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Revolving Doors

by Rachel Corbett
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In 1996, Christopher D’Amelio and Lucien Terras left their jobs at Paula Cooper Gallery to open their own space -- in a small storefront in desolate West Chelsea, and with just four artists. But over the next 15 years, the partnership matured into the respected D’Amelio Terras Gallery, which went on to represent Polly Apfelbaum, Nicole Cherubini and Robert Moskowitz, as well as Tony Feher, who was among those first four. Then, in December 2011, the dealers abruptly parted ways -- or so it seemed to outsiders -- and D’Amelio took over the West 22nd Street space while Terras went on to launch a private artist agency.

D’Amelio said the partnership dissolved amicably, following the economic crash of 2008. The two dealers found themselves reevaluating their business and the question arose, “Do we both want to do this? We came out with different desires about the gallery and for the art business. I thought that it’s still viable and that you need an exhibition space,” D’Amelio said.

Now, D'Amelio feels a bit like he did back when he was 30 and just starting out. “I have the same feeling of optimism, excitement and recommitment -- but a lot more knowledge,” he said. And the gallery’s getting off the ground with an ambitious agenda -- doubling its staff, renovating its interior, participating in fairs like Art Basel and the new Dallas Art Fair, and adding more artists to its roster.

D’Amelio has kept on about 11 artists from the old gallery, including Apfelbaum, Feher, Daniel Hesidence and Joanne Greenbaum, who has remained there since the start. “Chris understands my process, but also is a great editor and distiller of what he sees in the studio as its being made,” Greenbaum said. “He has an acute eye for choosing just the right thing to exhibit and also for how that artwork can be shown to its best advantage -- something the artist isn't always good at.” 

French artist Roland Flexner, who also showed with the old gallery, was closer to Terras, a friend of 35 years, but said sticking with D’Amelio wasn’t a difficult choice. “It was hard to see Lucien go, but the gallery remained the way it was, with most of the artists who are my friends, so I was perfectly happy to keep it this way.” Flexner has a solo show coming up at the gallery in October.

D’Amelio also plans to add anywhere from three to eight more artists over the next couple of years. Who might that be? The gallery's upcoming group exhibition includes several notable artists without New York representation. Curated by Chicago collectors Pavan Segal and Tracy Parker, the show, “Idea is the Object,” July 11-Aug. 24, 2012, brings together a young, international group of artists in whom D’Amelio has expressed a definite interest.

“They’re all artists I would want to work with anyway,” he said of his guest curators’ selections. He and the couple have been trading tips on artists and exhibitions for years, and they share similar sensibilities, he said. This new collaboration of experiential-based art brings together works by Israeli video artist Guy Ben-Ner, San Francisco sculptor Mitzi Pederson, Berlin-based video artist and photographer Candice Breitz, installation artist Amalia Pica and Sharon Hayes, whose upcoming Whitney Museum of American Art solo opens on June 21.

The exhibition itself is sort of a throwback to D’Amelio and Terras’ early efforts to disrupt Chelsea’s summer-show ennui. “In the old days you’d just pull out inventory and be half asleep in August,” D’Amelio said. Instead, he and Terras brought in young dealers to curate enterprising shows and convinced museums to lend them important historical works like Andy Warhol’s Silver Clouds (1966) and Yayoi Kusama’s A Snake (1974).

“Now if you look at the lineups, it’s like the summer group-show Olympics; everyone’s doing energetic, young, guest-curated shows. The openings are like block parties.” And, this year, though many galleries lock their doors for the entire month of August, D’Amelio is staying open through the 24th.

As for loose ends, D’Amelio said he’s following through on any commitments made to artists he didn’t sign to the new gallery, and that he’s still in contact with Terras to follow up with sales and museum presentations. After all, “15 years of partnership doesn’t happen by accident,” he said. “I think it’s good for both of us. For me, who wanted to maintain a gallery, to have this happen and feel suddenly that it’s really now up to me again, there’s nobody else to turn to, that got me really excited and energized.”

RACHEL CORBETT is the news editor of Artnet Magazine. She can be reached at Send Email