The artist David Salle recently directed a magazine shoot and interview with Scarlett Johansson that didn’t go so well for the actress.
For the feature in AS IF Magazine, Johansson appears among Salle’s painted imagery, drawn from his latest body of work on view at Skarstedt in London, which reimagines cartoons from the 1940s and ‘50s in a melange of painterly post-war American imagery: White businessmen come home to their dolled-up, stay-at-home wives; cars and cleaning appliances float around in a consumerist fever dream; everyone is happy.
She also sat down with Salle for a long interview that touched on everything from costumes to identity politics in Hollywood. Johansson’s comments on the latter topic didn’t sit well with some.
“Today there’s a lot of emphasis and conversation about what acting is and who we want to see represent ourselves on screen,” she told Salle in the interview. “You know, as an actor I should be allowed to play any person, or any tree, or any animal because that is my job and the requirements of my job.”
Shortly after the story was published online, it went viral and the internet took the actress to task for her remarks—and created many a meme in the process. Comedian Trevor Noah dedicated a segment to criticizing her on a recent episode of the Daily Show.
Johansson issued an apology the next day, saying that her quotes were “widely taken out of context” and “edited for clickbait.”
“The question I was answering in my conversation with the contemporary artist, David Salle, was about the confrontation between political correctness and art,” she said in a statement. “I personally feel that, in an ideal world, any actor should be able to play anybody and Art, in all forms, should be immune to political correctness.”
She added: “I recognize that in reality, there is a widespread discrepancy amongst my industry that favors Caucasian, cisgendered actors and that not every actor has been given the same opportunities that I have been privileged to. I continue to support, and always have, diversity in every industry and will continue to fight for projects where everyone is included.”
Johansson has been at the center of the Hollywood representation debate before. In 2017, the actress was criticized for playing an Asian character in the adaptation of the Japanese manga series Ghost in the Shell. A year later, she was cast to play real-life trans man Dante Tex Gill in the film Rub & Tugbefore dropping out of the project amid controversy.
Salle had his own thoughts on the cultural moment—in fact, for long sections, the interview reads more as if the actress were interviewing him than the other way around. “We’re seeing a pendulum swing,” he said. “The pendulum had gone way too far in one direction, and now it’s swinging the other way. We all agree it had to swing; the question now is how far it has to go in the other direction, and how long it will it take to reach a point of equilibrium.”
David Salle. Photo courtesy Patrick McMullan/PatrickMcMullan.com.
A beat later, the painter added: “Personally, I feel that reactions to certain things in the arts have almost reached a level of mass hysteria, and the criteria by which certain works are being judged are pretty whacky, and yet those reactions seem justified to people of a certain generation. In the visual arts there’s an almost oedipal drive to get rid of the people above you, to elbow them out of your way. And that’s ongoing. I’m not a sociologist, but I think one aspect of the present mood is just the desire to get rid of people who are perceived as having been around too long.”
When Lisa Spellman opened 303 Gallery in 1984, the name was both a literal reference to the location—the address of the building was 303 Park Avenue South—and an allusion to the model that inspired it: Alfred Stieglitz’s secret Intimate Gallery, located in Room 303 of its own building, which was dedicated to offering memorable encounters with forward-thinking artists.
“I never thought I’d move,” Spellman told artnet News, referring to the practicality of the gallery’s name. She was speaking in a back room of 303’s current location, a shiny two-story, 12,000-square-foot space opened in 2016. “Honestly, I really never thought the gallery was going to work. I was ambitious, but I didn’t think that far ahead.”
How could she? Spellman was still in college when she founded 303; she slept in the back of the exhibition space. At that time, during the clubby, high-flying East Village boom, galleries like hers opened and closed every day. That she could last a year was a lofty proposition.
But here we are. This week, Spellman is celebrating her gallery’s 35th anniversary with the launch of both a book and a group show of the same name: “303 Gallery: 35 Years.”
The art world has changed a great deal during this time, enduring the increasing dominance of the “mega gallery,” global fair fever, the rise of e-commerce. Through it all, 303 has remained one of New York’s consistently great galleries—one that has maintained a downtown, slightly anti-authority vibe even as it inhabits a sleek, developer-built high rise.
