25 Years 25 Artists: An Interview with Julie Saul

Julie Saul © Elliot Black Photography

Art dealer Julie Saul was honored for her contributions to photography at last year’s Aperture’s 2010 Benefit. This year she commemorates her gallery’s 25th anniversary with the exhibition 25 Years/25 Artists and an accompanying catalogue. The show features a single photograph from each year of her gallery’s history and will be on view through Friday, August 26th. Among the artists include Luigi Ghirri, Maira Kalman, Sally Gall, Penelope Umbrico and James Welling.

What are some of your favorite photobooks?

Some of the earliest books when I first became interested in photography. There were very few books published on photography so you could virtually own all of the photography books back in the 70s. There was Diane Arbus, there was George Platt Lynes there was Danny Lyon…but there were very few books so you ended up spending a lot of more time really scrutinizing the individual images than you do today because now there are so many you can barely flip through the books that you own. Perhaps my favorite photobook was one given to me when I left the Met’s department of 20th century photography where I interned in 1982. They gave me this gorgeous huge George Platt Lynes book that I think was one of the first books published by Jack Woody with Twin Palms, and I loved that book. Then I did a show of his work later at my gallery and somebody stole it! It had been signed by everybody in that department and that was truly one of the worst losses that I have had.

What has been your favorite show you’ve seen this summer?

La Carte D’Après Nature at Matthew Marks, curated by Thomas Demand. I love the fact that it was curated by an artist. I think shows curated by artists are very interesting and it gives me a whole new insight into Thomas Demand’s work. It also includes 50 prints by one of my favorite photographers who I have shown a couple of times over the years- Luigi Ghirri.

You were the first American dealer to show Ghirri’s work, correct?

I was. And I still think that he is a completely brilliant and under-recognized (although probably not for long) European artist. He’s sort of the William Eggleston of Europe in the 70s, and from what I’ve seen from European work of that time, particularly of Italian work, it was very romantic, it was black and white. Ghirri had this very conceptual point of view and worked in color and really understood media so I think that it’s great that he’s finally getting the attention he deserves. Seeing his work in the context of the Matthew Marks exhibition will really be an important step for him.

What are some of your most meaningful relationships that you have had with artists over the years?

Often a long relationship is a good relationship and you can get used to each other and you get closer to each other just like a long term [romantic] relationship. If you look at my 25th Anniversary show, the first artist I ever showed, Andy Bush, is still with the gallery and we’ve certainly had our ups and downs over the years but I’ve been able to gain an understanding of the way he works and thinks by having such a long term relationship. I would say that what makes a good relationship is the artist’s ability and willingness to really collaborate with you. Not to see the gallery as a battlefield, but see it as a matrimonial bed, a place of collaboration, sharing resources and ideas. One of the more fun things I’ve done is working with Maira Kalman who had never really had gallery representation before because she normally does books, theater design, textile design and applied arts. So for her it has been a great adventure, and for me to figure out how to promote some of these works, because she has never thought about trying to fit within the traditional gallery system, its been really fun.

Although you represent artists working in a variety of media, what made you want to specialize in photography?

I started with a specialization in photography because I felt like it was important to have a distinct identity within the larger New York art world. Within my larger academic studies in art history I did my thesis on a Bauhaus photographer, but as you know the Bauhaus is about work in many different media. Maholy Nagy believed that every medium has its proper application so he thought for representational art, photography was the medium and for abstract art, painting was the medium. I identify with, and show a great deal of, photography but my interests and enthusiasms are by no means limited to strictly photography. And furthermore a lot of the artists I represent, actually enjoy working in the way that I described, different media for different projects. I’m very interested in artists who take a very freewheeling approach to the medium.

What are some of things you are most proud of exhibiting over the past 25 years?

Well I think the 25th Anniversary show itself is a good example of that. We do eight or nine shows a year and I’ve had the difficult task of choosing one work from one show during a year where literally hundreds of works have been exhibited.

More information about Julie Saul Gallery.

Click here to buy tickets to Aperture’s 2011 Benefit and Auction, honoring Bruce Davidson, Gerhard Steidl and Robert Anthione.