Mary Boone

By
Photography JOSH OLINS

Published October 22, 2014

I went into life with no Plan B. I wanted to have a gallery, I wanted to have an effect on culture. Mary Boone

In the past year in the New York area, four superstar artists have had major shows in local institutions—Ai Weiwei at the Brooklyn Museum, Sigmar Polke at MoMA, Jeff Koons at the Whitney, and Julian Schnabel at the Brant Foundation. The one commonality that links these artists is the fact that, at one time or another, all of them have been represented by Mary Boone. (Expand the territory to include Barbara Kruger’s current show at the Hirshhorn in Washington, D.C., and that’s five.) While there are plenty of billion-dollar players today competing for the mantle of the premiere New York gallerist, for many, that distinction goes to the 62-year-old Boone. She has, all at once, revolutionized the art world, weathered it, challenged it, survived it, given new life to it, and in recent years, managed to offer a kind of refuge from its increasingly hysterical, spectacle-driven showmanship. Where others are in it for the excitement of the minute, Boone is in it for life.

Boone, an Erie, Pennsylvania, native who moved to New York at the age of 19 and immediately began working in the arts, famously opened her first gallery in 1977 in a tiny ground-floor space at 420 West Broadway in SoHo—an address that also happened to be home to art-dealing master Leo Castelli. Four years later, she opened a larger, finished space across the street at 417. By then, Boone had become the bellwether to a new generation of artists and her gallery a byword for risky, bold, painterly practices. Boone had effectively turned the page on the 1970s and her presiding stable of artists was a brash, unruly yet sophisticated and hyperintelligent group that came to represent the spirit and bohemia of the early ’80s. They ran the gamut, from young New York discoveries to European stars. Artists who showed in Boone’s SoHo headquarters included Jean-Michel Basquiat, David Salle, Brice Marden, Eric Fischl, Francesco Clemente, and Anselm Kiefer. While Boone got plenty of flack for supporting what seemed to some to be a pack of macho male painters let loose on the seemingly idyllic artist game preserve of SoHo, in hindsight it seems clear that Boone was probably getting hit with the same ire and trepidation anyone receives who is mixing up the game and clearing the way for a new set of aesthetics. Heroic, back then, was used as a pejorative; today, in art, it would be hard to use the word at all.

Part of Boone’s remarkable lasting power has to do with her exquisite instincts when it comes to what she sees and senses and likes. The inclusion of such talents as Kruger, Sherrie Levine, and Roni Horn by the late ’80s in her stable isn’t due to a politically correct rebalancing but a genuine connection with the power and scope of their work. But Boone is also keenly fluent in history-particularly in the modernist masters and their relationships with their dealers and collectors. Family is an important word to the gallerist. I think she means it in that old New York sense as used by Midwestern transplants who come to the city and create proxy families out of a diverse network of friends. She thinks of her artists and colleagues as family members—relationships fostered and preserved over an astonishingly long period of time, through popularity and drought, through experimentation and reassessment, through fledgling shows and late-career retrospectives. Many of those relationships have endured from her first days through the ’90s, when she moved uptown to Fifth Avenue and 57th Street, the ’00s, when she opened her expansive, sky-lit space on 24th Street in the heart of Chelsea, and up until today. (And let’s not forget that other family of which Boone is now a key matriarch: the family of female gallerists who have arguably proven shrewder, sounder, more supportive, and longer lasting than their male counterparts.)

In the last decade, Boone has kept careful control of her gallery, mixing stars like Marc Quinn and Will Cotton with surprising voices from all over the globe. Over the years her space has been home to work and projects by younger artists such as Tom Sachs, Aleksandra Mir, KAWS, and Terence Koh, and in early 2015, Boone is bringing on New York curator Piper Marshall to continue the youthful experimentations. When it came time to talk, however, someone who knew her from the early days was needed to bring out all sides of her career. Painter Eric Fischl arrived last March in Boone’s uptown gallery to sit in the back office and ask his longtime friend how she sees the world she’s inhabited for almost 40 years. —Christopher Bollen

MARY BOONE: Did you see the David Geffen bio last night on American Masters?

ERIC FISCHL: Oh, it was fantastic.

