Gian Enzo Sperone may not be a household name, but for those who remember an art world without art fairs and digital images, he can’t be mistaken. The seventy-two-year-old Italian dealer opened his first New York City gallery forty years ago and came of age in the 1960s amongst Rauschenberg, Warhol, and Dine, and thirty years ago he joined Konrad Fischer and Angela Westwater to open Sperone Westwater. Two years ago, the gallery opened its Norman Foster-designed $70 million space just one hundred yards from the New Museum, arguably the most expensive gallery built in NYC this century. While it has flourished on the Lower East Side with recent shows from Tom Sachs, Susan Rothenberg, and Evan Penny, it has remained conspicuously quiet relative to the new world of mega-NYC dealers gracing magazine covers, hosting reality television shows, and organizing spectacles. For a gallery that cost more than the other fifty galleries in the Lower East Side combined, there is a stunning lack of pretense and an utter lack of Chelsea-style unwelcome. The four times I have been to the show, I saw Director and Partner David Leiber walking collectors and larger groups through the gallery.
This is the last week to see two remarkable shows curated by Sperone himself and littered with highlights from his personal collection. While the ground floor and second floor show Marble Sculpture from 350 B.C. to Last Week left me frantically searching for more information about Fabio Viale and Barry X Ball, the portrait show really struck me to the core.
On one wall of Portraits/Self-Portraits, works from Schnabel to Fischl to Muniz to Wilner hang in a descending curve from larger-than-life to small and intimate. Scanning the room, you see remarkable works from Picasso, Rothenberg, Picabia, and Condo. If you needed a reminder that portraiture was not just for popes, princes, and pimps, look no further than this show.
Meanwhile, blocks away is a portrait show at a young gallery, Allegra LaViola. Allegra, a lifelong New Yorker, is younger than Sperone’s gallery and opened her space in the neighborhood around the same time. Allegra put in her time working at the Venice Biennale, National Academy of Arts, Christie’s and several galleries before opening a beautiful two-floor gallery of her own. The location is off the beaten path, and she has turned it into a destination with dinner parties, performances, and wild installations. The basement is currently filled with a wild fantasy world installation by Jeila Gueramian, while the upstairs is an uncontroversial but exceptional portrait show from emerging artist and Columbia graduate Sarah Kurz. Titled Made For Love, the show applies a skilled eye for beauty and mystery to women and the everlasting cycles of myth.