Metro Pictures Closes, Along with A Chapter in Art History

Art News, Photography, Galleries in Focus

March 9, 2021

In the late 1970s, a new generation of artists emerged on the American art scene. They shared the same interest in the effect the mass media had on representation and socio-political articulation of power and identity. Named after the 1977 exhibition Pictures curated by art historian and critic Douglas Crimp at the former Artists Space gallery, The Pictures Generation quickly established an intriguing visual language and affirmed innovative approaches to art-making.

A great number of them showed works at the Metro Pictures gallery in New York City that gradually became an influential venue known for their unique program and the lasting affiliation with artists. After decades of representing established artists and hosting numerous exhibitions, the gallery succumbed after the pandemic and decided to close its doors for good.

A Little Piece of History

Metro Pictures was founded in Soho in 1980 by Helene Winer, former director of the mentioned Artists Space, and Janelle Reiring, who used to be part of the Leo Castelli Gallery team. This exhibition space was launched with a collective exhibition that included Cindy Sherman, Sherrie Levine, Robert Longo, Troy Brauntuch, James Welling, Jack Goldstein, and Richard Prince.

Throughout the 1980s, artists such as Martin Kippenberger, Tony Oursler, and Louise Lawler were featured by the gallery, and later the list expanded to include Trevor Paglen, Camille Henrot, and many others. In 1996, along with Gladstone Gallery and Matthew Marks Gallery, Metro Pictures acquired a grand warehouse at 515 West 24th Street that was eventually renovated by 1100 Architect in 2016.

A Firm Connection With The Artists

The exhibitions by the Pictures Generation showcased a rigorous sensibility that eventually defined Metro Pictures' practice. At the time many of the artists presenting themselves with the gallery made photo- or film-based work based on appropriation and the critique of authorship, and some of them such as Sherman, Lawler, and Longo, became immensely influential, yet they remained being represented by Metro Pictures throughout their careers.

After announcing the closure of the gallery, one of the most powerful art dealing assemblies, Hauser & Wirth, confirmed signing with Cindy Sherman who had been with Metro Pictures from the start. This shift was a surprise as the groundbreaking photographer remained loyal to Metro Pictures which is a rarity among top-selling artists who often move around to seek out the best deals. 

Cindy Sherman - Untitled #605, 2019. Image from Metro Pictures' viewing room of Cindy Sherman. Tapestries exhibition. Courtesy the artist and Metro Pictures

Metro Pictures Closes – The End Of An Era

Winer and Reiring came out with the announcement email explaining what running a gallery "in a demanding year of pandemic-driven programming, and the anticipated arrival of a very different art world" meant for them:

We have decided to announce this difficult decision far in advance of our closing in order to give the artists we represent and our staff time to pursue other options and to allow us to participate in their transitions. We are extremely grateful to all of the brilliant artists we have worked with over the past 40 years and to our excellent staff, who have sustained the gallery and its program. We would also like to thank all of the critics, curators, collectors, and fellow dealers with whom we have worked over the years. 

This message left the art community in disbelief and raised questions about where the gallery’s high-profile artists will land. Dealers all over the world immediately reacted in making offers, despite the fact Metro Pictures closes its doors at the end of the current year. Several important art figures expressed their sadness in public space, one of them being an established American art critic and a New York magazine columnist, Jerry Saltz who stated the following via his Twitter:

After 40-years Metro Pictures, one of the greatest, most storied galleries in the world, is closing at the end of the year. A very sad shock. The Pictures Generation gallery. Thank you, Metro Pictures, for changing the world. And my life. 

Having in mind this is another gallery closed after the pandemic, these closures raise a question of the necessity of physical space in a digitally facilitated art market.

Metro Pictures' final exhibition schedule will be announced shortly.

Featured image: Metro Pictures gallery in Chelsea, New York City. Image courtesy Metro Pictures.