BOONE: I was sitting on the couch with my dog watching it, and I came across it. David Geffen was even narrating. It occurred to me that there is such a strong parallel between the music world and the art world. Geffen started Asylum Records in the early ’70s, when you could just go up and down the Sunset Strip and there were so many great artists performing—the Byrds, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Crosby, Stills & Nash, the Band, the Eagles. You could just go up to them and say, “I wanna be your rep,” and put all these extraordinary people together. What came across for me is how nurturing Geffen was during his days at Asylum. He did everything for his artists.

FISCHL: It reminded me of you because you set up a gallery system in New York that was very nurturing. Maybe I should first say how we met. I used to build crates at Hague Art Deliveries, which was in the 420 building on West Broadway. And you would come in through the back entrance, through the art-crating room, to pick up your mail before going into your little gallery, which was about the size of this office.

BOONE: Or even smaller.

FISCHL: I’d seen you a couple times. But we never really talked. I was just assembling crates. You were very ritualized in your ways, very punctual. You’d go in, open the gallery, and go out to get a cup of coffee and the mail. But then you came in one day holding one of your shoes.

BOONE: [laughs] The heel had broken!

FISCHL: But you were still walking so gracefully like you still had on two high heels. You had a reputation for having a lot of shoes back then, so I figured you had another pair to change into in your office. But then you came out to get your coffee, on schedule, still holding the heel. [laughs] Then you came back with your coffee and the heel in your hand. You just went on with your ritual without letting it interrupt you. I mean, you have to fall in love with that person. At that moment it was like, “Mary Boone just blew my mind.”

BOONE: But you didn’t tell the end of the story. I fixed the shoe. The whole reason I was back there was that Frits [de Knegt, co-owner of Hague Art Deliveries] let me use his drill press. I drilled a hole into the heel, put a screw in there, and put the heel back on.

FISCHL: Tell me this, why did you not have another pair of shoes in the bottom drawer of your filing cabinet?

BOONE: I probably did, but I liked those shoes! And I’d rather fix something than throw it out. I’m not a wasteful person.

FISCHL: This must have been 1981?

BOONE: No, honey. That was, like, 1979. I was in the 420 building from ’77 to ’81, and then I moved across the street. Now I’m going to tell my side of how we met. I was first aware of Eric Fischl when David Salle brought me to your studio in about 1979. And the work didn’t click for me at all. I just didn’t get it. A lot of times I don’t really believe in the first glance—I believe in the residual effect. But then I found that I kept thinking about the work. I saw it again in a group show at Sidney Janis in 1982.

FISCHL: The beach paintings. The ones of St.-Tropez.

BOONE: Yes, I fell upon this kind of unexpected thing and I loved it. When I want to possess something, that’s the real visceral indication that I want to work with an artist. So I went outside—they still had pay phones in those days—and called David and said, “Okay, now I’m ready to go back to your friend Eric Fischl’s studio!” And David said, “Well, you’ll have to get Ross [Bleckner] to take you, because Eric and I aren’t speaking.” [laughs] So I got Ross to take me.

FISCHL: My studio was on Reade Street in Tribeca.

BOONE: I went to the studio, and April [artist April Gornik, Fischl’s then-girlfriend and current wife] made dinner. I loved the paintings and wanted to show everything you had in the studio. And you know that’s what I mean about it being like David Geffen’s documentary. There was just so much talent around. You had to be blind not to see it.

FISCHL: After you left Bykert Gallery, you first opened your gallery in ’77 with a group of artists who were a little older than you, weren’t they? And they had a very different sensibility than what your gallery became known for in the early ’80s. Well, Ross and Julian [Schnabel] were there from the start.

BOONE: It consolidated very quickly: Julian, Ross, Alan Uglow, Gary Stephan, Matt Mullican, and Troy Brauntuch. There were a lot of artists who didn’t catch on as quickly as the core group, but have wonderful lasting careers and are making such strong work today. I think it’s important to say that what was very pure about that time was there was no level of expectation. Artists didn’t expect to live off their work. That’s what’s very different from now. Artists kind of came into this thinking, “I’ll teach, I’ll make some art, maybe by the time I’m 50 or 60, I’ll have a big show …” They had as their example the pop artists, most of whom taught and by the time they were 50 or 60 were able to live off their work.

FISCHL: The career took a long time back then. It was a longer stand.

