by Sarah Schmerler
Three months before Chelsea dealer Yancey Richardson opened her summer group show, Glitz & Grime: Photographs of Times Square (featuring works by 22 artists), David Hilliard, one of Richardson’s longtime stable artists, was about to come to New York to make new work for the show. He’d be coming in from Boston, along with lots of equipment and an assistant—only the weather report for the spring day he’d scheduled wasn’t cooperating. “Photography is all about light,” says Richardson, “and David was ambivalent about whether to chance it, but sometimes one of the things I have to do for my artists is push them a little. I said, ‘If the clouds clear, you’ll be making work, and if they don’t, so what? It’s taken a day out of your life.’ For me, it’s about participating—it’s about giving it your all.”
As a dealer, Richardson is enthusiastic, artist- and client-centered, and peripatetic: she traveled to Amsterdam for an overnight stay to attend gallery artist Hellen van Meene’s opening at the Huis Marseille; she stood with Esko Mannikko when he won the Deutsche Börse Prize in London. And though she comes to dealing photographs by way of the seemingly staid discipline of art history, Richardson was anything but sedentary in its pursuit. Born in Marietta, Georgia, and raised in Charleston, South Carolina, Richardson first got interested in art history in high school. She received her BA in art history at Southern Methodist University in Dallas and had completed the coursework (sans
thesis) for her master’s degree when a fateful school trip to New York convinced her to interrupt her MFA to enroll in the Whitney Independent Study Program.
“I used to say I had wheels on my feet as a kid,” says Richardson, “I was relatively fearless about moving to a new city and looking for opportunities.” By the time Richardson was 21, she had already curated impressive shows in the Whitney ISP (with photographs loaned from the likes of Sam Wagstaff and New York’s Museum of Modern Art); before she was 23, she had lived in Europe and then worked at an art gallery in Palm Beach, Florida, selling work by such artists as Louise Nevelson and Milton Avery. Soon thereafter she returned to New York and cemented her commitment to photography. In 1982 Richardson became a private photography dealer in San Francisco. “It was common then to put some prints in a portfolio box and go to Chicago, to LA, to ferret out collectors. I met a lot of people I do business with today at that time. I’ve known them now almost 25 years.”
Richardson finished off that MA thesis before coming back to New York and setting up shop as a private dealer. From 1985 until 1995, she built up her collector base handling vintage works, but she has increasingly represented more contemporary artists as well. She expanded to a public gallery space at 560 Broadway in 1995; and in 2000, she moved her gallery to 535 West 22nd Street in Chelsea. Throughout her career, Richardson has been well regarded for showing artists with strong presences in Europe who deserve serious consideration in the U.S. (Bertien van Manen and Olivo Barbieri); well-deserving mid-career artists (Mitch Epstein and Kenneth Josephson); as well as fresh faces in the medium (Lisa Kereszi and Alex Prager). “When I take on an artist, I want to see more than their thesis project, more than hot work that fits the zeitgeist,” she says. “I’m in this for the long term, looking for good, solid work that they’ll make over the length of their lifelong career. That,” Richardson says, somewhat uncharacteristically, “is when I move slowly.”