Over the years, 303 has launched (or solidified) the careers of numerous contemporary art stars, many of whom are still on Spellman’s roster today, including Doug Aitken, Karen Kilimnik, and Alicja Kwade. And many other art-world titans have passed through. Richard Prince, once married to Spellman, showed at the gallery, as did Jeff Koons. Christopher Wool first displayed Apocalypse Now at 303 in 1988. Rirkrit Tiravanija’s landmark Untitled (Free) exhibition, where he served rice and Thai curry to gallerygoers, took place there in 1992. Collier Schorr started as the gallery’s first intern; Gavin Brown worked there in the ‘90s.
Ahead of the anniversary celebrations, Spellman sat down with artnet News to take stock of her gallery and look back at how she got here.
Lisa Spellman, 2011. Photo: Caroline Claisse. Courtesy of 303 Gallery.
Thirty years ago, you opened the gallery in a live-work space that cost less than $500 per month. You were still in college. Do you ever just look back in awe at how far you’ve come—and the art world has changed—since then?
Sometimes. It took a long time, but I like growing slowly; I think it’s more sustainable for everyone. I wouldn’t say slow and steady wins the race, necessarily, but slow and steady seems like a good strategy in the art world because things are so implosive.
Despite sustained success for decades now, you’ve resisted the urge to strive for “mega-gallery” status like some of your peers. Why is that?
I had two spaces for a while—we were on 22nd Street for 15 years when I bought the building on 21st Street. I’m not ruling out the idea of doing something similar in the future. I’m always thinking in the back of my mind, how I can grow the gallery? What’s a good next step? For the last five years, I was very focused on tearing down the old gallery, then building this one. We had to do it all from scratch. Now, I’m always thinking in the back of my head where another space would be, what city it might be in. I didn’t really love having two spaces in New York because it tends to divide the staff, and we really need to be together.
I want to be able to live my life and also go to shows. I never wanted to go to a 303 meeting every ten days. I’d rather be available to the artists—to go to museum openings and support their off-site projects. Sure, I can see a second space. But eight or nine? No. I’m 60 now. I’m just not that type of person.
Installation view, “303 Gallery: 35 Years,” 303 Gallery, 2019. Photo: John Berens. Courtesy of 303 Gallery, New York.
You’ve made a big investment in Chelsea. Presumably, you’re not leaving the space anytime soon.
No, but obviously the neighborhood is going through intensive transitions.
We’re seeing a number of galleries decamp to other neighborhoods—Tribeca, Harlem, the Upper East Side. Does that make you worried about having just doubled down on Chelsea?
No. I’ve been here since ’95, and I’ve moved around a lot. I’m incredibly happy with the space that we built. I mean, I know there’s a lot of stink on Chelsea, but as long as people are still coming to see the shows, that’s all that matters.
Colin de Land and Lisa Spellman on East 6th Street. Courtesy of 303 Gallery, New York.
You have a reputation of forming close personal relationships with many of your artists. Can you speak to the importance of that?
It’s critical. The gallery is only as strong as its artists. It’s not that easy. It’s not like you wake up every day and think of new artists that you want to show. It’s hard to find artists that really make sense for the program and it’s even harder to get those artists to agree to join you. Those relationships are precious, so when you have them you just don’t want to let them go. Obviously, you came together for a reason, so if that can continue to be a productive and fruitful relationship, it seems worth the investment.
Has the process of bringing on new artists gotten easier throughout the years?
No, harder. Some artists don’t want galleries. They say, “Hey, I can just represent myself and just do what I want.”
Installation view, “A Project: Robert Gober Christopher Wool,” 303 Gallery, 1988. Courtesy of 303 Gallery, New York.
There’s been a lot of speculation about that particular idea, that we might be transitioning into a time when artists rely less on galleries to promote and sell their work. We’ve seen it in other industries—some musicians, for instance, are eschewing major labels in favor of self-producing and self-distributing their work. There are artists doing a similar thing now, albeit on a much lower level and it hasn’t really impacted the gallery system yet. Do you foresee that changing?
Not really. I think artists really rely on galleries. The cost for a musician is probably much lower than that of an artist who needs, say, a sculpture fabricated or a film produced. They need help managing shipping costs with museums and paying for publications, and then there’s the critical back-and-forth about the work itself. I think it’s only a conversation for older, established artists. Some veteran artists will definitely get to a point where they’re like, “Listen, I’ve got my own studio, I’ve got ten assistants. I just want to represent myself and I’ll deal with it when I show.” They don’t want to be tied down to anybody, which I totally understand.
