Modern:Ancient:Brown” (1985-86, oil paint stick and paper on paper), 29 inches by 25 inches, featured in GRAY at 60.
What are Chicago collectors looking for now?
VC: Chicago collectors are fully engaged and active, and support our city’s art institutions and galleries with great commitment. Collecting interests range widely, but if there is one common thread, it is the spirit of individuality I see when I visit collectors in their homes. Chicago collectors are not followers.
What can we expect from GRAY in 2023?
VC: I can think of no better expression of GRAY in 2023 than the combination of marking our anniversary while debuting several exciting projects. We will open a show of new paintings by McArthur Binion, and it is a momentous year for Torkwase Dyson, who joined the gallery in 2020 and has upcoming installations at the St. Louis Triennial, Desert X in Coachella Valley and the Liverpool Triennial in the U.K.
Photography by: FROM TOP: PHOTO BY WESTON WELLS/COURTESY OF GRAY CHICAGO/NEW YORK; PHOTO © THEASTER GATES STUDIO/COURTESY OF GRAY CHICAGO/NEW YORK; PHOTO © THE STANLEY AND EVELYN STATSINGER COHEN FOUNDATION/COURTESY OF GRAY CHICAGO/NEW YORK; PHOTO © MODERN ANCIENT BROWN/COURTESY OF GRAY CHICAGO/NEW YORK