With recollections by Tom Shivers – Ed McCormack – Jeannie McCormack
A wonderfully bright light left this earthly plane on August 12, 2021. His name was Neil Zukerman. He brought joy and enjoyment to all who met him; he nurtured and supported artists, friends and even acquaintances. He cared. He was insatiably curious. He was impeccably honest and honorable.
He really was the nice one. Even upon first meeting, people were able to feel his sincerity. Without him our fantastic life would never have been. But he could be strong willed, opinionated, bossy and overbearing; some of his quixotic gestures drove me crazy—this, only I really knew about. Well, no one’s perfect.”
I stopped to drop off some Summer G&S issues with Neil Zukerman, who owned CFM Gallery. When I called his number, his husband Tom Shivers answered, saying Neil had recently passed away but that I could come by their loft, and he would give me what he had written about Neil.
Although this was to be a very sad visit, as the elevator advanced up, I recalled wonderful memories of what fun it was when Ed and I visited Neil and Tom at gatherings in their loft after the gallery openings. They were both such gracious hosts, making everyone feel special. Their spacious loft was literally filled ceiling to floor with surrealist and symbolist art and objects that they had collected over the years from their travels. It was so packed with special treasures—angels, animals, small figures and drawings, books and other unique objects— that each time you looked around, you would see something new! There was even a movie theatre with stuffed animals sitting in the audience awaiting the next movie. I also remember a small alcove that was the “Marilyn Monroe room,” floor to ceiling, only Marilyn Monroe. It was a very festive and magical atmosphere, like entering another time and place. If there were an adult Alice in Wonderland, it would be Neil and Tom’s apartment.
I sat with Tom in his office in the front of the loft; we talked about how special Neil was as a curator. He showed mainly Surrealist and Symbolist artists such as Salvador Dali, Leonor Fini, as well as living artists such as Eileen Fields, Anne Bachelier and Michael Parkes. He also published books, illustrated by his gallery artists. He was recently known for his co-authorship and publication of the Catalogue Raisonne of the paintings by Leonore Fini.
Neil’s CFM Gallery on Green Street had also exuded an air otherworldliness, very much due to Neil’s presence. The space he created for his artists was inviting, artful and ethereal. He brought a special dimension to his artists’ work because of his beliefs and enthusiasm. He was not only a curator but an artist in his own right. He reigned over his beautiful art, jewelry and objects like a proud king.
Ed and I really enjoyed going to visit him in SoHo. It was always a highpoint in our early Gallery&Studio days. This was before everything was done digitally. We would sit in Neil’s office while he told us about his artist while we took notes. Neil spoke about his artists with
office was a place filled with special objects, books and Neil atmosphere. Ed and I thought of it as a “cabinet of wonders.”
Ed McCormack wrote in an early Gallery&Studio issue about Neil:
“Exquisite taste in the type of art that
he collects and extolls, as well as the willingness to fight for it, has made Neil Zukerman a formidable foe of a myopic cultural establishment bent on ignoring figurative painting and sculpture that is passionate rather than ironic… Neil Zukerman has always maintained that he would never sell a work of art that he himself would not wish to own.”
From Neil’s bio:
Neil Zukerman. Left Southern California at 17 years old. At 5 years old, he wanted to live in New York City; he arrived in 1960, to be an actor. From hotel elevator operator; railroad dining car management; assistant to the president of a steel extruding company, covering the US; advertising manager of Sony; Mary Kay salesman; financial therapist and office manager for Tom’s tax business. From art enthusiast to gallery owner, a curative genius: author and publisher of books that he wanted to be able to buy. Annual participant in the annual Carnival in Venice since 2004 and host to parties, given around the world since 1989.
A Renaissance man, no college, just a voracious reader, researcher and liver & lover of life, who could enjoy conversing with anyone.
In closing, Tom said: “His greatest contribution to the world was the number of people, whose lives he touched, who loved him, who were nurtured and supported by him. His star will shine for the millennia in the hearts of many, many people around the world but most of all in my heart. I loved, honored, respected and laughed with him for just short of 53 years. Here is good-bye to the too-short run of the Tom & Neil Show.”
Neil Zukerman is survived by many artists, friends and his loving husband Tom Shivers. G&S