Karsten Schubert, 1990. Photo: Helen Taylor. Courtesy of Karsten Schubert, London.

Karsten Schubert (1961–2019)

Karsten Schubert, the dealer, publisher, and pillar of the London arts scene in the 1980s, has died at the age of fifty-seven. According to The Guardian, the cause of death was thyroid cancer. A champion of Gary Hume, Michael Landy, Bridget Riley, and Rachel Whiteread, among others, Schubert was one of the first gallerists to show the work of the Young British Artists (YBAs), a group of innovative artists who emerged in the UK in the ’80s and rose to prominence in the ’90s.

Born in Berlin in 1961, Schubert studied theology at Humboldt University before he began his career in the arts at Lisson Gallery in 1983. He would launch his own venture, Karsten Schubert Limited, with the help of dealer Richard Salmon only three years later. Located at 85 Charlotte Street, the gallery hosted solo exhibitions for Goldsmiths College artists such as Anya Gallaccio, who filled the venue’s windows with hundreds of rotting gerberas, and Landy, who transformed the space into a dollar store offering a myriad of consumer goods.

As the art market shifted and then collapsed due to the global recession of 1991, Schubert was eventually forced to close the gallery in 1993. He reopened a smaller space on Foley Street, but business was slow to rebound, and after a few missteps—he sent out a letter claiming he needed to trim the “dead wood” from the gallery’s roster, causing several artists to depart—it shuttered in 1997.

Schubert’s current space on Lexington Street in Soho represents artists such as Rose English, Tess Jaray, Ann-Marie James, and Alison Wilding. In addition to running the gallery, he ran the publishing company Ridinghouse, which he founded with Charles Asprey and Thomas Dane in 1995 and which specializes in arts writing and criticism. 

Over the years, Schubert became a faculty member in the fine arts department at the British School in Rome, wrote several books, including The Curator’s Egg: The Evolution of the Museum Concept from the French Revolution to the Present (2000) and Room 225-6 (2015), and served on the boards of institutions such as the Drawing Room in London.

“I’ve never met anyone who believed so much in art as Karsten, nor have I ever met anyone so kind and generous in sharing it,” artist Ann-Marie James wrote on Instagram. “He showed my work, he sold my work, he made books, he championed my work in all the ways an artist could hope for. . . . Karsten Schubert was a great friend, loved and missed by all that knew him well.”