BOONE: And the ’70s artists didn’t really have commercial success.

FISCHL: One of the reasons I wanted to show with you was that you were a nexus for my generation of artists who were beginning to bend the dialogue from what was going on in the ’60s and ’70s. You were beginning to turn it into something else, which I felt more connected to. One was a deep belief generationally that art could change society, that it could change culture. So it had an idealism to it, an idealism that uses a strategy that wasn’t idealistic. It was actually the opposite in the way it tried to break down expectations and challenge the notion of value and quality. Irony and absurdity was very much a part of it. The artists showing with you were the best examples of that kind of work. And I wanted to be seen and taken seriously in that context. Your gallery had a glow about it of something really new and fresh. It felt like something different was starting to happen.

BOONE: The gallery was really like a family. But when I started, I had the hopefulness that any 25-year-old does.

FISCHL: I would also say that you had the ambition to succeed.

BOONE: Oh, yeah. I went into life with no Plan B. I wanted to have a gallery, I wanted to have an effect on culture. I never really went into this thinking about making money. That still isn’t why I do it. I don’t really relate to younger dealers who calibrate their success by how much money they sell something for. You know, it takes much more work to sell something that isn’t being fought over with millions of dollars. To me, it was about invention, about discovering young artists, about discovering new talent. It was really built on the tradition of [Daniel-Henry] Kahnweiler with Picasso. Or Ileana [Sonnabend] with Rauschenberg. Or Leo [Castelli] with Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol, and Roy Lichtenstein. I think today the whole thrust is much different. It’s built more on financial aspirations.

FISCHL: I think what was and is important about your gallery is that it had a specific sensibility attached to it. I was just at the Armory art fair, and every gallery had the same kind of work, if not the same artist. Everyone wants to sell a variation of the same thing, and it felt like one big store. The system has completely changed over the years. When you opened across the street at 417 in ’81, your gallery was fancier than the usual SoHo gallery. You were bringing something surprising to the scene that was transformative. And you did take a lot of crap for it.

BOONE: But it wasn’t about money, because, in fact, what we thought was a lot of money was, like, $30,000, which is nothing by comparison to young artists now who have no shows and are getting $100,000 to 200,000, up to one million. It was about history. Really, the reason I wanted to work with Leo was that I wanted to say that the artists I showed were ultimately as significant, historically, as people like Jasper Johns or Frank Stella. That’s how I still feel about the artists I work with.

FISCHL: Your gallery at 417 had these red-tile, terra-cotta floors as opposed to the raw-wood, loft-space kind of thing. There were no beams showing.

BOONE: It was pretty funky, really. But you know what made my space beautiful? The high ceilings. It was the first space that was open in a single-dwelling location. It was a garage, basically. So I could put in skylights, which made it very different, and it didn’t have pillars. Every other space had, like, 10-and-a-half-foot ceilings and pillars everywhere.

FISCHL: What was it before you took it over?

BOONE: It belonged to the owners of Hague Art Deliveries. They used to park trucks there. It’s the same kind of space that I took in Chelsea.

What would catch my eye were works of art that looked like they could change history. Mary Boone

FISCHL: Where did you first work when you came to New York in 1971? Weren’t you Lynda Benglis’s student at Hunter?

BOONE: Yes. And I worked for [curator and later New Museum founder] Marcia Tucker at the Whitney, and after a week of dusting slides, she said, “You know, I think you’d like working with living artists better. Why don’t you get a job at a gallery?” I said, “Oh, my teacher actually knows somebody that works at a gallery.” Lynda’s boyfriend at the time, Klaus Kertess, was at Bykert Gallery. The whole thing just fell into place. I was 19. I didn’t think about this with such calculation.

FISCHL: But in SoHo you were definitely forging your own identity. You put up a gallery in the middle of SoHo that’s very different, very finished, in a way, than a lot of the other galleries at the time. And you’re showing something brand new, these paintings that are getting a lot of attention. And you were getting a lot of attention as this new young woman stirring up the art scene.

BOONE: Yes, I was a young woman dealer who rocked the boat.

FISCHL: But you were having too much fun to realize how difficult that position was.

BOONE: We were all having a lot of fun then.

FISCHL: Yes, every day was fresh. Something new was going on. You felt it in the work.

