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Richard Gray in front of a painting by Franz Kline. Photo: The Chicago Sun-Times.

Richard Gray (1928–2018)

Chicago art dealer and philanthropist Richard Gray, whose participation in the arts shaped the holdings of Chicago collectors and institutions but also influenced the international art world, died yesterday at age eighty-nine. In addition to his leading role at Richard Gray Gallery, he once served as president of both the Art Dealers Association of America and the Chicago Art Dealers Association. He was also a trustee of the Art Institute of Chicago, the Chicago Humanities Festival, and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, among numerous other organizations and institutions in the city.   

Gray’s eponymous gallery opened in 1963 and eventually became globally known for offering prominent twentieth-century art, often by artists who hadn’t previously shown their work in Chicago; among the artists whose work the gallery exhibited early on were Jules Olitski, Morris Louis, Louise Nevelson, and Hans Hofmann. The gallery also displayed work by Andy Warhol, Mark Rothko, Agnes Martin, and Roy Lichtenstein. Gray had expansive interests, and frequently showed African art and Aboriginal art as well as antiquities. About his own vast art collection—the majority of which were works on paper—Gray appeared nonchalant. “At no time . . . had I ever thought we were collecting, nor had I ever stopped to seriously compare myself to the sorts of people I worked with all the time as a dealer,” he once told Lawrence Weschler of the New Yorker.

The Richard Gray Gallery opened a second New York space, on Madison Avenue, in 1996, an initiative coordinated by Gray’s son Paul, who will take over the gallery alongside partners Valerie Carberry and Andrew Fabricant. Last year, the gallery expanded with another location in Chicago’s West End. The gallery now commonly presents art by Magdalena Abakanowicz, Theaster Gates, David Hockney, Jim Dine, and Rashid Johnson.

Gray is survived by his wife, Mary. In 2008, the Art Institute of Chicago established a Richard and Mary L. Gray Wing, and in 2011, the University of Chicago unveiled the Richard and Mary L. Gray Center for Arts and Inquiry. “There is a coherence to their philanthropy,” said former AIC president James Cuno. “[It is] focused on making a difference in the lives of citizens through the kind of arts that have meant so much in their own lives.”

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