A number of high-profile artists who built the foundations of their early careers through your gallery have, throughout the years, departed to other dealers.
Yeah, that’s really painful. It just happens in a flash. Then you just have to deal and move on, you know? It hurts but what can you do? It’s just the name of the game. Sometimes, after some time has passed—maybe six months or a year down the road—I can see it from their perspective. And maybe I agree with their decision then, and maybe I don’t. I have the luxury of time to see if I can learn a lesson from it. You take it personally, but then you try to learn. What was absent? What can I bring to the table in the future? Or maybe that person didn’t really go on to do a whole lot after leaving us. So that’s kind of interesting too.
Lisa Spellman in the 303 Gallery back office. Courtesy of 303 Gallery, New York.
Do you maintain good relationships with those artists after the fact?
No, but it’s not through me shutting the door. If we’re not working together, it just hard. We’re all busy. It’s just like a breakup. I don’t have any hard feelings. Two artists—Larry Johnson and Sue Williams—have come back.
You launched the gallery’s publishing arm, 303inPrint, four years ago. A number of galleries have started to dip their toes in the editorial waters. What was the impetus for you?
I think it just came from going to the Printed Matter Book Fair for years. I’ve always loved catalogs and zines—everything about them. In the beginning, I wanted to do small publications with the artists and see how it would go. It’s also important to keep artists engaged. I’m sure some of them get a little bored after, say, their third show. A book is a nice little extra thing that they can get involved in. And so many artists are really into artists’ books.
Cover of “303 Gallery: 35 Years,” published 2019 by 303inPrint, designed by Common Name, New York. Courtesy of 303 Gallery, New York.
From your perspective, how has the landscape of collectors evolved over 35 years?
There were maybe 50 collectors when I opened the gallery. The stakes seemed higher then. Everything is so global now; everyone’s richer. The risk is diluted in a way, spread out. I love dealing with collectors themselves. But the role of the art advisor has grown to a whole other level. There are a lot more advisors now than there were 35 years ago.
How do you feel about that?
I really appreciate the work that they do, because it’s time consuming to educate collectors and show them work from all over the world. When they bring in a prepared client, it makes the experience that much more enjoyable. Whereas back in the old days, you would practically have to hold seminars on what appropriation and institutional critique were. Still, I love New York City collectors because I feel most of them are still old school. They come to the gallery themselves. They look at the work.
It’s changed a lot though. When I started the gallery, entertainment didn’t really exist like it does today. There was the opening, then there was the closing. Everything was more artist-based then. You would go to people’s houses. Now it’s almost like galleries need to open up an entertainment division. [Laughs]
Collier Schorr, What! Are you Jealous? (1996-2013). Courtesy of 303 Gallery, New York.
What have you learned about gallery openings? How do you throw a good one?
That’s seriously a format that needs to be reimagined. I really don’t know what the answer is. I mean, when I first opened, it was more of a club vibe. You had to get a bouncer for the door. We would serve crazy amounts of liquor, the event would be four hours long, then you did an afterparty at the club. Everybody was out until 4 a.m. I think openings should have music. Why do openings not have music?
What about art-world influencers—these people who go to openings and fairs to take their picture in front of an artwork? How do you feel about that?
It’s weird, but if it brings people into the gallery, that’s fine. We had really weird, freaky things happen in the gallery way before Instagram. We had a nudist. He would call ahead and say he was coming. Then he would go to a corner of the gallery and undress.
What’s the weirdest thing that’s happened in the gallery?
Oh god, there’s so much. You have no idea the weird stuff that goes on at galleries. I once found somebody living in a video installation. [Laughs] Well, not living, but they were there for the whole day. When I locked up the gallery at night and went to leave, I saw this person emerge in the dark. For a second it was just me looking at him through the window and him looking back at me—it was so trippy. I had locked him in and was thinking to myself, “Oh god, how do I get him out now?”
