Marian Goodman photographed by Thomas Struth, who is among her stable of stars
Marian Goodman photographed by Thomas Struth, who is among her stable of stars © Thomas Struth

Marian Goodman, the well-regarded owner of eponymous art galleries in New York and Paris, is known for her close relationships with her artists. Many are European, and she regularly traverses the Atlantic to check in on them, invites them to stay in her eyrie high above Central Park and is masterful at landing prestigious museum acquisitions and exhibitions. Her artists repay her with striking loyalty.

It is fitting, then, that her upcoming expansion to London had its genesis in a favour she was doing for one of them, William Kentridge, the South African filmmaker and draughtsman. Most of Kentridge’s family, including his parents, siblings and daughter, had moved to London, and he wanted an office in the city so that he could work while visiting them.

Once Goodman began the real-estate hunt for him, “of course we were immediately looking for ourselves”, she says in her New York gallery. “At first we were looking for a small space, but as we realised more and more that it was the right thing to do, we began looking for a serious gallery space. There is no denying that the [European] centre for seeing art has moved to London now.”

The irony is that Kentridge ended up finding a flat with ample room to work in while Goodman leased two floors of a Victorian-era building on Golden Square and hired noted architect David Adjaye to design the gallery. When the gallery opens in October, Goodman will join the likes of powerhouse New York galleries Gagosian, Pace and David Zwirner, as well as mid-size Michael Werner and Skarstedt, in building outposts in London.

No one, however, would call Goodman a follower. When New York galleries were showing almost exclusively American artists in the 1970s, she represented cerebral Europeans few collectors Stateside had even heard of, such as Marcel Broodthaers and Lothar Baumgarten. In addition to Kentridge, she has since built a stable of contemporary stars such as Gerhard Richter, Jeff Wall, Thomas Struth, John Baldessari, Steve McQueen and Gabriel Orozco.

When Manhattan’s gallery scene moved almost en masse to SoHo in the 1980s, and then to Chelsea in the 1990s, Goodman stayed put on West 57th Street in a fourth-floor gallery. And while other galleries see art fairs as places of commerce, Goodman gave over her entire booth at Frieze New York last year to Tino Sehgal for a decidedly non-commercial performance. “It was such a pleasure to say ‘the hell with trade’ and do a show that’s beautiful,” she says.

Goodman was obviously aware of the New York invasion of London and acknowledges a certain “pressure” to protect her turf there. Most of her artists did not have London representation, and it’s clear that she felt they needed a platform there. “These very large galleries have created gigantic spaces for themselves, and they’re very busy looking for new work [to fill them],” she says. “I think there are a number of galleries that are really targets of these larger galleries. I don’t much care for the system. Younger artists are known to leave these big places because I don’t think it’s possible to run one with the kind of care and attention that is most beneficial to an artist.”

Goodman certainly dotes on her artists. Kentridge speaks of her “personal, deep knowledge of each artist”, and says: “There are things that happen out of sight of the artists, and I’m not sure how she does it – how she is able to, in a very quiet, particular way, change a ‘no’ into a ‘yes’,” whether from a curator or a collector. “I suspect this is because there is fundamentally a deep respect for her.”

Works by Gerhard Richter in Goodman’s New York gallery
Works by Gerhard Richter in Goodman’s New York gallery

Richter, whose bemusement at his staggering secondary-market prices has been well documented, says: “She has a kind of moral ethic. It’s not only business. Business is easy. I could never show at Gagosian.”

Richter marvels at Goodman’s “élan and energy” in opening a third gallery, particularly for someone in their eighties. She founded the gallery 37 years ago, and that was after spending 12 years running her Multiples print-publishing business, which she started after having married young and having two children.

Goodman is diminutive and soft-spoken but also steely and determined. She inspected London properties for more than a year. “I started looking in Mayfair because the important hotels are in Mayfair, and somehow that’s what everyone is doing,” she says. “But I never could find what we needed. I was looking for high ceilings and a lot of light and ample-size rooms, and that became very difficult to find in Mayfair except in a new building that looked like a bank, one of these all-glass structures that did not look very hospitable to me.”

When she found the one-time textile factory warehouse on Golden Square, “it was in pretty dismal condition,” she says. “But I knew it was the right space for us. It has good bones.”

Goodman tapped Adjaye to renovate it after being impressed by his collaborations with artists including Julie Mehretu, whom she represents. The brief was to create a space that was flexible enough to house work as varied as sprawling installations, colour photographs, films, paintings or drawings. Adjaye admiringly describes Goodman as a hands-on, “opinionated” client who pushes him in the most civil way. “Even when it looks perfect, she says, ‘Can you make it look even better?’” he says with a laugh. “I really enjoy it, in a perverse way.”

On the ground floor, stone and concrete will dominate, while the top floor will be lit by twin skylights. “Marian has kind of thrown down the gauntlet to her artists, saying, ‘Here is a fantastic space in the heart of London. Make something of it,’” says Kentridge. “It’s up to the artists working with Marian to manage this.”

Goodman will open with a bang: Richter is slated for the inaugural show, which will coincide with Frieze London in October. Goodman has installed Andrew Leslie Heyward, who oversees her Paris gallery, as London’s director, and Rose Lord, an English director based in the New York gallery, will also help with the debut. Goodman plans to stop in London regularly but is not in the market for a flat.

“I learned my lesson in Paris,” she says. Back in the mid-1990s, Goodman just wanted a pied à terre for respite after her intense continent-crossing studio visits. “What started as a pied à terre with a beautiful view seen from a rose-filled balcony looking toward the Pantheon and over the rooftops of Paris soon became some artists wanting to show some work there, and there I was, very excitedly in the gallery business in Paris.” Now she doesn’t want to be bothered with making beds or food shopping. “One area of focus is quite enough. I’m happy to stay in a hotel and let them worry about those things.”

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