BOONE: Again, it was much less a business then. Every day I’d find another new artist. It was thrilling.

 

FISCHL: You were living on Bond Street, in a loft, where a lot of artists lived.

BOONE: Yes, Robert Morris, Robert Mapplethorpe …

FISCHL: And Brice was over there. And Bryan Hunt.

BOONE: And Joseph Kosuth, Klaus, Patti Smith … all on the same block. And Jean-Michel was one street over, on Great Jones.

FISCHL: Downtown felt like an artist village, from Bond Street down to Chambers Street. There were very few baby strollers. No briefcases. [laughs]

BOONE: What would catch my eye were works of art that looked like they could change history.

FISCHL: Julian was a good counterpart for you because you were both larger than life. Julian brought back that sense of the heroic in painting, that sense of the grand scale. Only it was the personal brought up to the grand scale of the masters.

BOONE: The artists you show, in some way, come to reflect on you. And I do think there was some animosity about my taking on what was thought of as these macho painters. But that’s not what I think the gallery was primarily about. I am really happy about how it continued to transform and shape itself. Like I took on you, Jean-Michel, Barbara Kruger, Roni Horn, Sherrie Levine.

FISCHL: This may be a very complicated thought, but painting was under attack in the ’70s as a dead art. And it was mostly under attack because of feminism, because the feminist critique was against male authority, and painting was seen as the male domain. It had been part of the gallery system, part of the museum system. So feminism was exerting this pressure on the way we critically thought about such art. In that context, Julian comes along—he’s an alpha dog. He totally represents the most larger-than-life example of male ego, male power, etcetera. David Salle is criticized for his misogyny. And I come along …

BOONE: And Ross, too.

FISCHL: Ross was outside of that because he was doing abstraction. But in terms of the ways of approaching figuration and narrative within the context of painting, David, Julian, and I represented a kind of triangle of male ego. Except I was considered the feminized male, the sensitive one, so I wasn’t criticized in the same way. But we were all lumped together, especially because we were working in this supposedly dead medium: the death of the male, the death of painting. Nobody actually laid it out that way, but in hindsight, it seems like that was the focus. And the galleries, museums, curators, and criticism had moved past painting as a central form for the art world. It became performance-based, video, photography—all mediums that marginalized artists were now picking up to find alternate ways of making art that were not dealing with the historically male center.

BOONE: But it never occurred to me to show Jean-Michel because he was black or to show Barbara and Sherrie because they were women. I never thought it was the gallery’s responsibility to make this a fair and equitable world—you can’t do that. I just tried to show art that I liked, that I thought was powerful and strong.

FISCHL: I think my first show with you was in ’84, and the work was so well-received. I think being in the glow of your gallery brought a lot of attention to it. My fear was that if I hadn’t made that move to your gallery, I would have been sort of shunted off into a academic, realist painting tradition. And I wanted my work to enter the main dialogue. And I think strategically there was such a critical focus on you that I could do that. You were introducing European artists at that time as well and really expanding the range of what was being shown in America.

BOONE: Holly Solomon came to my gallery and said, “You’re an American gallery! You should be showing only American artists.” I said, “Holly, if I showed only American artists, there are still going to be artists without galleries. There are millions of artists!” I showed Gerhard Richter, I showed Francesco Clemente, who I still show and love. I was showing a lot of Michael Werner’s artists: Polke, Baselitz, Kiefer, Immendorff, Lüpertz, Marcel Broodthaers, and late Picabia. You know, Michael is a genius. He’s one of the few people I would consider a real connoisseur.

FISCHL: The point being that you recognized that something needed to change and how to change it. The art world was becoming decentralized. It was becoming global.

BOONE: But I never wanted it to be a museum. I think that galleries that try to do “museum shows” can often feel a bit pretentious. What’s great about having a gallery is that you get to work with the artists in their own time. I did do a Clyfford Still show in 1990. Because nobody was doing a Clyfford Still show. That was a beautiful thing to see. But basically I showed the artists that I was involved with.

FISCHL: The family setup.

