Sam Gilliam, the abstract artist who rose to prominence in the 1960s with his large-scale draped canvas paintings, will join Pace Gallery’s roster of artists, the gallery announced Monday. It will be the first time in the 85-year-old painter’s long career that he will be represented by a New York gallery.
Considered a master in the third wave of Color Field painters, Mr. Gilliam has spent much of his career in Washington, where he first started to experiment with unsupported canvases. His signature draped and beveled-edge paintings, which are suspended from the ceiling or stretched across beveled frames, were considered a radical reimagining of the medium. In 1972, he became the first black artist to represent the United States at the Venice Biennale.
Yet, despite his early success, Mr. Gilliam has never been represented by a New York gallery. Arne Glimcher, the founder of Pace Gallery, attributed that to the artist’s nonconformist sensibility, saying the artist has “really steered his own career and steered it clear of what we know as the art market.”
“He’s had many, many opportunities,” Mr. Glimcher said. “He didn’t want it and I think, I hope, it was that he was waiting for the right moment to show his work in broader venues.”
In recent years, Mr. Gilliam has enjoyed somewhat of a renaissance, thanks in part to the Los Angeles-based art dealer David Kordansky, who started representing Mr. Gilliam after visiting his studio in 2012.
The acceleration in attention has also brought more lucrative auction sales for the painter. Last June, a large-scale beveled-edge work called “forth” sold for $1.16 million at Sotheby’s London. The sale beat Mr. Gilliam’s past record of $885,000, for an untitled work that was auctioned in March 2018 at Sotheby’s New York.
Moving forward, Pace will work in close collaboration with Mr. Kordansky in representing Mr. Gilliam’s art. Mr. Glimcher said he hopes that Pace will give Mr. Gilliam more of an “international platform.”
“We’ll be able to introduce the work to cultures that haven’t seen it,” the dealer said.
But next month, Mr. Gilliam’s work will be shown to a more local audience. On Aug. 10, his work from the 1960s and 1970s, including his pioneering drape paintings, will be presented at Dia:Beacon, alongside the museum’s permanent collection and in dialogue with the work of the minimalist painter Robert Ryman and the sculptor Anne Truitt. Later this year, Mr. Gilliam will be honored at the annual Dia Fall Night in New York City.
“There are few artists who change the course of possibilities in painting,” Mr. Glimcher said, “and he’s one of them.”
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