President, Wexler Gallery
I have spent a lot of thinking about why we are in this crazy field. It is a tough life – very interesting to those who view it from the outside, but those of us who are the wizards behind the curtain know the truth. It is not a job; it is a lifestyle. One that can be all-consuming, 24/7. We eat, breathe, and live art.
There have been many significant highlights in my career. I was fortunate enough to work for many years at Christie’s in New York. I was able to hold the world’s second-largest diamond in the palm of my hand. I was there when Dr. Gachet by Vincent Van Gogh was auctioned off for $82.5 million. I bid on a multi-million dollar painting when a very drunk Japanese client gave me his paddle, and raised my hand until he won. Situations like these sure beat working in a cubicle. But as a gallery owner, there is one moment that epitomizes why I own a gallery and am part of the “art scene.”
This defining moment happened when I had first set up my gallery, Wexler in Old City. Our first show was Dale Chihuly. I had the show set up, but the renovations were not complete. The contractors were still doing drywall and electrical work. In hindsight, it is not the smartest move to have $250,000 worth of glass out while guys on ladders are painting and sanding.
The workmen were really into the glass. After their working day had ended, they stayed into the night looking at the show and poring over the books I had on Chihuly. Although none of them had heard of him or seen his work, they seemed to relate to Chilhuly and his crew’s craftsmanship.
We discussed the difficulty in taking molten glass and creating beautiful colors and forms. When we looked at the books I had on Chihuly’s installations, they were amazed at the scale of the work, the number of people it took to create the pieces, and the exotic locations of the installations. Of course they wanted to know about the eye patch Chihuly wears, and we talked about Dale’s car accident.
At first, they thought someone would have to be out of his or her mind to spend $30,000 or more for a piece of glass. As the night went on, they came to understand and appreciate the work that went into the pieces, and why the glass was priced at the levels it was. All of them said if they had the money they would buy a piece. We even discussed which pieces they would buy.
It was a great experience for me to have a captive audience of people who were truly interested in what they were seeing and asking intelligent questions. They really appreciated the opportunity to see the artist’s work up close and personal. It moved them. So there I was in the gallery, Dale’s spectacular glass shining everywhere in contrast to the darkness outside, with two drywall installers and an electrician.
The next day I got a call from the electrician. He and his wife were watching TV and stumbled across a show on the “glass guy” in my gallery. They watched the whole show, and his wife was impressed with all he knew about glass. He called to thank me for spending the time teaching him about glass and Chihuly. These moments were more important to me than any deal, show, or purchase I have made in my career.
I believe art can enrich lives. It’s why I do what I do.