BOONE: I remember the year that Brice came into the gallery was the same year that Julian left. I was sitting in my little office that was as big as this desk, and I was crying. I cried for a few months about Julian leaving to go to Pace. The funny thing was, he went to Pace and Brice came to my gallery from Pace. I do want to say that one thing that the ’80s did for a lot of the ’70s artists, is that the ’70s painters had been overlooked. People like Chuck Close, Brice Marden, Bob Mangold, Bob Ryman, and Agnes Martin didn’t really have the attention that the more conceptual artists had. The ’80s did a lot for these painters, in terms of bringing a kind of recognition to their work. Anyway, I remember sitting in my office crying, and Jean-Michel comes into the gallery, which he loved to do. He loved to bicycle past and come in. And he saw that I was crying …

FISCHL: I just want it noted that you had a beautiful desk in your office.

BOONE: It was a directoire wooden desk with leather inlays. So Jean-Michel puts his arm around me and says, “Don’t worry, Mary, I’m going to make you much more rich and famous than Julian ever would.” Those were his exact words. That was in 1984. Then he went out and bought a watermelon and plunked it on my desk. It burst open. [laughs] He was such a sweet kid. In fact, I remember being reticent to take him on, because he was almost too hot—he was showing with Annina [Nosei] and selling all his work and showing at the Fun Gallery. I thought he was maybe too unserious and too hot.

FISCHL: Did you ever think of taking on Haring or Scharf, or any of the other artists around him?

BOONE: No, but actually, I’m thinking about it now. Sometimes it takes a certain amount of time.

FISCHL: 30 years. [laughs]

BOONE: Yeah! So it was just like that: Julian leaves, and then these other wonderful painters come on board, and the family remains.

FISCHL: How do you think collectors have changed from that time to now?

BOONE: Collectors have changed as much as dealers have changed. Young dealers want famous artists that they can sell for a lot of money, and that’s considered a coup. The same thing for collectors. They used to be measured by who they discovered—people like Gene Schwartz [the late collector Eugene Schwartz] or Victor Ganz [the late collector who served as vice president of the Whitney]. In some ways they were as creative as the artists. Whereas now, collectors often just want a laundry list of the top names. There’s not as much discovery, which I think is unfortunate.

FISCHL: Artists are treated more like brand names. But even now it’s a different kind of discovery when it happens. There has become this kind of collecting hysteria, where collectors started going into schools and buying up artists even before they graduated from art school and stuff like that.

BOONE: Before they even have a voice.

FISCHL: Yeah. The negative part of that is these kids are all of a sudden being taken seriously for what they’re doing in school, and now they’re going to have to do that for quite a while because this is what people want.

BOONE: I’ve always loved artists who change.

FISCHL: All those times when we were experimenting, which is a natural thing for an artist to do, you wouldn’t drop us. You might not be able to sell us right away, but you definitely went with it.

BOONE: Yes, young artists are in the light too fast. They’re being scrutinized at every move, at every show. And then people are willing to pan them if they change because they become invested in a certain kind of look. And the worst thing about this new art world is that it doesn’t allow artists to develop creatively. I think everybody has a responsibility in this—the dealers, the collectors, and the artists. I mean, the artists have to be willing to do this work of change and exploration as well. And the collectors have to be on board and so do the dealers. But now that’s so much trickier with real estate prices being what they are. When I first opened my gallery in SoHo, I ran it on $7,000 a month. You simply can’t do that now.

FISCHL: There’s a parallel to sports, to free agents, for example. It used to be with team sports that athletes would stick with their teams and there would be local support and pride and all of that loyalty. Then there became an awareness of the amount of money that’s out there that’s part of the game. And then, rightfully so, the talent was saying, “We want more of that, we deserve it. You’re riding on our backs here.” And all of a sudden free agency comes in and now the loyalty’s not for a team. Fans follow an individual player, whether or not a Met becomes a Dodger or wherever he goes geographically. In the art world, there used to be more of a sense of a stable system. Gallerists represented a sensibility, and artists gravitated towards that sensibility. Nowadays there isn’t that sensibility, there’s just a system, the marketing system. Also, gallerists used to be much more powerful. Now collectors are. It used to be gallerists were the ones who were forming the collectors’ sensibility. Now it’s the collectors telling the dealers what they want. “You get this for me,” right? “I want this.” So they’re running the show in a way.

BOONE: I don’t know if that’s completely true. I think it’s more about collectors being just more interested in having what is “hot.”

