Leila Heller Gallery
Since its establishment over three decades ago in New York, Leila Heller Gallery has gained worldwide recognition as a pioneer in promoting creative dialogue and exchange between Western artists and Middle Eastern, Central and Southeast Asian artists. It has garnered a reputation for identifying and cultivating the careers of artists leaving a lasting impact on contemporary art and culture. Currently representing a diverse roster of Western and Middle Eastern artists, the gallery is also active in the American, European and Middle Eastern secondary art markets. In November 2015, Leila Heller Gallery opened its first international location in Dubai’s Alserkal Avenue. At 14,000 square feet, the state-of the-art gallery features three exhibition spaces, making it the largest gallery in the UAE. Showcasing leading regional and international artists, many of whom will be presenting their work in the Middle East for the first time, the gallery is dedicated to supporting the evolving practice of established artists.
What did you do before you opened your first gallery in New York City?
After graduating from Brown University and getting a Master’s from Sotheby’s and from George Washington University in art history and museum management, I worked at the Guggenheim Museum from 1979 to mid 1980. I then joined an investment bank in New York as the curator of their corporate collection. After two years, I opened my own gallery on Madison Avenue and 82nd Street and represented an international array of artists including a number of Middle Eastern artists.
Could you tell us about your first exhibition, which acted as a statement for your programme?
My first exhibition was a solo show by Marta Minujin, an Argentinian feminist artist who was and still is an inspiration to women not only in her country but globally. The UN purchased a work from my show.
Do you feel the intention you set for the gallery when you first opened is still the same today?
My programme has changed tremendously as I now have two galleries globally. My gallery in Dubai mainly shows international prominent artists from around the world, including Middle Eastern artists, as well as representing the estates of Farideh Lashai and Marcos Grigorian and doing shows of modern Middle Eastern masters. My gallery in New York represents a number of American and international artists, but also has major curated shows of contemporary and modern masters, themed curated exhibitions. My last show was a show curated by Jane Holzer, who was Warhol’s first superstar and muse, known as “Baby Jane.” My current show is the new works by Arthur Carter, a well-known American sculptor
whose public works are in front of the UN, Brown University, NYU and in New Milford Hospital. My current show in Dubai is of the prominent artist Reza Derakshani and is a retrospective of his work and the biggest show he has had in a gallery.
“My galleries have always been very inviting and everyone feels very welcome in the atmosphere I create”
What does sharing your name with the gallery mean to you?
I don’t know if having my name as the emblem of my gallery makes sense anymore as my son works alongside me with and has equal responsibilities, so somehow I think I should rethink the name pretty soon.
Why did you feel it was important to open your gallery in the UAE?
I had been exhibiting at Art Dubai and Abu Dhabi Art for 10 years before I decided to open a gallery in the UAE. Dubai has become an adopted country for me, and I so enjoy its people, the nature, the sea and the warmth. I feel it is a home away from home, and I love every moment I spend there, so it was natural that after 10 years of going three or four times to the UAE for two art fairs and seeing my clients to open my gallery in Dubai, which is an art hub.
How do you see the art scene today and your relationship with it?
The New York art scene is as vibrant as ever and quite happening. Of course it is not
like the 1980s where the New York art scene was the epitome of contemporary art and where all the action took place. Times have changed as the relationship between gallerists and artists was so much more intimate then and the stable of artists in galleries were much smaller rather than mega galleries with their big rosters of artists. All of us hung out at Studio 54, Xenon and Area with our artists and were very close friends of all our artists. We were like a family. I feel the art world has become much more money-driven, and the spirit of camaraderie and the innocence that existed in those days is no longer relevant.
How would you define the identity of your gallery?
I find that my gallery is really me and my personality. I have to connect with my artists or my clients, and it is really a personal relationship that I develop. I cannot show an artist for financial gain, I passionately love the art I sell or the artists I interact with.
What can you tell us about the roster of artists you represent?
The roster of artists are quite diverse, but I must say that I love and admire their works with passion and have tremendous respect for them.
Your son Alexander Heller has joined the gallery a few years ago. Do you feel the new generation will change the art world?
I definitely think the new generation will change the art world in a big way. The new generation works heavily through social media, WhatsApp and there are a lot of instant deals going on. My tendency is to always meet the client and do face to face. I see how my son sells works all over the world without ever having met the client, but it seems to work very well.
Which photograph from 2019 best represents your gallery and activity?
I think that the above picture shows the new direction of the gallery as working as partners together in New York and in Dubai. This photo was taken at our inaugural show in our new space uptown at 17 East 76th Street off Madison Avenue.
Could you tell us about your programme for 2020?
My first show for 2020 in New York will be Nick Moss, who will exhibit his new series of wall sculptures. In Dubai we will inaugurate the first solo show of Melis Buyruk, a Turkish sculptor whose medium is porcelain.
A VERSION OF THIS ARTICLE APPEARED IN PRINT IN SELECTIONS, SHOW & TELL #51