“I don’t think it’s a very good time to open a gallery,” says New York art collector Adam Lindemann, before rephrasing his stance in the affirmative. “I think it’s a very bad time to open a gallery.” His latest project? Opening a gallery.
The investor and entrepreneur has leased a space at 980 Madison Avenue, built in 1949 as the headquarters for the Parke-Bernet auction firm (later acquired by Sotheby’s), and his first exhibition opens this month. Lindemann’s neighbors in the squat limestone building include his friend Larry Gagosian, whose multifloor uptown outpost is just an elevator ride away. “I’ve always had this secret desire to do shows,” says Lindemann, 50, who opines on the art market in a lively and sometimes polarizing column for The New York Observer and has authored two Taschen tomes on collecting contemporary art and design. “Well, it wasn’t a secret. I just never did it.”
The idea to open a gallery was sparked by a friendly remark from Germany-based art dealer Rafael Jablonka. “He said, ‘You could be an art dealer. Leo Castelli opened his gallery when he was 50,’” explains Lindemann, who has already proven his skill at flipping artworks for a substantial profit. In 2007, Sotheby’s sold his monumental Jeff Koons “Hanging Heart (Magenta/Gold)” for a record-breaking $23.6 million, around six times what Lindemann is thought to have paid for it. “I’ve been called a ‘pocket dealer,’ meaning I’m not purely a collector, that I’m doing some dealing out of my pocket,” he says with a shrug. “So I thought, maybe I’ll bring that out of my pocket.”
He decided to run the idea by artist Maurizio Cattelan, who was then preparing for his gravity-defying Guggenheim retrospective and pondering plans for his own exhibition space, the newly opened Family Business in Chelsea. Cattelan pressed for details on the would-be gallery’s name and program, none of which Lindemann had seriously considered. “He told me, ‘Adam, you can’t do this!’” Lindemann says, imitating the artist’s accented baritone. “So that’s when I knew I had to do it.”
On the tip of a friend, he visited the available third-floor space on Madison near East 77th Street, the Parke-Bernet salesroom turned Vera Wang bridesmaids’-dress parlor, and fell in love with the location. It happens to be around the corner from both his art-filled home and the gallery run by his wife, Amalia Dayan. Aside from the enviably short commute, the unit had the advantage of its position in the middle of the building, overlooking Madison Avenue through five windows. There would be six, but the building’s architects, Walker & Poor, removed one to provide an uninterrupted surface over the doorway for a hastily commissioned cast-aluminum relief by the American artist Wheeler Williams. The 14-foot-long and 10-foot-wide sculpture helped to seal the deal.
“It’s called ‘Venus and Manhattan,’ and it’s supposed to show Venus [goddess of beauty and love] floating in from across the sea to awaken Manhattan to the beauty of art,” Williams told The New Yorker in 1949. “The public probably won’t get the point, but they can always inquire inside.” Lindemann tweaked the title and had a name for his exhibition space: Venus Over Manhattan. “It works on every level. It relates to what was here before me, and to this idea that art is somehow about beauty,” he says. “It also relates to the aspirations of what my projects are, because I want this to be more focused on the art and less focused on the commerce.” Lindemann also sees the sculpture as an elegant billboard for his gallery, noting, “I’ve made this like our Hollywood sign.”
As for the gallery’s interior, “we’re doing nothing,” he says, although achieving a “raw” look on the Upper East Side still requires a sizable effort. “Instead of cladding it in Sheetrock, we’re actually utilizing the bones of the building and exposing them, which frees us to be very flexible with the layout,” says lead architect Toshihiro Oki, who worked with SANAA on the New Museum before branching out on his own. “It’s exciting, completely different from anything else. Everything in the art world says that it has to be a certain way. Adam’s doing the opposite.”
Lindemann’s contrarian impulses extend to the program of his fledging exhibition space, as well. “I’m trying to hyper-personalize it, meaning just whatever I’m interested in,” he says. The focus will be twofold: recontextualizing older artists, and showing the work of the very young. “I’m going to play both ends and leave the middle to the rest of the neighborhood,” he adds. “I think there’s room on the edges, especially on the Upper East Side. If I were to do this in Chelsea, no one would give a good goddamn. If I were to go to the Lower East Side, it would be disingenuous.”
Venus Over Manhattan will open with an eclectic group show inspired by Joris-Karl Huysmans’ 1884 novel À Rebours (Against Nature), which Lindemann first encountered as a high school student at the Lycée Français. The book’s antihero is the Duc Jean des Esseintes. Exhausted by life, he retires to his villa to spend quality time with his collection of “evocative works… that shake up his nervous system by means of erudite fancies, complicated nightmares, suave and sinister visions.” Lindemann has a few things in common with des Esseintes—piercing blue eyes, a sizable fortune, a hunger for transporting pictures by the likes of Odilon Redon—but the real draw, he says, was the novel’s “personal take on art and music and society.” The show spans Redon’s darkly mysterious 19th century dreamscapes, tribal and oceanic art, and the work of young New York artists. Absinthe will be served at the opening.
Lindemann’s ever-changing roles—collector, writer, blogger, dealer, gallerist—don’t sit well with some in the art world, but he enjoys blurring the already-sketchy lines. “Part of what I love about collecting contemporary art is the opportunity to leap into the unknown,” he says, reeling off a record of speculative and spectacular commissions by the likes of Koons, Franz West and Urs Fischer. As for his latest leap, Venus Over Manhattan, “It could be a massive failure, and I’m willing to accept that,” he says with a laugh. “I hope I’ll sell something. That’s one of the goals—it’s definitely not the goal, but I hope it’s one of the things that will become part of the process.”