It seems that everyone is realizing how important Holly Solomon was as an art guru in the Pop and post-Pop eras. Last year two Chelsea galleries presented a survey group show, Hooray for Hollywood, of the artists she supported as a dealer, masterful misfits whose works seem more historically vital with every passing year.
Holly Solomon photographed by Robert Rauschenberg, 1966.
Reviewing this exhibition tribute to the inexhaustible pixie-ish visionary in the New York Times, Roberta Smith concluded how ‘our tastes are larger, and more polymorphous than most of us allow ourselves to discover. Ms. Solomon gave herself permission.’
Holly on the steps of her West Broadway gallery.
Holly was a pioneering pluralist, zealous about art without being a zealot for any single agenda. In her own words, she was not ‘hysterical about purity’, rather a champion of eclecticism as the essential strategy to explore the full scope of visual imagination. Taking her cue from the art of Roy Lichtenstein most of all, she championed decoration as a language of visual power second to none. Earlier this year New York Magazine went so far as to select her kitchen and living room, decorated with art by Kim MacConnel and Robert Kushner as the ‘best room in New York’ for interior design.
She always spoke up, spoke her mind, and her great satisfaction was to be taken seriously
The façade of the Holly Solomon Gallery at 392 West Broadway.
Having lived away from New York, preoccupied with French Impressionism projects, I missed Holly's now legendary 98 Greene Street non-commercial performance space and her eponymous Soho gallery with its surprising roster of new art voices. Now a figure of historic importance to contemporary art history, she was already a living Pop icon when I first met her at her 57th Street gallery in the mid-1980s in my new role as curator of modern art at the Art Institute of Chicago.
Holly Solomon and Andy Warhol in 1966, in front of Warhol’s portrait of Holly.
VIDEO Holly Solomon: A Warhol portraitWatch video
My museum's rich collection was weak in Pop art, so I asked for her advice and help, hoping we could eventually obtain Andy Warhol's 1966 nine-panel portrait(s) of Holly as a collection centerpiece. What a missed opportunity, but my failed effort provided the chance to begin an intense conversation with one of the most amazing charismatic art world impresarios I ever had the great fortune to meet.
Holly saw everything, not just in New York, but worldwide. She befriended and kept up with everyone with a voracious appetite for new art, from Harald Szeeman to Robert Rosenblum, as a veteran insider who whispered with urgent confidentiality what mattered in her opinion and what might not. She always spoke up, spoke her mind, and her great satisfaction was to be taken seriously. She was extravagantly serious about everything, humor especially.
Study of Holly Solomon for her portrait by Richard Artschwager, 1971.
Holly had boundless energy and liked nothing more than to offer a helping hand to artists, collectors, critics, anyone with great talent to share. She championed artists active outside the mainstream, working extravagantly with ridiculous materials from gaudy fabric, aluminum foil and segments of abandoned buildings to television screens and Weimaraners.
Holly in the 1980’s, in front of an artwork by Nicholas Africano.
Thirty years after her heyday, it is absolutely clear that Holly was right. The significance of her artists can hardly be overstated: imagine art history without Gordon Matta-Clark and Mary Heilman and William Wegman and Judy Pfaff and Nam June Paik, to mention only a few favorites. Holly’s taste seemed too eccentric to many overly cautious collectors unable to see how art had exploded by the 1970s into a state of permanent worldwide experimental flux. But as a patron, collector and dealer ahead of her time, it was Holly who had it right.
Discover more works from The Holly Solomon Collection in our Post War and Contemporary Online Auction, now through 12 November 2015.