Michael Klein, director of Michael Klein Gallery (1980s-90s) before leading Microsoft’s Art Collection. Now director of The Little Gallery
What would you like to achieve in your work?
Now that I have entered my decade of the 60s I would like to work for some 25 more years. I have always been interested in contemporary art and although the contemporary artists I championed early on are now historic figures I am still very keen on their work and where they have gone. Alice Aycock for example, was in the first museum show I organized in 1976 and today is still creating impressive monumental sculptures, installations and works on paper. Many of her installation plans have never been realized and I would like to see those built and placed in some great collections worldwide. Another is Jonathan Borofsky who I try to visit once a year to keep up with his new work; last visit I saw wonderful new paintings and wall installations. I collect his earlier work. Finally there are some book projects that I would like to develop, some individual studies on the work and career of some artists. Another is a history of Minimal painting that has yet to be explored and documented. A few years ago I curated a show entitled PAINTING IN PARTS which looked at a variety of artists whose work could be labeled Minimal, some of whom began to show in the 60s like Jo Baer and Robert Mangold and others representing a younger generation of painters aiming at the same aesthetic like Luke Frost and Yunhee Min. This could be for me a great assignment because it brings together my interest in art history and my knowledge of the art of the last fifty years.
Where too are the great museum shows about the 70s and what about the 80s? So much in those two decades laid the ground work for much today. One saw the birth of the international art world both in terms of market and events. There were overlapping generations at work: Pop artists, Minimal artists, Conceptualist, Performance and so on…all happening simultaneously and with different camps gaining different attention. Most of the artists once associated with Leo Castelli Gallery have received enormous attention others less so. It is time to look back and reevaluate the history of those two important decades. I would hope my work in the field would help to reinvigorate some of those careers.
Personally I want to continue to collect work by new talent. This year I bought works by a California painter named Mark Petersen. I found work by two Belgian artists: Alain Biltereyst and John Van Oers. And I continue my quest for Peter Schuyff’s works.
Of the projects that see you involved, which are the ones you care about most?
Dividing my time between promoting artists and selling art works. I care deeply about the history of art and about artists who over time have fallen between the cracks or have had little attention paid to them or their life’s work needs to be looked at again. The painter Grace Hartigan for example; Robert Mallary, a sculptor championed by the late dealer and collector Allan Stone and almost totally forgotten or the British sculptor Kenneth Armitage. I am intrigued by what turns up in collections; what discoveries are made and still can be made whether it is a work by Dan Flavin that has been quietly at home in a collection in Europe or a work on paper by Norman Lewis that reenters the marketplace five decades after it was originally made.
I am also interested in more contemporary artists who continue and need more attention: Richmond Burton, Ellen Phelan, Thom Merrick and Jane Rosen to name but four. There are many artists working today deserving of more attention and evaluation; the market is not always the best or fair judge. Smart collectors and institutions need to look beyond the headlines to find great works.
In what way an art gallery or a private collection does it contribute to the understanding and promotion of African culture?
My first exposure to African art came when I was 11 and my family travelled to Europe and Africa. We visited Morocco and I got a chance to see art there .Years later when I was Curator for the Microsoft Collection I thought it was important to add artists to the collection from all the countries the company did business in as well as translate their software. I found El Anatsui in a gallery London and wanted to buy an early work then and was also looking at William Kentridge’s prints. I felt this was just the tip of an iceberg that needed more time and research. There was a collector in Seattle who was busy collecting South African artists, it is quite a collection and peeked my interest in art being made there as well as what was happening in other countries in Africa. Many years ago on a trip to England I discovered the work of Magdelena Odundo that were on view at the Crafts Council. I learned she was from Kenya but lived and worked in England. She makes extraordinary ceramics. Her work was my introduction into contemporary African art and that was in the mid 80s.And a few years ago I was also introduced to the sculptor Ousmane Sow who now resides in Senegal. The large figurative piece was in an estate of a prominent collector.
Do you think that the perception that common people have of Africa is correct or do they need to be made more aware of it?
Americans know little of Africa. The media treats Africa as if it is the 17th century there and the 21st century here. We don’t know that there are some 54 countries exiting on the continent, the diversity of cultures and religions and the history of Africa before colonization and afterwards. Because I am a radio junkie and listen to BBC on line I follow reports on business and culture in Africa.