Q and A: Paul Gray
Richard Gray Gallery’s second- generation director discusses collecting, youth, and carrying on the traditions of a world- famous art gallery.
Art and Living: As a young person sur- rounded by art and collectors, did you know that you wanted to continue the family tradition?
Paul Gray: Actually, no. I didn’t know that I want- ed to be an art dealer. I studied economics at the University of Illinois and after that became a the- ater producer for five years, working in New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia and Connecticut. Then I moved back to Chicago at 28 to work on film, try- ing to translate what I had learned in theater into film. It was at that time that I started working at my father’s gallery on Saturdays.
A and L: Was there a specific event or person that led you to your life as an art dealer?
PG: Yes, I suppose it was on those Saturdays the year I returned to Chicago. I was able to see what a rewarding field the art world is to work in, and it was then I realized that this was a good fit for me. Before that, I don’t think either my father or I imag- ined I would eventually be running the art gallery. He is certainly the person who influenced my eye the most. He has what I consider a “natural eye” and his eye for discerning quality is something that I see in him as being innate. I have more of a devel- oped or nurtured eye—which evidently came from him and was cultivated with his guidance.
A and L: Would you say that there is some healthy sense of competition between you and your father?
PG: Competition? I would say that there was no competition. Now, combativeness—yes! While we’ve always been mutually supportive of each other, it took years before I became effective enough in the business for him to fully trust me. Now that he has turned his energies more towards community affairs and as the arcs of our careers have overlapped over the past 10 years, I miss the level of intense interaction that we had on a daily basis.
A and L: How is your gallery now different from the one created by your father?
PG: I have put my energies into creating a gallery that focuses on the most exquisite mod- ern and contemporary works we can possibly deal in, thereby creating a gallery that is unique- ly equipped to serve the most discerning client. This has meant narrowing the scope of the gallery somewhat.
A and L: Richard Gray Gallery has an impeccable reputation as being truly col- lector-oriented.This is rather special in the art world. How is what you do different from other art dealers?
PG: I know that ar tists look to us to nur ture what they are creating; however, I don’t feel that the art dealer ultimately creates success for artists. Rather, I think we act as a partner to the artist. In much the same way, we act as a partner to the collector—we spend a lot of time exam- ining their feelings, peeling away layers of doubt, and letting them reveal themselves. After exam- ining all of these feelings, I help them find the very best of what they are looking for. I never get tired of this relationship.
A and L: Do you collect for yourself?
PG: Yes! How could I not? I am surrounded by spectacular works of art and passionate artists every day.
A and L: To you, what is the most valuable element in the collecting process?
PG: The most important thing for me is how a work of art moves a particular collector. If it moves them personally, that is the most important criterion. I feel a great sense of pride that people look to us to help them find art that suits their individuality and personality. I have a deep and abiding interest in what we do in this regard.There may be too much speculation and not enough col- lecting. I want to try to identify what the value and relative quality is for my collectors.
A and L: How do you perceive things or do things differently from you father?
PG: There are many, many differences between my father and me, but mostly these differences have been complimentary.The same is true for our New York director, Andrew Fabricant, who 11 years ago joined the gallery and whose unique perspectives and substantial art world profile and experience have helped the gallery grow in scope and prestige. Richard, Andrew and I frequently disagree on aesthetics, but admira- tion and respect for one another always prevails because, in the end, partnerships are more rewarding than going it alone.