Art should never be aggressively explained; art should be felt.
—Andre Zarre, 1977
Often, in the starlit New York cultural mecca, a longtime important figure fades away through the penumbra and dies without notice. Such was the fate of Andre Zarre, the contemporary art dealer, who passed away a few weeks ago.
Andy, as he wanted friends to call him, opened his eponymous gallery in 1974 just off Madison Avenue on Sixty-ninth Street. He soon moved it to the omphalos of the art world in that era, 41 East Fifty-seventh Street, the Fuller Building. Over the years he moved to SoHo and then to Chelsea, as fashion and real estate prices pushed the art souk hither and thither.
To understand his importance, all you need do is take a look at a list of artists who had solo shows at the Andre Zarre Gallery. This includes such names, from an early generation, as Sonia Delaunay, Nassos Daphnis, Sari Dienes, and Perle Fine. Among a subsequent generation are Pat Lipsky, Jay Milder, Thornton Willis, and Kes Zapkus.1
And this list does not include the many knowns and unknowns who were in his lively group shows. Zarre had a real “eye” and was a champion of abstract art from the moment he founded his gallery—even among the gathering storms of conceptual and political art, which he eschewed. He showed a good deal of figurative art as well. His galleries were always spacious and unpretentious, oriented simply to show the art. In the words of Dee Shapiro, who showed with the Zarre gallery many times, “He had a photographic memory and knew a lot about art and was always interested in the artist’s life.”
Reliable biographical information on Zarre is scarce, but he said of his background that he was born in Poland in 1942 and that his parents were a diplomat and a socialite. He left home for the United States at the age of fifteen. During his decades as an art dealer in New York, Zarre did not appear to accumulate wealth, though he acquired a collection and lived on Park Avenue. “He was not personally aggressive in that way. People had to come to him,” Dee Shapiro said. He was honest in his financial dealings with artists, which not all art dealers are. For a long time while running the gallery he had a second job as a supervisor in an airline office and he kept little to no additional staff in the gallery. He supported a brother who remained in Poland.
Among artists, Zarre was known to be quite ornery. After my show at his gallery in 1997, I refused to enter it for seventeen years. Then I ran into him in Chelsea and he offered me another show, an opportunity I gladly accepted, but he remained just as disagreeable. He showed the work of many women, probably more than any other gallery, save those devoted to showing only women. Collectors, curators, and writers found him mostly friendly. As Peter Reginato put it, Zarre was a “strange guy but I liked him. I think he was a dealer who was more interested in the art than in making money, but somehow he lasted forty-plus years.”
- Zarre is not known to have kept extensive or extant records of his gallery’s long history, though these may emerge in time. Scouring the Internet, one may compile a partial list of more than eighty artists who had solo shows at the Andre Zarre Gallery:
Nancy Azara, Ellen Banks, Mary Barnes, Tony Bechara, Juan Bernal, Stephanie Bernheim, Randy Bloom, Elena Borstein, Michael Boyd, Fritz Bultman, Ed Buonagurio, Yoan Capote, Sonia Delaunay, Nassos Daphnis, Cathy Diamond, Sari Dienes, Joseph Dolinsky, Beata Drozd, Ronnie Elliot, William Fares, Perle Fine, Lynne Frehm, Ben Georgia, Mikel Glass, Dana Gordon, Juanita Guccione, Fred Gutzeit, Don Hazlitt, Amy Hill, Clinton Hill, Monroe Hodder, Budd Hopkins, Arlan Huang, Richard Hunt, Rhia Hurt, Buffie Johnson, Alexander Kaletski, Robert Kaupelis, Constance Kheel, Joseph Konzal, Harry Koursaros, Jerzy Kosinski, Nina Kuo, Ellen Lanyon, Tadeusz Lapinski, Raeford Liles, Pat Lipsky, Jerry Lubensky, Despo Magoni, Michael Malpass, Demetrius Manouselis, Ron Mehlman, Susan Michod, Jay Milder, Loren Munk, Robert Murray, Douglas Ohlson, Rafal Olbinsky, Chuck Olson, Irene Rice Pereira, Billy Quinn, David Rankin, Peter Reginato, Monique Rollins, Jan Sawka, Barbara Schwartz, Dee Shapiro, Louise P. Sloane, Dee Solin, Marjorie Strider, Joan Thorne, Richard Timperio, Stephen T. Vessels, Lilian Voorhees, Joy Walker, Charmion Von Wiegand, Thornton Willis, Kit White, Scott Wixon, Nicholas Wolfson, Jean Xceron, Sue Yang, Kes Zapkus, Susan Zises.