Published: March 22, 2022
In the high stakes, big money world of art dealing, it has traditionally been unusual for art dealers – who often see each other as competitors – to collaborate. At least, that was the way of the past, but dealers today see the benefits of working together and sharing knowledge and resources. As a result, it is not too surprising to hear of gallerists partnering up. While we won’t go so far as to call it a trend yet, when word that auction house veteran and American art specialist Liz Sterling was hanging up a shingle with Jonathan Boos, who has specialized as a dealer of Nineteenth and Twentieth Century American art, we took the opportunity to probe the reasons for the venture and why it was better than flying solo.
For readers who aren’t familiar with either of you, can you each tell us a little bit about yourself?
JB: I grew up in the art business. My father, Frank Boos, was an auctioneer in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., for more than 40 years, so it is fair to say that the art business was in my blood from a very early age. I actually started with my family’s auction house out of college and was with the firm for five years before I decided to specialize in my love of American art from the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries; so, in 1994 I joined Richard Manoogian as his curator and advisor and my journey in the American art world began in earnest.
LS: I also grew up in the art business. My father, Charles Sterling, was an art and antiques dealer in Philadelphia. Probably because my mother needed a break and couldn’t find a babysitter, I began going to auctions and on excursions with my father at a young age and have been in love with the business ever since. After graduating college, I worked for a private dealer for a couple of years before joining Christie’s where I spent a decade in the American art Department. I left Christie’s to work as a curator for a private collector who focused mainly on Modern and contemporary art and was then drawn back into the auction world, this time at Sotheby’s where I held roles in the American, Contemporary and Impressionist & Modern Departments.
You’re both well-known figures to American art market insiders. How, when and where did you first meet?
JB: Liz and I met in 2005 shortly after she started working at Christie’s. I was often at Christie’s looking for great American art and Liz was just starting in the American department. I noticed early on that she has a great eye and we started working together from that point forward.
LS: I remember meeting Jon when I was a cataloger in Christie’s American art Department. It was during an auction preview, and I had to help him blacklight a few works. This was during the height of the American market, and he was one of the top players. I was nervous to say the least! I remember being immediately impressed by how knowledgeable and passionate he was about the art. Thankfully I must not have screwed up too badly as he continued to work with me over the following years.
You’ve recently formed a new joint collaborative venture where you share a gallery space in which both businesses will operate – what was behind the merger?
JB: Over 17 years, we have helped each other source paintings, advise shared clients, collaborate on projects, and have become trusted friends. My wife Sheri joined the gallery a couple of years ago and she and Liz have worked together on some contemporary art projects; so, after Liz left Sotheby’s, the three of us started talking about next moves and our collaboration idea took shape and took off. We have renovated a great space at 980 Madison Avenue and plan to be open April 27.
LS: In addition to our passion for the art, Jon and I also share a slightly off-beat aesthetic, which was a source of bonding early on. Over the years, we have worked together on a number of consignments and projects, and I have had the opportunity to become close personal friends with him and his wife Sheri. When I left Sotheby’s, the three of us began to discuss the possibility of collaborating and what that could look like. After a number of conversations, we decided to take a joint space where we can each run our separate businesses but work together on exhibitions and projects in a more official way. We were lucky to find a great space at 980 Madison and are thrilled to be in the company of the other galleries in the building. Coming from an auction house background, I think there is true value in having trusted colleagues and friends that you can work with and bounce ideas off of.
What are the strengths of your partnership?
JB: As I mentioned, Liz has a great eye. We both share a love for American art, especially Modernism and postwar and have many similar interests within those categories, but Liz also has great strength in contemporary art and a good pulse on what is going on in the “now.” I am interested and involved in the “now,” but I remain very committed to the Midcentury Modernists and Realists. By sharing a space and collaborating, we will be able to provide our individual clients a combined 47 years of art world experience across so many categories.
LS: I have long respected Jon for his eye and also for the quality and strength of his relationships with collectors. While our careers have had a similar trajectory in that we both started in the American art field and have subsequently expanded into Impressionist and Modern and contemporary art, we have different experiences and skill sets. While our taste is often – though not always! – similar, our approaches can be different and often Jon gets me to see things in ways that I didn’t previously. Collaborating with Jon and Sheri allows the three of us to be more creative and daring than we would be individually.
Collegiality among dealers can be rare. Are you seeing a rising trend for that and why is that?
JB: We are seeing that becoming a trend. It seems to make a lot of sense in the new art world. We are not the first to make this kind of move. It gives us a chance to share a great space, share the expenses of such a space, collaborate on projects within the space and help each other to better serve our clients.
LS: The landscape has changed considerably over the past five years, and we are increasingly seeing dealers and advisors working together in ways that previously would have been unthinkable. I think this is due to a number of factors including cost, visibility and for the more historic material, difficulty in sourcing. Teaming up with another dealer/advisor that you trust allows you to cast a wider net and better serve your clients. It is also more fun and broadens the prospect of what can be accomplished.
Tell us a little more about your new space at 980 Madison?
JB: 980 Madison Avenue is a really great building. It is in the heart of the upper east side art world. Anchored by galleries such as Gagosian, Dickinson, Nahmad Contemporary, Edward Tyler Nahem, Yoshii Gallery and Robilant+Voena, it seemed to be a perfect space for us. Betty Rexrode from Rexrode Chirigos has designed a special space and Cub Craft has renovated about 2,400 square feet on the third floor.
LS: Jon nailed this one
Jonathan, you’ve been connected with the Manoogian Collection for more than two decades. Tell us more about that.
JB: Yes, almost three decades actually! Wow, how time flies when you are having fun. It has been one of the greatest honors of my career to be the curator and advisor to the Manoogian Collection. Richard Manoogian is one of the greatest collectors I have ever met, in my opinion one of the GOAT’s (greatest of all time) in the art world. The collections he formed over the past 40 years of exceptional art in categories such as American and European paintings, sculpture, silver, Native American Indian and Oceanic Art are truly mind boggling and something that I am very proud to be a part of since June 1994!
What is your first exhibition and/or special project?
JB: We are going to open with an exhibition of paintings and sculpture that will span well over 100 years that will showcase for our visitors the strengths of all the categories that Liz and I specialize in. We want people to be surprised at the broadness of categories and artists…. We believe it will be special!
Five-year goals? Ten?
JB: My focus right now is getting open and having a great 2022 in our new space.
LS: We can’t reveal all our secrets!
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