Breaking Up (And Closing Down) Is Hard To Do

BOSTON — This month, after 40 years in business, a signature art gallery on Newbury Street is closing its doors.

Painter Judi Rotenberg opened the Judi Rotenberg Gallery in 1971. Her daughter, Abigail Ross Goodman, took it over 10 years ago. Since then, the gallery has carved out a singular place in Boston’s contemporary arts scene, according to Nick Capasso, the senior curator at the Decordova Sculpture Park and Museum in Lincoln.

“It became one of the most important places to see advanced work in Boston consistently,” he explained.

The DeCordova has exhibited artists represented by the Rotenberg Gallery, and also holds a few of their works in the museum’s permanent collection.

Judi Rotenberg and Abigail Ross Goodman, mother and daughter, together in the Judi Rotenberg gallery. (Andrea Shea/WBUR)

On a recent afternoon, owner Ross Goodman worked with artist Douglas Weathersby to install the last show — a group show — in the Newbury Street space. The walls were covered with works by more than two dozen artists the gallery represents. Once all the art is up, the show will serve as a visual history, or retrospective, of Rotenberg’s evolution over time.

Ross Goodman said the decision to wrap up the family business wasn’t driven by economics. But still, she explained, it was a tough one.

“We’ve had a great run, it’s really a choice about time and being ready to move forward,” Ross Goodman said.

But it’s also an emotional choice, according to Ross Goodman, because she’s shown, sold and supported her roster of artists for years. The art world is built on relationships, she said. With the gallery’s closing, many of Rotenberg’s artists will, in essence, be single.

“For everyone we’ve represented, we’ve always talked about starting to work together as real marriage of sorts,” Ross Goodman said with a short laugh, “And, you know, I don’t consider this a divorce. I hope they don’t either!”

But that’s how Rotenberg artist Sean Micka felt when he got the phone call.

“I was like, this is kind of like a break up, but it’s not at all personal,” Micka said.

The final show for the Judi Rotenberg gallery is set up. (Andrea Shea/WBUR)

Micka traveled from Brooklyn to attend Rotenberg’s final opening last week. The Newton native said he was fresh out of art school when he started working with Ross Goodman in 2002.

Splitting up is sad, he said, because their relationship has boosted his confidence and his career.

“It just takes a really long time to get to know someone, I’ve been showing with her for many years now and we’re really good friends, so building up to that level of trust and understanding, you know, it will be hard,” Micka said.

Breaking up is hard to do — especially if you actually like your ex — but that’s how it goes sometimes, according to Anne Beresford. She’s one of Ross Goodman’s first artists, and said playing the field for a new gallery is actually called “dating” in the art world.

“When you first meet a gallerist that you like, you look at what they are showing, you look at their program, you look at the other artists, and date for a while before you get married,” Beresford said. “So, we’ll see, I may start dating again, but I’ll have to have a period of mourning first.”

This opening reception is more like a love fest than a funeral, though. The gallery is packed with artists, their families, collectors and other gallery owners.

Jill Medvedow of the Instiute of Contemporary Art shows up and gives Ross Goodman a hug. Eighty-six-year-old expressionist painter Jason Berger sits in a chair like a patriarch, taking it in. He’s one of Judi Rotenberg’s original artists, and he’s still working.

The opening party for the Judi Rotenberg Gallery's final exhibition. (Andrea Shea/WBUR)

It’s pretty rare to have a second-generation art-gallery –- in this town or any other. Christian Holland, executive editor of the art journal, “Big, Red and Shiny,” says Rotenberg has been crucial to the development of its artists. Standing outside the gallery on the sidewalk, he likened the Rotenberg gallery to a guidance department — for art school kids.

“Artists who show at the Judi Rotenberg Gallery are at the beginning of their career, are mid-career, they’re more of less in their teens, I guess you could say,” Holland explained. “And for Rotenberg to suddenly leave, it’s as if a family of teenagers suddenly lost a parent, they’re suddenly out on their own.”

And, he said, it leaves Boston with one less contemporary art gallery willing to take risks on contemporary art.

But, as it turns out, this “art family” is changing. Former Rotenberg co-director Kristen Dodge is opening a new gallery — in New York. Dave Cole, an artist known for knitting gigantic American flags using telephone poles as needles, will be represented there -– along with a few other Rotenberg artists.

So it looks like they’re committed — for better, or for worse.

The Judi Rotenberg Gallery’s final show will be up through its last day of business, on June 19.

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  • http://www.richerearth.com Eric McNulty

    It’s sad to see this gallery close. The larger story is the flight of art from Newbury Street. A couple of other major local galleries have moved to the South End and Newbury Street seems to be losing its luster.

  • geffe

    “Ross Goodman said the decision to wrap up the family business wasn’t driven by economics. But still, she explained, it was a tough one.”

    Interesting comment. Who knows what the real reason was here, it is a shame for Boston to lose another gallery.
    However how can economics not be an issue? We are in the middle of one of the worse economic downturns since the Great Depression, how can the economy not be an issue?

  • Rob

    The Boston contemporary art scene is terrible anyway. It is an absolute shame that the major institutions in Boston, the MFA, the ICA, etc, do absolutely nothing to support the local arts scene. Instead, they simply grab already successful (and often overrated) artists from galleries. There is absolutely no vision here in Boston for the arts community, and until there is we will always be far behind cities like New York and Los Angeles.

  • Plwappraisaals

    What An AMAZING Story! AReal Turn Around From The Judi Rotenberg Gallery in the 1980s. That Everyone Knew Was A Vanity Gallery!!!!!! Even Auction Records For Judi and Harold Rotenberg Are The Lowest Ever Compared To Their Self Proclaimed Artisitic. Talent. Hey, Maybe They Decided They Finally Needed To Make Some Money Instead Of Buying A Building and Placing Their Names on IT.Check Out AskArt and Artfact and Get The Real Low Down On Their Art Values! If The Rotenbergs Are Being Nice To People ITS FOR THEIR OWN BENEFIT. LOL. (Laughing Out Loud)

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