FISCHL: Right, and artists are getting older after a very short amount of time, so collectors are more willing to part with older works. It’s an alternative currency.

BOONE: I think that the art world changed a lot when Arne Glimcher sold the Tremaines’ Three Flags of Jasper’s to the Whitney for a million dollars in 1980, and it was on the front page of the Times. They reproduced the original invoice on the inside, showing that it had been bought for $900. So I think, to a lot of people, that translated as a commodity. Art was a commodity. That’s when a whole different kind of person started looking at and buying art. They didn’t realize that Jasper Johns actually represents one one-millionth of a percentage in terms of talent. Instead, there was this idea of, “Oh, you buy an artist for $900, and 20 years later, it’s worth a million.”

That’s what we have to return to: artists at the center of the art world. Mary Boone

FISCHL: The door opened in the ’80s.

BOONE: But the ’80s were nothing compared to what happened in the ’90s and since.

FISCHL: Plus, there was a lot of lifestyle stuff that came in, in the ’80s. We were all sort of experimenting with a scene. It was a scene that was incredibly fun and decadent.

BOONE: But I think the ’80s was still very much linked to the ’60s. It was still linked to an old-fashioned idea of having fun. There wasn’t so much cynicism. I think from the ’90s onward, it was becoming very cynical. And now, of course, there are very expensive advisors making huge amounts of money and it’s not unheard of that $50 million is what a masterpiece costs, even by a living artist. I do want to say that there are still a lot of intelligent collectors out there. Not everyone’s a crowd-pleaser.

FISCHL: I was talking to a dealer a while ago who is very disappointed by the art world. He said, “You know, in not too short a period, there are only going to be two dealers. And there are going to be 50,000 consultants.” [laughs] That will be the system. But I often think, too, about Warhol’s effect on artists of my generation and even the generation after mine.

BOONE: Well, Warhol wasn’t alive for that next generation.

FISCHL: No, but he represented something that we were struggling with. We were artists formed with the image of artist as outsider, with the image of the artist as the one who critiques the culture, the one circling from the outside, orbiting society. We were also brought up with the idea of the artist as somebody that was uncomfortable with success, uncomfortable with wealth, uncomfortable with lifestyle, etcetera. What Warhol did was that he came in and showed a way that you could be radical, you could be subversive, and you could go right to the center of the culture. You could bathe in money and lifestyle and glamour and still seem unaffected by it. So he replaced the existentialist of the ’50s with the way he maneuvered through culture. That was huge.

BOONE: But I think a lot of people misunderstood what he was meaning by that.

FISCHL: It also got lost in that people started making easily consumable pop products. They looked like a Warholesque kind of thing, but were actually more like FAO Schwarz. They were playful, colorful, and celebratory in an un-self-conscious kind of way, in an unreflective kind of way. It became a whole other thing.

BOONE: Well, I always think that the ’90s were fin de siècle, and if you look at history, that’s always an odd time for art. And I think that a lot of the dealers that emerged during that time really become well-known for taking on already famous artists and coasting on their coattails, rather than starting out with young, unknown artists, like Leo did, like Ileana did, like Marian Goodman did, like Barbara Gladstone did, Janelle and Helene of Metro Pictures did. So that kind of happened here at the end of the century. At the same time, you had the YBA’s happening in London. And Jay with White Cube. And then you also had the dot-com thing taking off. So everything did change quite quickly.

FISCHL: David Salle told me he went up to Yale a few years ago to give a master class, and he said all the students kept asking him, “How do you become branded?” That was absolutely their preoccupation. They saw it totally as a business model. That represents a huge change. I think it’s absolutely legitimate for artists today to want to know business in regards to what they’re doing. They have to understand the reality of it; they have to be able to negotiate it nowadays. I don’t have any problem with it. The problem I have is with artists who want to create a business model in their art itself as opposed to know how to deal with their art once they’ve made their art into a business. The other thing is—and this is a change that cannot go underestimated—kids come out of art school owing a quarter of a million dollars.

BOONE: Tremendous debt.

FISCHL: Forget money for art supplies. They have to find a job that’s paying $60,000, $70,000 a year to service what they owe for school. That’s changed, and it’s a crime that universities charge the same amount for art school as they do for law school or business school or engineering.

