Beautiful Things

The rising number of female gallery owners in New York and around the world has been well documented by Bloomberg and others. But it’s not a new trend. As a woman who has been single-handedly running her eponymous gallery for close to four decades, Kathryn Markel is fairly matter-of-fact about it: “There are a lot of powerful women in this business,” she said. “If I’d had more of a business agenda, I wouldn’t be selling 15 thousand dollar paintings, I’d be selling 15 million dollar paintings.” But, she explained, “I’ve always worked directly with artists [rather than] what I call ‘asset class art,’ because no one cares if I sell a Jasper Johns.

Jasper Johns doesn’t care. I like to work with artists who care when I sell their work.”

What moves her are “beautiful things, as opposed to edgy or deeply philosophical” works, Markel said. And she carries that through to the presentation of the exhibits. “In the contemporary art market, my gallery is totally traditional. You don’t see any installations, you don’t see any conceptual.” In its place is an eclectic mix of elegant, largely abstract and what Markel described as “nature based” works on paper and canvas. “I love the art that I show. Sometimes I find them heartbreakingly beautiful.” At a recent visit there were densely painted, colorful abstractions by Josette Urso; ethereal, light-infused landscapes by John Sabraw and Marilla Palmer’s complex, delicate multimedia works on paper.

“To engage in the art world in a serious manner, there’s a big learning curve, so I do like to give people the basics.”

In October, the Bridgehampton gallery is exhibiting paintings by Yolanda Sanchez, whom Markel described as “a fabulous colorist, whose work is a lot based on gardens… There’s something joyous about her work.”

Markel explained her success in one word: Persistence. Almost 40 years ago, she started selling prints by top tier artists like Philip Pearlstein, Sol LeWitt and Christo for Landfall Press. “I would [carry around] 60 pounds of art in a big black portfolio,” she said. “This was in the early seventies and my budget was McDonalds and Days Inn. I drove all over the United States by myself,” before continuing her travels across Europe. From all that hard work, she learned the art market. As an added bonus, she said, “I developed upper body strength.

“Then I moved to New York and started selling prints privately. Then I moved to 57th Street in a teeny-weeny space, specializing on works on paper.” Since then, she’s established herself as the director of two well-respected galleries in Bridgehampton and NYC, carving herself a unique niche. “I can’t believe I’ve been doing it all my life, but I love it.”

Yolanda Sanchez’s brilliant colors are on exhibition until mid October at Kathryn Markel Fine Arts in Bridgehampton.

words: Mary Gregory | photo: Eric Striffler