Remembering Barbara Gladstone (1935–2024)

Artists and friends pay tribute to the legendary art dealer

BY Wangechi Mutu, Ugo Rondinone, Amy Sillman AND T.J. Wilcox in Opinion | 21 JUN 24

Wangechi Mutu

One day, after a lengthy, important and emotional conversation about a project I’d been working on, I paused and decided to ask Barbara something I had often thought of: ‘How are you able to offer to each of us artists such concise, caring, cogent and wise words of advice... how do you know, how do you understand our specific needs so well?’

In a way, I was asking her to explain what her superpower was; what this mojo was that she possessed?

She told me, quite simply, ‘I think of each artist as a complete individual, and as entirely unique, and I then try to anticipate their needs, almost like parenting.’

Barbara was so dear to us, all the artists that she cared for and represented. She was a mentor, a protector, an advocate, a teacher and also a true friend: ever attentive, always available, and unbelievably supportive. She was elegant, honest and incredibly brilliant. We are all so fortunate to have worked with her. I will miss her deeply and sincerely.

Ugo Rondinone


Amy Sillman 

I loved Barbara, whom I called Babs G behind her back, and people told me that she loved me back. If you were an artist Babs G was interested in, the sun shone mightily upon you. She would SHOW her affection with the absolute delight she took in seeing your work develop, whatever that meant. I was privileged to do my last show entirely with her, even to hang it with her. She came to my studio all year to cheer the paintings on, and to coach me off the ledge of my doubts. She sent me a ginormous bouquet and a very personal note after it opened, and when I called her, it was just to worry that we hung it too densely and to suggest we take one painting out. ‘Done!’ she said, and the wall was rearranged in an hour before the gallery reopened. Indeed, I worried all the time about paintings, and Babs G would just say, ‘Why die a thousand deaths when you only have to die once?! Just do what you want to do!’ Well, she died only once. She was decisive and elegant and fierce, and left things that way. She went away to see some shows and spaces in Paris, and then she just didn’t come back. Barbara made us all better than we were: less afraid, more confident, more believing in real art, not the trappings. She always said artists had only one real superpower: to say NO to things, to do things THEIR WAY. Hours before they called me to tell me that she was gone, I knew intuitively. I felt a lonely feeling in my gut, an absence in my heart of hearts, which in normal times I would never feel thanks to Babs G’s sharp eyes, and intensity of presence, which wrapped me in the luxury of being SEEN. There was no one else as observant and attuned to what’s good about life. I will miss her terribly.

T.J. Wilcox

‘Formidable’ was many people’s first impression of Barbara Gladstone. A film of mine was shown at Gavin Brown’s gallery when it opened on West 15th Street in New York City in the 1990s. Barbara introduced herself to me that night and told me she liked my film. Flustered at this first meeting, I stammered a pleasantry (which she loathed, generally), ‘That’s very kind of you.’ To which she replied, ‘T.J., if we become friends, you will know I never say anything to be kind.’ We did become dear friends, and in fact, her kindness to me was limitless. Her sometimes-steely exterior was a sort of armour that guarded a woman generally uncomfortable in crowds, who always preferred an evening surrounded by her beloved dogs, with a book in her hands, to a cocktail party.

T.J. Wilcox and Barbara Gladstone. Courtesy: T.J. Wilcox

Remembering her now, I never saw her happier than when she was embarking on a next big project. An exhibition, a new gallery space, a home remodel or a philanthropic activity; the more complex and seemingly impossible, the better.

Our tough initial encounter only revealed a small part of her character. I came to be the great beneficiary of the sagacity of her counsel, the warmth of her caring attention and the fun of her witty conversation. 

She once told me a story of a particularly difficult day in the 1960s, before she was involved in the art world. She drove home from a shopping trip with her three young boys to find her home on fire, ultimately burned to the ground, all their possessions consumed in the flames. She said that for ages after all she had to wear was the grey skirt and sweater she had on that day and that she never had a happier time dressing in her life. Friends, noticing she wasonce again in this ensemble, would offer to take her shopping. She said she demurred for months, loathe to lose the simplicity of her life in one costume.

One of the loveliest things about Barbara I recall now are the last years of her life. I got the sense she was satisfied, that she had achieved what she set out to do and with that came a kind of serenity. It was wonderful to see her contentment.

In the startling present of her quick departure, it is a joy to remember we laughed together, so much and so often. But I’m annoyed she never shared the recipe for her legendary Thanksgiving stuffing (the best I ever tasted). Its absence on future holiday tables will remind me of one of the great pleasures I’ve known in this life, which I will now only savour in memory.

Main image: Barbara Gladstone. Courtesy: Gladstone Gallery; photograph: Andrea Spotorno

Wangechi Mutu is an artist. She lives in New York, USA, and Nairobi, Kenya. 

Ugo Rondinone is a Swiss-born artist living and working in New York, USA.

Amy Sillman is a painter based in New York City, USA.

T.J. Wilcox is an artist based in New York City, USA.