Visual Arts

The New Bill Hodges Gallery

Bill Hodges Gallery will be opening its latest 5,000 square foot gallery in Chelsea with a blockbuster show titled “Romare Bearden & Co.”

It’s the culmination of a long career feeding an insatiable addiction. An addiction for art that started when he was still working his way through Rutgers University, where he was studying Political Science and History. Walking
by a gallery, he was drawn to a Salvadore Dali print of one of the artist’s 100 illustrations of Danté’s The Divine Comedy. This is the first work of art that he bought. He paid for it in installments.

He started to buy other works. He carefully studied the artists and their works, researched prices at galleries and started to go to PB84, the junior annex of Sotheby Parke Bernet, where the second rung of estate sales were auctioned. There he purchased his first Romare Bearden for $50. He often met with Bearden at Books & Company on Madison Avenue where the artist often hung out.

Dark abstract oil on canvas painting with a red dot
Norman Lewis (1909 – 1979) “New World Acoming” 197, Oil on Canvas, 73 x 87 in. © Estate of Norman Lewis; Courtesy of Michael Rosenfeld Gallery LLC, New York, NY

Starting in 1979 he would buy the artwork and sell them via small ads in the New York Times. It was an inspired way to start in the art business. He named his business AFTU, an acronym standing for Arts For The Uncontrolled, “because of [his] obsession with the beauty and acquisition of art.

He learnt how to run a business and the art of selling from a jewelry and diamond merchant on Canal Street, by working for free for him on Sundays. These Lessons were to stand him in good stead for all his other businesses.
He ended up opening several stores in the Flower District of New York selling pottery made in Malaysia. (How he got into that is another article unto itself!).
However, like his inspired art acquisitions and sales, Bill Hodges researched extensively, studied his markets and followed his instincts.

One day looking through the New York Times, he saw a notice of Norman Lewis’s artwork for sale from $300-$5,000. Making the call to find out more, he spoke to the widow of Norman Lewis and went to visit her and the artwork. The upshot was that he ended up managing the artist’s estate and it culminated in him opening his first gallery on 57th Street in 1993. Interestingly although the gallery was ostensibly set up to sell Norman Lewis’s artwork, his first show was titled “Romare Bearden & Co.” He has come full circle.

This is the second Bill Hodges Gallery in Chelsea. After over 20 years on 57th Street, Hodges closed that gallery having on his own admission “burnt out.” He took a well-deserved sabbatical, but it was not to last long. A small space on 20th street in Chelsea brought him back for a couple of years, but this time he has upgraded to a much larger space in the same building at 529 West 20th Street on the 10th Floor.

Hodges notes that the market for African American artists and women artists is strong particularly due to the deaccessioning (divesting of art) occurring at many museums who are then looking, in many instances, to replace them with these two categories of artists who have long been under-represented. He has been experiencing strong demand for Edward Clark, Norman Lewis, Frank Bowling and the photographs of Roy DeCarava amongst many others.

Pink green and blue abstract brush strokes
Edward Clark (1926 – 2019), “New York Ice Cream,” 2003, Acrylic on Canvas, 72 1:8 x 57 7:8 in.

Hodges is well known for his acquisition and promotion of African American artists, however it is not his sole arena. His interests are broad and there are many Latin American, Asian and European artists within his roster as well. He says he buys “what I feel. I search my heart and soul and go for what I feel.” This “feel” is educated as usual by his rigorous research.

He does encourage the museums to acquire African American art. He also encourages African American collectors to gift such work to the museums. He has long been one of the few bastions in the New York artworld to appreciate these works and understand their value. His desire to spread the word is bearing fruit. The artworld is ready for the opening of the new Bill Hodges Gallery.

Bill Hodges Gallery 529 W. 20th Street, NYC. Feb. 27 – Apr. 11

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