BOONE: People shouldn’t go to school to become artists anyway. They should just move to New York and work for an artist.

FISCHL: But, Mary, you went to art school. You were an artist.

BOONE: Well, that’s a very generous idea. I went to art school. Maybe that helps me understand the making of art a bit better.

FISCHL: How did you start working with Ai Weiwei?

BOONE: I met him at Documenta in 2006. We hit it off immediately. He had lived in New York for 10 years in the ’80s, and he told me he used to live with 10 other Chinese artists in a small room on Broome Street, and they used to walk to Broadway every morning, where they all shared a studio. He would come by my gallery and stop in to see what show was up. He said that I’d always be there, and I’d be nice to him. Which was a sweet thing to say—I don’t know that I’m always in a good mood. [Fischl laughs] So when I asked him if I could do a show, he was very eager. Even though he’s younger, I think he identifies with the ’80s artists, because that’s what influenced him. He was born in 1957, and most of the artists that I show were born in the late ’40s or early ’50s. I actually consider him a younger artist because the work is so exciting and new. I really love what he does and what he’s concerned about. I guess I must have this thing about communist countries, because the German artists that I showed, a lot of them were originally from East Germany. I think for me there’s something in art born under a certain kind of repression—either self-imposed, like yours, or externally imposed. I believe there’s a certain kind of repression that creative ideas blossom under.

FISCHL: It’s where you find authenticity, you know? Which is where art’s supposed to reside. Certainly for our generation, it’s been an identity quest. You look into all of those places where the struggle for liberation happens, whether feminism or race or sex or politics. We were interested in that. What was it like to be Chinese under Mao? What was it like to be East German? We kept looking around the world for those authentic narratives.

BOONE: I think that’s why I like artists who are outsiders—somebody who has to work against the grain in order to be heard.

FISCHL: I wonder, Mary, what you think about all of this recent empire-building with certain galleries—all of their expansion.

BOONE: The dealers I admire, and the ones whom I think of as my contemporaries are people like Marian Goodman or my ex-husband Michael Werner or Barbara Gladstone. I admire their long-standing relationships with their artists and the way in which their galleries operate. Opening a bookstore, a restaurant, having 15 locations, having four homes doesn’t interest me so much, personally. I mean, I have two galleries and one home. If you keep it simple, then the focus is on the art. I don’t think real estate should serve as a creative mantra. I don’t believe that having the biggest gallery means you’re going to show the best artists—or be the best gallery.

FISCHL: A lot of galleries decided a while ago that there aren’t any clear boundaries between fashion, commerce, and art. So it all becomes part of the same thing.

BOONE: But the bottom line is, selling a painting is never going to be like selling a handbag—at least I hope not. First of all, there aren’t the same number of people out there who want to buy a painting compared to those who want to buy a handbag. If that’s the direction the art world is going, then that’s a pity. Whenever anyone starts out by saying, “This is the next so-and-so,” you know there’s probably little chance of real talent. Because you don’t say that about a talented artist. But believe it or not, the reason I started doing art fairs was to have more of a relationship with other dealers. And I will say that there are a lot of great young women who are starting galleries or have established really strong galleries over the last 20 years. I’m thinking of women like Carol Greene, who is phenomenal.

FISCHL: But haven’t women always been sort of central to the art world, since the ’50s anyway.

BOONE: Since Peggy Guggenheim.

FISCHL: Yes, in terms of curators, writers, and gallerists. Part of the thing about the ’70s was getting more women into the other side of things. I know when I went to art school, women were by far the better artists. And they also dropped off fairly quickly after they got out of school.

BOONE: I think that’s changed. I’m really excited about bringing on Piper Marshall as a curator and having a younger generation of artists as part of the gallery in the upcoming year. What you do as a dealer is really dependent so much on artists. And I think that that’s what we have to return to: artists at the center of the art world, experimenting and risking and bringing in new forms and ideas. Maybe art has become too much of a spectator sport.

ERIC FISCHL IS A SAG HARBOR, NY-BASED ARTIST. THIS MONTH, A SHOW OF HIS MOST RECENT PAINTINGS OPENS AT LONDON’S VICTORIA MIRO GALLERY, AND A SHOW HE CURATED OPENS AT NEW YORK’S FLAG ART FOUNDATION.