Art Talk: What Happens When the Art Dealer Steals the Show

Museums usually mount exhibits featuring one artist. Or a period in history. Or an art movement. But for the first time in its history, the Museum of Modern Art is devoting an exhibition to an art dealer. 

Ileana Sonnabend ran a famous gallery in New York and Paris starting in the 1960s. And she was the subject of a painting by pop artist Andy Warhol.

WNYC’s art critic Deborah Solomon thinks it's about time. In this interview, she explains that art dealers tend to be demonized as ruthless salespeople, but that's a misconception. Solomon was bothered that Glenn Lowry, the director of MoMA, seemed a bit defensive when she asked him during the press preview whether this is a first show on an art dealer for the museum.

"I don't... you know, I don't have the full history. I don't know," said Lowry. "If you are asking the question, does it raise a concern for me to devote an exhibit to an art dealer, the answer is in these rooms. I think it makes a lot of sense, under the right circumstances.

Solomon then confirmed with the curator of the show, Ann Temkin, that this is indeed the first art dealer show for MoMA.

"There is nothing embarrassing about devoting a show to an art dealer," argued Solomon. "People are always so afraid to let commerce into the story of art. But it's essential."

What do you think? Should museums devote shows to art dealers? Why or why not? Leave your comment below.

Robert Rauschenberg's "Canyon," from 1959, was donated to MoMA by Sonnabend's family, and that triggered the museum to do a show on the art dealer. (Courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art)