Ronald Feldman, Art Gallerist With an Eye for Politics, Dies at 84


Ronald Feldman, who for nearly 50 years oversaw one of New York’s most consistently political, forward-looking art galleries, died on Dec. 20 at his home in Chappaqua, N.Y. He was 84.

His family said the cause was Alzheimer’s disease.

Trained as a lawyer and deeply interested in politics, Mr. Feldman, at his Ronald Feldman Gallery in SoHo, exhibited artists who pushed boundaries with work that almost always had a political slant.

The list of celebrated artists to whom he gave first or early New York exhibitions included Hannah Wilke, Joseph Beuys, Chris Burden, Eleanor Antin, Pepon Osorio, Komar and Melamid, Helen and Newton Harrison, Ilya Kabakov, Ida Applebroog, Ed Schlossberg and Arakawa.

Before it was fashionable, these artists often focused on women’s rights, the environment, totalitarianism, identity and war.

In time, they spanned several generations, from the figurative painter Leon Golub to members of younger generations like Christine Hill, Keith Cottingham, Roxy Paine and Rico Gatson. But the gallery also showed abstract painters like Bruce Pearson and Carl Fudge, whose approaches to their art were markedly irreverent. Mr. Feldman published some of the first editions of Andy Warhol’s silk-screen prints.

Warhol was a frequent visitor, perhaps because the space had been the final home of Eleanor Ward’s Stable Gallery. In 1962, Warhol had his first show of Pop Art at the Ward gallery’s original address, a former stable on West 58th Street.

On many visits Warhol would ask Mr. Feldman a question he sometimes posed to people: “Do you have an idea for me?” Mr. Feldman eventually came up with an idea that appealed to Warhol, resulting in “Ten Jews of the 20th Century,” silk-screen portraits published in 1980 and first exhibited at the Jewish Museum in Manhattan.

Mr. Feldman was active in Democratic politics, raising money through benefits at the gallery and helping other galleries organize them.

President Bill Clinton appointed him to the National Council on the Arts. He also served on the boards of People for the American Way, Creative Capital, the Art Dealers Association of America and the New School’s Vera List Center for Art and Politics.

In 1987, when there were grumblings that the Vatican’s restoration of Michelangelo’s ceiling in the Sistine Chapel might be doing more harm than good to the work, he got a number of artists to sign a petition asking the Vatican to pause the project and reconsider it.

The petition had no effect, but the prominence of the signatories illustrated Mr. Feldman’s art world sway. Among them were Robert Rauschenberg, Robert Motherwell, Susan Rothenberg, Eric Fischl and Christo.



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