Vasari Diary: On John Gibson (1933–2019), Rob Wynne, Jane Benson, Robert Murray, and Film Forum

The imaginative and often rambunctious art dealer John Gibson notably claimed, according to Rosalind Constable, writing in New York magazine in 1969, “I’m interested in selling people the Brooklyn Bridge or the Eiffel Tower”—things collectors couldn’t take away in their pockets or put on a shelf. The dealer, who died on March 1, proffered the work of such avant-garde and conceptual figures as Dennis Oppenheim, Christo, Robert Grosvenor, and Donald Judd.
He came from Chicago, where he’d drive a taxi at night to make ends meet, before moving to New York in 1963, where he opened a tiny gallery on the Upper East Side to house big ideas suitable for a universe of skyscrapers. He sold 18 monumental sculptures by artists ranging from Donald Judd to Sol LeWitt to the Six Flags amusement park over Georgia. Moving the ideas up north, the gallery sponsored works like Oppenheim’s Annual Rings, in Ft. Kent, Maine, for which the artist cut circles into the snow and ice of St. John River, acknowledging that in a year’s time, the work would melt away and be replaced by photographic documentation. Gibson’s choices of European and American artists captured the moment and much of the future. He notably exhibited in a male-dominated landscape the work of a number of important women artists, including Eva Hesse, Meg Webster, Nancy Haynes, Deborah Whitman, Janet Rifkin, Samm Kunce, Shelagh Keely, Jeannette Cole, Merrill Wagner, and Eve Andree Laramee.
Gibson’s eponymous SoHo gallery, which opened in 1971, closed in 2000. Gibson was the first director of the legendary Park Place Gallery, specializing in cutting-edge art, including the imaginable and the unimaginable.
Born in 1933 in Chicago, he entered the armed forces from 1950 to 1952 and then, under the GI Bill, he studied criticism and theater at the University of London. Returning to the United States, he worked variously as a traveling book salesman and held jobs at galleries, including Marlborough and Martha Jackson. His son, David, recalled, “One of my father’s favorite statements was ‘I remember the future.’ It’s an optimistic misquoting of the philosopher Soren Kierkegard, whose Either/Or was a mainstay of Existentialism. The way that I think he meant it was that the future could not be bad because he already remembered it. It could only reflect forward-thinking.”
March 15, 2019
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