New York

Matthew Buckingham, Celeritas, 2009, screen-printed letters on chalkboard enclosed in wooden cabinet, natural light, 27 × 22 × 4". From “January Show.”

Matthew Buckingham, Celeritas, 2009, screen-printed letters on chalkboard enclosed in wooden cabinet, natural light, 27 × 22 × 4". From “January Show.”

“January Show”

Murray Guy

Matthew Buckingham, Celeritas, 2009, screen-printed letters on chalkboard enclosed in wooden cabinet, natural light, 27 × 22 × 4". From “January Show.”

Back in 2008, on what now seems like the cusp of a fleeting golden age, the gossip blog How’s My Dealing? boasted a section devoted to the casualties of for-profit cut-and-thrust. DeathWatch collated advance reports of the closing of various enterprises, and reading it now induces twinges of nostalgia for such outfits as Bellwether, Roebling Hall, and Rivington Arms, as well as for much-missed individuals such as the late, great Daniel Reich. As the depth of feeling attached to the list demonstrates, the role played by commercial galleries is far more than purely financial; their influence over the ways in which art is made, exhibited, disseminated, and received is too complex to pull apart in a brief review. And while all closures, barring the most planned-for and amicable, are attended by a certain amount of disruption and disappointment, some also leave an intellectual and experiential void. The winding-down of Murray Guy is one such event.

Housed in an unassuming walk-up on the fringes of Chelsea (I marched past it more than once over the years, misremembering the address as a couple of blocks farther north), Murray Guy seemed at times a rather reserved operation. It had the aura of an alternative space but was never a party gallery. And during a period when many successful galleries moved to larger digs or opened additional spaces, it expanded only slightly, assuming a bit of extra square footage on the same level. It also felt accessible to the non-collector, and remained committed to a certain quiet seriousness even as the social whirl of the Scene & Herd age intensified. Founded in 1999 by Margaret Murray and photographer Janice Guy, the gallery had a fine stable with a bias toward conceptualism and photography. “January Show” gathered together work by all these artists in a typically smart, funny, slightly melancholic compendium.

As befits Murray Guy’s predilection for the heady, works incorporating written text were a key component of the exhibition. Alejandro Cesarco’s pair of ink-jet prints Words with Ruscha, 2014—which appeared in the artist’s 2015 solo show at the gallery—pictures an introductory wall text for a fictitious Ed Ruscha retrospective, while an inscription on the chalkboard in Matthew Buckingham’s Celeritas, 2009, spells out precisely the length of time the light that illuminates it has traveled. Fiona Banner’s pencil drawing New York, 1999, meanwhile, extends the artist’s typographical play to its logical end point by enlarging a period to monumental proportions. The reflexive tendency of such projects was evident, too, in the witty likes of Francis Cape’s Cabinet 59, 2005, a flawlessly crafted piece of faux furniture, and Dave Muller’s An Extraordinary Object (Over, Under, Sideways, Down), 2002, a work comprising four paintings depicting variations of a flyer aimed at tracking down the Alcoa Solar Do-Nothing Machine, a solar-powered toy designed by Charles and Ray Eames.

Initial reports of Murray Guy’s closure aligned it with a recent mini-trend among small and midsize dealerships—Lisa Cooley, Laurel Gitlen, and Mike Weiss having all called it quits last year—but whether it was symptomatic of a larger shift remains to be seen. What is certain is that it will be missed, even as its owners move on to new enterprises. All that remained, aside from the connections forged by almost two decades of exhibitions, was to echo the wording of the framed book page by Matthew Higgs that rounded out the show: THANK YOU.

Michael Wilson