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Paul Kasmin, gallerist who ruled a mini-empire of art, dies at 60
Paul Kasmin at one of his galleries in Chelsea in 2014. Via Kasmin family via The New York Times.

by Roberta Smith



NEW YORK (NYT NEWS SERVICE).- Paul Kasmin, a British-born art dealer who established a small gallery empire in New York that was both loyal to an eclectic cohort of living artists and dedicated to presenting a distinctive range of historical material, died on March 23 at his home in Millbrook, New York. He was 60.

Kasmin Gallery said the cause was cancer.

Kasmin was known for his independent eye, his genial optimism and his penchant for a spare, subtly British precision of speech.

In a 2018 video interview, when asked why he was participating in an Armory Show art fair in Manhattan when his own galleries in Chelsea were only about a mile away, he replied, “As long as people go to art fairs and buy things or look at things, I, too, will go to art fairs.”

Over 30 years, Kasmin built his own version of a mega-gallery, comprising a cluster of exhibition spaces in Manhattan around the intersection of 10th Avenue and West 27 Street. But his was a relatively modest one that lacked the usual blue-chip artists, high-profile auction dealings, global reach, bookstores and so forth that other megas might offer.

His exhibitions, having little to do with trends, nevertheless added up to a more singular vision than that of other megas. One often didn’t know what to expect on walking into one of his galleries: New abstractions by Frank Stella or the kitschy, wildly popular paintings of Mark Ryden, whose many fans would render the gallery nearly impassable because of the crowds. A scholarly show about Constantin Brancusi and Marcel Duchamp. The animal paintings of Walton Ford, rendered large in a faux-naturalist style.

Kasmin showed the relatively austere photographs of Andy Warhol and Peter Hujar, but also those of Ron Galella, Jackie Kennedy’s paparazzi bête noire, as well as the showy David LaChapelle.

Some of his choices were considered questionable by the selection committee of at least one prominent art fair, which rejected his gallery for years. But Kasmin’s commitment to all of his shows was never questioned.

The breadth of his taste seemed very British, but he often said it reflected the influence of New York gallerist Robert Miller, who befriended him in the 1980s, when Kasmin was based in London dealing in vintage modernist photographs.

In a series of remembrances published in ARTnews on Kasmin’s death, painter James Nares, a Kasmin gallery stalwart, called him “a master at dealing with artists.”

Kasmin put many of his artists on stipends and stubbornly showed their work, regardless of sales.

Ford recounted in ARTnews that once Kasmin got behind an artist’s career, his advice would be to keep working and he would take care of the rest. “We’ll sort it out,” he often said.

Describing Kasmin on his first visit to Ford’s studio in upstate New York, the artist wrote that the dealer “wore a snug, wool bespoke suit and was ruddy, plump and sleek at the same time.”

He added, “I thought he looked just like a bemused little animal from a Beatrix Potter book.”

Paul Foubert Kasmin was born in London on Feb. 19, 1960, the older of two sons of John and Jane (Nicholson) Kasmin. Art was an inescapable aspect of the familial terrain. Kasmin’s father, who was universally known as Kas, was for decades the dean of the London contemporary art dealers; he gave David Hockney his first solo show in 1963. He also showed British artists like Richard Smith and Anthony Caro, and introduced the work of postwar Americans like Helen Frankenthaler, Kenneth Noland, Morris Louis and Frank Stella.

Kasmin’s mother, an expert and dealer in patchwork quilts, comes from a line of distinguished creators, including her father, architect Christopher Nicholson; her mother, painter and textile designer EQ Nicholson, to whom Paul was close; her uncle, modernist Ben Nicholson; and her paternal grandparents, painters William Nicholson and Mabel Pryde.

His parents survive him, as do his brother, Aaron Kasmin, who is also an artist; his wife, Melanie Courbet-Kasmin; and two daughters, Olivia Kasmin and Charlotte Kasmin, from his first marriage, to Alexandra Sutherland, which ended in divorce.

Kasmin enjoyed a privileged, high bohemian childhood in his parents’ homes in London and the Dordogne region of southwestern France. Guests at either residence included various artists represented by his father, especially Hockney and Stella, and friends like painter Howard Hodgkin, designer and entrepreneur Terence Conran and writer Bruce Chatwin.

Kasmin spent time in his father’s gallery and traveled with him to New York for the first time at age 10, as well as to New Zealand, India and Morocco. His parents separated when he was 12 and eventually divorced.

Kasmin became a knowledgeable naturalist, gourmand and cook; an impassioned museum visitor and hiker; and a voracious reader and bibliophile who often advertised his gallery in The New York Review of Books. While at boarding school at Bryanston, England, he took up photography and never put it down, capturing striking portraits of family, friends and artists and recording landscapes, meals and interiors. He referred to his camera as “my diary.”

His work sometimes appeared in newspapers and magazines with the credit Percy Washington, a name he borrowed from the hero of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novella “The Diamond as Big as the Ritz.” (At his death, a selection of his photographs was posted at kasmingallery.com.)

Kasmin studied art history at University College London and earned his bachelor’s degree at the Courtauld Institute of Art. He also dealt privately in photography, taking, and sometimes selling, his own photographs.

In 1981, with two close friends — the future designer Jasper Morrison, Conran’s nephew; and the future writer-painter Danny Moynihan — Kasmin established The Space, a gallery of primarily contemporary figurative art in the Kensington Market area of London. He peeled off after a season, returning to private dealing and traveling.

In 1985, Kasmin and Moynihan opened Credo, an office in Moynihan’s parents’ house in London, from which they dealt privately in photography. They moved the business to New York in 1988, renting a small gallery-office designed by Morrison at 586 Broadway, at Prince Street, a SoHo address teeming with galleries at the time.

Their first show was of Constantin Brancusi photographs, followed by the postcards of the British Conceptualists Gilbert & George, followed by Hockney’s early drawings.

The space then became the first iteration of the Paul Kasmin Gallery, which Kasmin relocated to 74 Grand St., also in SoHo, in 1989. He opened with an exhibition of abstract paintings by Peter Schuyff. Within a few years he was staging regular shows of Nares and Ford as well as Elliott Puckette, with appearances by the sculptor Nancy Rubins, the painter Santi Moix and the photographer Aaron Rose, who owned Alleged, another downtown New York gallery.

In 1999, Kasmin joined a wave of SoHo galleries in moving to Chelsea, where he eventually opened three spaces. He exhibited historical material, starting on a personal note with shows devoted to his father’s gallery in 2001, and the paintings of William Nicholson, his great-grandfather, in 2004. Other exhibitions focused on Brancusi; gallerist Alexander Iolas; Henry Geldzahler, the influential curator of 20th-century art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in the 1960s; and the art of ’80s New York.

In 2007, Kasmin gave the first New York exhibition in nearly 30 years to the furniture-sculpture of French artists Claude and François-Xavier Lalanne; he went on to show designers like Ron Arad, Mattia Bonetti, David Wiseman and, in 2019, Morrison.

After 2010, he began to represent the estates of neglected artists, most notably William N. Copley, a maker of patterned, cartoonish and sometimes erotic paintings. He would eventually represent the estates of distinguished artists like Stuart Davis, Robert Motherwell, Lee Krasner, Jane Freilicher and Max Ernst.

In 2017, he commissioned architect Markus Dochantschi to design a building at a lot previously occupied by a scrap metal yard on West 27th Street near the High Line. He continued with the project even after he learned he had cancer. It opened in the fall of 2018, and he prepared his staff to carry on without him.

© 2020 The New York Times Company










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