Published: October 28, 2003
NEW YORK CITY – American art dealer Vance Jordan passed away on October 20 at the age of 60. The cause of death was cancer. Mr Jordan was president of Vance Jordan Fine Art, 958 Madison Avenue, where the gallery has been located since 1987.
Mr Jordan was born in 1943 to Lillian and Joseph Jordan and grew up in Yonkers. After earning a degree in engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Jordan decided against a career in that field and instead taught squash at the New York Athletic Club. In the late 60s and early 70s he ran the Joe Jordan Talent Agency, a children’s talent agency founded by his father.
Ulrich Hiesinger, art scholar and longtime friend of Jordan, as well as the author of many of the gallery’s exhibition catalogs remembers how Jordan’s passion for art was ignited in high school when the Museum of Modern Art exhibited their groundbreaking Art Nouveau show of 1960. The show proved to be a catalyst for classmates Jordan and Hiesinger and a few of their friends.
In the mid 70s Jordan partnered with his cousin Tod Volpe to launch the Jordan-Volpe Gallery on West Broadway in SoHo. Jordan-Volpe specialized in American Arts and Crafts furniture and pottery, as well as fine art by American expatriate artists Edwin Lord Weeks, H. Siddons Mowbray, Julius Stewart and Charles Caryl Coleman. Jordan believed in the talent of American potters, and felt that their work was undervalued.
Hiesinger wrote, “…when he first decided to become a dealer and needed inventory, he walked in to [Lillian] Nassau’s shop one day and bought every piece of American art pottery she had – at retail prices.”
When the gallery moved to Madison Avenue, the focus shifted from furniture and pottery to American paintings of the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth Centuries. “When I started with him in ’87 he was dealing with the 1880s but even then he had a nice Marsden Hartley on the table. He was already considering good paintings in periods that he hadn’t already considered,” said David Dufour, director of acquisitions with the gallery since 1987.
Jordan continued to seek out work by American expatriates of the late Nineteenth Century but he also specialized in American Impressionism, Regionalists and early Modernists. This spring Vance Jordan Fine Art, Inc, exhibited 38 works by American painters from the first half of the Twentieth Century in a show entitled “Power and Whimsy: A Private Collection of American Modernism.” The show later traveled to the Chrysler Museum in Norfolk, Va., where it ran until September 27.
Hiesinger said, “Jordan was willing to listen but he also had an absolute iron underneath. He made his decisions with great confidence. He was a very studious person. He would go off on a weekend with three very weighty tomes and read them. He had a persistence and serious engagement with art history issues. He had a sense of what things were worth – not just commercially, but intellectually and artistically.” According to Hiesinger, Jordan “held his own with and even pointed the way for more than one scholar of American art.”
Perhaps Jordan’s greatest legacy is the light he threw on unrecognized or under-appreciated American talent. “Impressionism in America: The Ten American Painters” (1991) was a landmark exhibition. His monograph exhibitions for Charles Sprague Pearce (1993), Childe Hassam (1994), John La Farge (1995 and 1998), Childe Hassam (1994), Henry Roderick Newman (1996), Richard E. Miller (1997), Julius Stewart (1998), Edwin Lord Weeks (2002), sparked renewed interest in their vision and accomplishments.
In 1996 Vance Jordan Fine Art hosted and financed an exhibition of 25 American paintings from the permanent collection of the Brooklyn Museum of Art. The benefit opening and resultant contributions solicited by Jordan raised more than $160,000 towards the publishing of a catalog of the museum’s important American paintings. Terry Carbone, curator of American art at the Brooklyn Museum of Art and principal author of the 1,400 page two-volume catalog (which is currently in the process of being edited) was a graduate student when she worked for Jordan in SoHo. “He was a continually supportive friend,” said Carbone.
According to Dufour, Jordan was one of the first art dealers to focus on Emil Carlsen, and published the only monograph for the artist, which, unfortunately, is no longer readily available. Jordan’s exhibition catalogs were published in small editions, and in hindsight Dufour wishes that he could have added 500 copies to the print run for every one of them.
“In the field of American art he really raised the bar for gallery publications and his small catalogs consistently contributed new scholarship to the field,” echoed Carbone.
In July of 2002 Jordan partnered with Thomas Colville and Stuart Feld to purchase an important George Washington portrait by Charles Willson Peale at a French auction for a record price of $5 million for an American painting sold in Europe. In so doing, the three brought back to this country a historically and artistically important American painting.
Colville said, “I met him in 1976 when he was running his gallery downtown in lower Manhattan when he was a dealer in Arts and Crafts and pottery and I was already a painting dealer.” In 1976 Jordan bought a picture by Charles Davis that Colville had lent to the Michael Quick exhibition of American expatriate art. Thus began a 27-year friendship between Colville and Jordan – two oft-times business partners and sometimes rivals.
Colville was impressed with “Jordan’s enthusiasm and the sense of adventure and excrdf_Descriptionent in which he approached everything he did.” Soon after, Jordan and Colville (who was steeped in American expatriate art from his days at Yale with Michael Quick) bought every picture from a Graham Gallery exhibition of expatriate artist Gary Melcher, an American working in Holland. Colville remembered, “I needed a retail outlet in New York for paintings that I bought and so Vance and I would buy things together and he would sell them in his gallery.”
At one point the two were going to go into business together with an uptown gallery, but that never happened. Colville remained in Connecticut and Jordan in New York. Colville said, “We went our separate ways but remained friends.” The camaraderie they maintained included one-upmanship, frequently bidding against each other at auction. “We would not tell each other what we were doing. I bought an Emil Carlsen at a dealer sale in London at 5 in the morning for $25,000 or something. I got the picture. Five minutes later I got a call from Vance, ‘Was that you on the other phone?’ That happened many times.”
Vance Jordan’s private collection of paintings by the Nineteenth Century Italian artist Antonio Mancini was one of his most significant pursuits. Dufour considers the Mancini collection to be one of Jordan’s greatest legacies and hopes that the paintings will end up in a museum that will not only safeguard them, but also make them accessible to the public.
Hiesinger wrote, “His deep, abiding passion was in all things Italian, but being a connoisseur and student of art in the truest sense, he transferred that dedication so that in the course of business he did more to advance through scholarly publication the knowledge and understanding of American art than any individual of his generation.”
Colville said, “He had a wonderful intelligence and sense of integrity in regards to doing things well with scholarship. He had humor, wit. The combination of his eye, intelligence and professionalism were what made him an outstanding dealer.”
The gallery staff has no plans for continuing the operation of the gallery according to Kendall Scully, director of research and exhibitions. David Dufour stated that without Mr Jordan, there was little likelihood of the gallery continuing, making Mr Jordan’s death a double loss for the art world.
Jordan is survived by his sister Jill Spangler and two nephews, Ian and Noel Spangler of New York City.
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