Museums are fond of publishing tomes that celebrate their illustrious histories. These days, galleries are getting in on the game. But New York dealer Andrea Rosen’s decision to publish, this month, a boxed set of 26 books celebrating her gallery’s 25th anniversary came as something of a surprise. “I’m not normally a person who looks backward,” Rosen told ARTnews in January. “As Yoko Ono said to me recently, ‘If you’re looking backward or forward, you’re not doing the work you need to be doing now.’”
Twenty-five of the books are devoted to group shows—a wide array, ranging from historical shows to assemblies of contemporary artists. The final volume is an index that includes solo exhibitions with artists whose careers she helped launch, like Felix Gonzalez-Torres (who inaugurated her gallery, then in SoHo, in 1990), Rita Ackermann, and David Altmejd.
The books range in length from 16 pages, for her Bruce Nauman and John Chamberlain show (it featured only three works) in 2006, to more than 250 pages, for her 2005 exhibition “Looking at Words,” which had work from 385 artists who make text-based art.
“It was way more ambitious than I anticipated,” Rosen said, laughing, “but it was also incredibly worthwhile because it took me down a path of reconciling many aspects of my history.”
She is releasing the series in a very limited edition—meaning that a large percentage will probably be given to friends of the gallery. The individual books are fairly small, about 5 by 6¼ inches, and linen bound. Each includes only texts and photos written or shot at the time of the show. “They’re books that should probably exist anyway,” Rosen said. (She’s thinking about publishing a few in larger quantities.)
It is, to say the least, something of a peculiar approach to looking at the history of a gallery. “I’m really interested in how we expand our perception of something,” Rosen said. “So if I’m going to look at my history I want it to be in a way of—how do you use it as an opportunity for potentially a deeper understanding?”
One might also take it as an opportunity to remember the long odds faced by so-called mid-tier galleries, the dealers who operate below the bluest-chip tier of the international art market. Nowadays, collectors flock to hot upstarts and Gagosian-grade investments. The zone in between is tricky. It is exceedingly rare for those galleries to remain in business for 25 years, as bigger galleries lure away artists and revenue.
Over the years, some artists have left Rosen’s gallery (Wolfgang Tillmans most recently), but others have arrived (Lizzie Fitch and Ryan Trecartin, Josephine Meckseper), and Rosen has endured. She has focused on her presence in New York instead of pursuing the grand international expansion plans of some of her peers, like Iwan Wirth or David Zwirner. In 2012 she embarked on her first-ever expansion, opening a modestly sized space for her Gallery 2 program further down West 24th Street, just a few feet from the gallery she moved into in 1998. (Her final show in SoHo, as it happens, also involved an unusual form of documentation—Julia Scher set up surveillance cameras in the soon-to-be-opened Chelsea space as it was under construction and incorporated the footage into her exhibition.)
Asked if she is going to do a 25-year anniversary show, Rosen deadpanned, “No, there isn’t an exhibition. There will be a party.”