Honoring the past and shaping the future, with Laura Lester, Director of Richard Gray Gallery
When Richard Gray died in 2018, he left an extraordinary legacy of commitment to art of the highest caliber and to the institutions that support it. Richard Gray opened his first gallery in 1963 in Chicago, becoming one of the first gallerist’s in the city to show work by some of the day’s most prominent artists. Gray was “equally clear-eyed about his life and career.” In 1996, under the aegis of his son Paul Gray’s direction, the gallery opened a space on Madison Avenue in New York. In 2017, Richard Gray Gallery opened a second Chicago space. Known as the Gray Warehouse, it occupies 5,000 square feet and is located in the city’s West End neighborhood. Richard Gray Gallery now regularly shows work by some of the key artists of the past half-century, among them Alex Katz, Magdalena Abakanowicz, Theaster Gates, David Hockney, Dine, and Rashid Johnson.
In addition to his work for the gallery, Gray was involved with various art institutions, both ones specific to Chicago and to the entire U.S. art world at large. He served as past president of the Art Dealers Association of America and of the Chicago Art Dealers Association. He was a trustee at the Art Institute of Chicago and the University of Chicago’s Smart Museum of Art, among other institutions. Gray was also vice chairman of the Friends of the Farnsworth House, where he helped oversee the preservation of its Mies van der Rohe–designed building. In 2008, the Art Institute named a wing after Gray and his wife, Mary; the museum’s holdings include prints and drawings by Peter Paul Rubens, Eugène Delacroix, Henri Matisse, and others that previously belonged to the couple.
ARTnews, Alex Greenberger, May 16, 2018
To continue this exceptional history, Gray continues to expand, add to its artists’ roster and continue the traditions of its’ founder. Following a 26-year tenure at Christie’s where she served as International Director of Impressionist and Modern Art, Sharon Kim joined Gray as a partner. Laura Lester joined the gallery shortly thereafter as Director to add her experience and knowledge of post-war and contemporary art and its most prominent collectors to the mix. “I am delighted Laura has joined Gray,” Kim says. “Her passion, knowledge and expertise are highly regarded by all who have worked with her and I look forward to reuniting with her in our New York gallery.”
Today, the LRFA blog is honored to speak with Laura Lester about the present and future plans of Gray gallery.
LAURA, THANK YOU FOR THIS INTERVIEW. WHO ARE SOME OF THE ARTISTS THAT GRAY REPRESENTS?
Gray has a long and direct working relationship with a roster of contemporary legends such as David Hockney, Jim Dine, Jaume Plensa, Theaster Gates, and Alex Katz as well as wonderful estate relationships including the Leon Polk Smith Foundation. Gray also has a stalwart nearly sixty-year history with many of the giants of European Modernism and American Post-War, such as Pablo Picasso, Francis Bacon, Alexander Calder, Jean Dubuffet, Franz Kline, Willem de Kooning, Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Motherwell, Joan Mitchell, Agnes Martin, and Cy Twombly.
DO YOU HAVE A HISTORY WITH SOME OF THE ARTISTS AND WHICH ONES ARE THE MOST MEANINGFUL TO YOU?
As my experience is mainly in the Post-War and Modern secondary market, Gray’s deep and well-established roots in this area are a really fruitful platform for the work I do with my clients.
DOES THE GALLERY DIVIDE THE RESPONSIBILITY OF THE DIALOGUE WITH ITS ARTISTS AMONGST THE STAFF? IF SO, WHICH ARTISTS DO YOU WORK WITH DIRECTLY IN TERMS OF SCHEDULING THEIR INTERNATIONAL GALLERY AND MUSEUM EXHIBITIONS?
We are a small team and work together collaboratively, but we certainly divide and conquer in terms of expertise and experience. I have co-directors that focus mainly on Gray’s contemporary program and also serve as liaisons with our living artists. My concentration will be mainly on our secondary market program and our estates.
DO THE ARTISTS EXHIBIT IN BOTH THE CHICAGO AND THE NEW YORK GALLERIES OR DO SOME EXHIBIT EXCLUSIVELY IN EITHER CITY?
Programming is planned for New York or Chicago based mostly on which of our gallery spaces would best serve the scope and scale of the exhibition, as well as the timing of other events in that particular city such as art fairs or auctions that will bring visitors in. Our gallery in New York is a jewel box in a historic Upper East Side gallery building, best suited to more intimate presentations, as is our gallery on the 38th floor of the John Hancock building in Chicago. Our newest space, Gray Warehouse, is a large-scale gallery west of the Chicago loop that allows us to mount ambitious presentations similar to that of a Chelsea gallery. We hope that our programming in Chicago and New York balances and compliments each other.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE WAYS IN WHICH THE GALLERY PLANS IS USING DIGITAL TECHNOLOGY TO LAUNCH ONLINE PLATFORMS FOR YOUR ARTISTS?
We have had great success utilizing our online viewing rooms, either for presenting a single important artwork or to stage full online exhibitions with multiple works. We put together a beautiful online-only exhibition of paintings by the late Chicago based artist Evelyn Statsinger; our online viewing room allowed us to contextualize the works with archival images, a text and biographical information about the artist. We plan to continue to use this technology to augment or complement our physical exhibition program.
THE GALLERY COVERS AN ENORMOUS RANGE OF ARTISTS AND PERIODS FROM IMPRESSIONISM AND MDOERN TO CONTEMPORARY. ARE YOU FOCUSING SPECIFICALLY ON CONTEMPORARY AS DIRECTOR OF THE GALLERY?
My focus will be on Post-War and Modern American art, but I will assist my clients in acquiring from all facets of our program.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE PLANS FOR THE FUTURE DO YOU HAVE?
I am looking forward to the post-COVID era, when we are able to ambitiously plan exhibitions and gatherings at the gallery again, as well as call on our clients in person and visit their collections! For now, FaceTime will have to do.
HOW DO YOU PLAN TO ENGAGE THE NOW GLOBAL DEMOGRAPHIC OF COLLECTORS WHO EXPERIENCE ART DIGITALLY AS MUCH AS THEY DO PHYSICALLY PARTICULARLY WITH THE NARROWING DOWN OF ART FAIRS AT LEAST AT PRESENT?
We will continue to be innovative, and ambitious, with our online presentations utilizing all the technological tools at our disposal—beautiful photography, well-produced videos, etc. We have also implemented safety and distancing protocol at all our galleries that will allow clients to come in and have an in-person viewing when they are comfortable.
WHAT ARE YOUR GREATEST HOPES FOR YOUR ROLE AS DIRECTOR?
Gray is one of the oldest and most respected names in our business- it is a great responsibility and privilege to carry on the gallery’s legacy of excellence and expertise. I look forward to helping our clients build and maintain world-class collections, bringing great works to market and organizing exhibitions of beauty and lasting importance.
LAURA, THIS HAS BEEN A WONDERFUL EXPERIENCE, GETTING TO KNOW YOU AND GRAY GALLERY BETTER. THE LRFA BLOG LOOKS FORWARD TO ALL OF YOUR FUTURE PROGRESS AND SUCCESS AS DIRECTOR OF RICHARD GRAY. THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR TAKING THE TIME TO CONTRIBUTE.