Few 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."
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.
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