There was one time in our SoHo space, when we were on the second floor, that the gallery got broken into. The people who did it had ridden on top of the elevator, then opened the doors to our space with a crowbar. They stole a couple of really hard-ass photographs—one was a picture of the back of a man who had leprosy. I mean, these were not pretty photographs. That was all they took. I think they tried to pull the fax machine from the wall too, but they left it behind. Then, our in-house photographer at the time—the person who documented all of our shows—found the photographs for sale on a blanket near Cooper Union a few days later. So he bought each one back for like $50. At least that was a happy ending. [Laughs] It’s just insane, the weirdness that goes on in galleries. It’s actually getting less weird now.
What’s one strange talent that an artist on your roster has that we wouldn’t know about?
Hmmmm…I don’t know. Rodney Graham is an amazing musician, but I guess that’s not weird. Doug Aitken is an amazing surfer, but that’s probably not a secret. Our first archivist was a balloon artist. Sue Williams used to love him. All of the artists who had kids did. He would be the archivist by day and then a balloon-maker at night, going to all their kids’ birthday parties.
Doug Aitken, Inflection (1992). Courtesy of 303 Gallery, New York.
Who’s the funniest?
Well, Doug is really hilarious, and he’s an incredible storyteller. Sue Williams is accidentally funny. Karen Kilimnik is so funny—she just comes up with the best lines. I don’t know if people really know that she’s also a big anti-GMO activist. She only will drink non-homogenized milk and will go to great lengths to find dairy products that aren’t homogenized. Everything has to be raw.
Who’s the quirkiest or the most fastidious? Anyone that will, say, only eat the green M&Ms?
Hans-Peter Feldmann does not like to talk when he eats. He’s very old school.
New research is helping the hunt for missing art, largely amassed by Hitler, then re-stolen by desperate Germans in the closing days of the war.
Allied tanks move into a heavily bombed Munich on April 29, 1945. Knowing that the American troops were closing in, residents began looting earlier that day, taking food, furniture and parts of Hitler’s art collection.CreditHulton Archive/Getty Images
By Catherine Hickley
Chaos reigned in the bomb-ravaged streets of Munich on April 29, 1945. American troops were closing in. Hitler was a day away from killing himself in his bunker in Berlin. The Nazi guards who protected important buildings had fled.
Hungry crowds stormed the Führerbau, the Führer’s building. First they looted the food, the liquor and the furniture. Then they turned to the air-raid cellar, which was filled with art, climbing over piles of Panzerfaust anti-tank grenades to get at the paintings.
“By the end of the second day,” Edgar Breitenbach, an art intelligence officer in the United States Army, wrote in a 1949 report “when the looting was finally stopped, all the pictures were gone.”
It was a moment of incongruity: Hitler, the man who turned the illegal seizure of art into a national trade, had his own plunder ransacked.
Now the Central Institute for Art History in Munich has conducted the first comprehensive investigation into the fate of the art that was stored in the Führer’s building and the adjacent Nazi headquarters.
A lot of it had been ferried there by dealers who scavenged for art across occupied Europe to help fill Hitler’s planned “Führermuseum” in Linz, his hometown. Most of those works were already stored in Austrian salt mines to protect them from bombings.
But the Munich buildings still held some 1,500 works, the researchers found, and at least 700 were looted in the two-day spree — many more than previously thought. Much of the art was already stolen property, having been confiscated by the Nazis from Jewish collections. Hundreds of the works stored there, for example, had been taken from the family of Adolphe Schloss, a French Jew who had collected the Dutch and Flemish old masters that Hitler revered.
In the aftermath of the looting, the authorities were able to recover almost 300 paintings, many in the weeks after the plunder. Some were found buried in a nearby potato patch. In 1948, 30 paintings were found in a house a few minutes’ walk from the Führerbau.
The Führerbau, where Hitler kept an office, was stormed by crowds after the Nazis fled Munich in the waning days of World War II.CreditFrank Leonhardt/DPA, via Associated Press
The recovery work was aided by the so-calledMonuments Men,officers of the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives unit of the United States Army, but there were not enough of them to trace so many missing objects.
And in the decades that followed, German officials did not do much to track the more than 400 works still missing, perhaps sheepishly avoiding making a state claim to objects that had been stolen by their predecessors in the Third Reich.
Now, though, the German government, spurred by the new research, is making a serious effort toward finding the works.
