Past Exhibition:Twenty Years (and Still Counting): Highlights from Two Decades of Exhibitions
Dates and Reception:Opening Reception: Friday, January 18, 2008 (A Gallery Night)
Show open: January 18 - March 1, 2008
Featuring Works By:Roger Brown, Chuck Close, Peter Dean, Lee Friedlander, Ann Gale, Alex Katz, Bruce Nauman, Ed Paschke, Jon Schueler, Aaron Siskind and Kiki Smith
About the Show:The first artwork I ever sold had a price tag of $8000. The work, a canvas about seven feet square, was bought from Peter Dean: Paintings, the inaugural exhibition opening Oct. 9, 1987 at the Dean Jensen Gallery. At the time, I was driving a three year old Ford Escort, stick shift, no air conditioning. Heady from my initial art sale, I immediately started daydreaming about how long it might be -- three months? six? -- before I’d be trading in my tin box for a new BMW, a roadster, Ringling Bros. red in color.
That first art sale, though, turned out to be a rara avis. Now and then in the early going, there were other sales, but in most cases, there were just two zeros, not three or more, after the first ordinal number. Another year or two went before I wrote up another sale even approaching $8000.
The old Escort took a place in that Valhalla for rusted iron long ago, and I no longer fantasize about a new Beemer. The car I drive today is nice enough. When I reflect on the last 20 years, what seems most surprising is that the gallery is still here--and in Milwaukee, of all places. My ride as a gallerist has sometimes been winding, and, especially in the early years, often washboard-bumpy, but it has never been less than exhilarating. I wouldn’t trade any one of my years in the art business for a lot full of new BMWs.
In its two decades, the gallery has presented an average of eight or nine exhibitions a year in Milwaukee, as well as occasional off-site shows in places as distant as Germany. That’s something approaching 200 productions. A space the size of the Metropolitan Museum might be needed to present a retrospective of all those shows, and, of course, the logistics of staging such an omnium gatherum would be impossible.
Through works by just 10 artists who were presented in one-person outings at the gallery, the exhibition 20 Years (and Still Counting) is intended to provide just a hint of some gallery highlights from times past.
Most of the artists represented in the exhibition are figures of international prominence. But over the years, the gallery has also presented the work of lesser known talents, a lot of them with Wisconsin ties. Many of these artists have provided the gallery with some of its more memorable shows, and a few of them now have reputations that extend well beyond their home places. One such artist is Ann Gale, a native of Baltimore and a Yale-trained painter. I first saw her remarkable, psyche-burrowing portraits and figure paintings in a group show at the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design where she was teaching. She was given a solo show here in 1993, her first in a commercial gallery. All the paintings sold, most of them even before the opening. In the subsequent five years, we presented two more Gale exhibition. These, too, were sellouts or near sellouts.
I take special pride, too, in Jon Schueler (1916-1992): A Homecoming, an exhibition mounted just a year ago. It was the first show anywhere in Wisconsin by the important Milwaukee-born abstract-expressionist whose museum and gallery credits list out longer than the arms of the Milwaukee Bucks’ Yi Jianlian.
An exhibition planned for 1991 by the great photographer Aaron Siskind seemed close not only to bringing about the gallery’s demise, but also mine. We were well along in hanging the Siskind work when on the Saturday morning before the opening, I opened the New York Times and, with a jolt to my heart that I’ll never forget, spotted a two-columns-long obituary. Its subject was Aaron Siskind. Not another hour passed before there was a phone call from a lawyer representing the photographer’s estate. The show couldn’t go on, he insisted. The work had to be returned immediately. I was gasping when the call ended, but I immediately got on the phone with my banker. I arranged a loan to buy all 30 of the photographs outright. The Siskind exhibition went on as announced.
Three of the artists celebrated in 20 Years (and Counting) have died since their exhibitions here, all of them way too young: Peter Dean, just 54; Roger Brown, 56; and Ed Paschke, 65.
This exhibition isn’t intended as the gallery’s valedictory--as the title says, we’re “still counting”--but this seems an appropriate occasion to express gratitude to the many who have been in important getting the gallery to its 20th birthday.
Great thanks first to those collectors, individual, institutional and corporate, who visited the gallery, fell in love with things, and took them home, leaving behind checks, some of which even had more than two zeros after the first ordinal number. Several of these patrons generously loaned artworks to this show so they are due second thanks.
My thanks, too, to my wife, Rosemary. Before starting the gallery, I was a newspaper arts and feature writer. My pay was anything but kingly, but there was a paycheck every two weeks. Rosemary not only allowed me to pursue my pie-in-the-sky dream of opening a gallery, but, maybe at a risk of losing our house, savings, and even the wedding rings, encouraged me to move full speed ahead.
Finally, I acknowledge a great debt to John Sobczak, who has been with the gallery through thick and a lot of thin almost from its beginning. As the space’s co-director, he can be credited for many of the Dean Jensen Gallery’s more glorious moments, including some of the hippest, coolest and most engaging exhibitions ever presented in the city.
-- Dean Jensen