It is belatedly reporting the 1945 thefts, painting by painting, to Interpol and to the German Federal Criminal Police Office, and is also listing them on the Art Loss Register and lostart.de, two databases of missing art.
It is hoping that by posting details about the missing artworks, it will alert dealers to art that may have been looted from Jews, and possibly result in its return.
So far, the research has managed to find traces of some three dozen of the missing works. One is in the Fisher Museum of Art at the University of Southern California, which discovered 14 years ago that a painting in its collection had been looted from the Führerbau.
The painting by Gerard Dou, “Still Life With Book and Purse,” entered the collection in 1964 as part of a donation by Armand Hammer, who had purchased it in New York in 1947. But its prewar ownership history, and the circumstances of how it went to Hitler, remain unclear.
Gerard Dou, “Still Life With Book and Purse,” painted in 1647, is held by the Fisher Museum of Art at the University of Southern California.CreditUSC Fisher Museum of Art
“We are always interested in receiving more information about the pieces in our collection that might be in any way problematic,” Selma Holo, the executive director of USC Museums, wrote in an email. The museum, she said, “will always do the right thing with respect to its holdings.”
One obstacle to the full restitution of works, even when they are found, is a principle of German law known as Ersitzung. It dictates that someone who acquires an item in good faith and possesses it for 10 years becomes the rightful owner. So in Germany, even in cases where the government seeks to restitute a work it has found, it can be difficult to dislodge it legally from a collector who bought it without knowledge that it was stolen.
Stephan Klingen, an art historian involved in the research project, said he would like the government, in such situations, to consider buying the works.
“It would be good if the government would take responsibility, acquire the works, do the provenance research and restitute where necessary,” he said. “This would also help the current holders, who may have purchased the works in good faith, but will now find them difficult to sell.”
The German government remains the owner of record for the hundreds of works that were, despite the U.S. Army’s first impression, left behind by the Munich looters in 1945. Since 2000 the government has restituted 54 of those works after concluding that they had been stolen from Jews.
Other efforts have been less successful.
Mr. Klingen said that in 2009 he spotted a painting by Frans Francken the Younger, “The Sermon on the Mount,” on the German TV equivalent of “Antiques Roadshow.” He recognized it as a work that had been destined for the planned museum in Linz and had been stolen from the Führerbau. He alerted the police.
There were some indications that the work had been seized from a Jewish collection, but they were far from conclusive. So the court returned it to the last holders of the painting, the descendants of a man, the caretaker of a German army barracks, who had lived in Munich in 1945. The court ruled that the heirs did not know it had been stolen, and thus were entitled to possess it through a good-faith inheritance under the Ersitzung rule.
From the disappointment of that effort was born the Central Institute for Art History’s decision to do extensive research into the entire set of works still missing from Munich.
Franz von Stuck’s “Portrait of Two Young Girls,” had been scheduled to be in the collection of Hitler’s planned museum in Linz, but was stolen from him at the end of the war.CreditVan Ham
“These works surface sporadically at auction, and it is likely more will come up,” Mr. Klingen said. “We think it is important to raise awareness of their history and develop a policy for dealing with them instead of starting from scratch each time one emerges. The legal environment is not favorable for restitution to the heirs of the original owners.”
In a case from 2017, the government tried to intervene when a portrait of two girls by Franz von Stuck that was destined for Linzappeared in a catalog for an auction in Cologne.
The government persuaded the auction house to withdraw it from sale so researchers would have time to examine the provenance. But they found no evidence that the painting had been looted from a Jewish collection and the private collector held good title to the work under the Ersitzung rule. So the sale to another private collection went forward. Down the road, if it emerges that the work was indeed looted from a Jewish collector, experts say it may prove difficult to find again.
As the decades pass, it is certainly true that multiple transfers and legal complexities in varying jurisdictions make it increasingly hard to trace looted art and to resolve tangled questions of ownership.
Mr. Breitenbach, the Army intelligence officer, saw the steep road ahead when, writing in 1949, he wondered whether much of this belated detective work could have been avoided with just a few minor bribes in the desperate days at the close of the war.
“It’s a pity,” he offered, “that Army regulations at that time did not permit the use of rewards in the form of food and cigarettes. This would almost certainly have been instrumental in recovering considerable parts of the stolen collection.”