In the formal announcement of the mutated gallery sent to the Gerald Peters’ customers and Pillsbury’s contacts, the former museum director seemed to want to make it perfectly clear who is in charge: “Dr. Edmund Pillsbury. Ted, Pillsbury is the epicenter of buzz in Dallas art circles at the moment. He has invested in one of the riskiest businesses in the world. He has bought an art gallery in a town notable for its lack of interest in visiting art galleries. Pillsbury (yes, from the dough family) is now an equal partner with Gerald Peters in the Dallas offshoot of Peters’ very successful Santa Fe operation, effectively replacing the gallery’s former director, much-beloved Tallcy Dunn. Last May. Dunn retired from her 10-year post and in October opened her own gallery – incidentally taking most of Peters’ stable of artists with her. A lawsuit has been tiled. A counter suit is threatened. Both parties are now communicating only through their attorneys. The Dallas art community is taking sides and talking. The question for Texas artists has become,Ted or Talley?Talley loyalists don’t men-lion Peters’ name-they use the raised-eyebrow phrase “you-know-who.” Pillsbury refuses to discuss the unpleasantness. “Far be it from me,” he demurs, “to comment on what Dunn is doing in her little activity.” And then proceeds to discuss it at length off the record. Meanwhile, everyone in the art scene is wondering why in the world Ted Pillsbury, former
director of the acclaimed Kimhell Museum in Fort Worth, has decided to sully his hands in the gallery business, which is, after all, only rarefied retail.
But above all the gossip and speculation, one fact emerges clearly: The patient lives. Dallas’ near-moribund art scene is coming to life again, growing, changing,, finally. The discord could even be viewed as a sign of health-after all. you know a sick person is getting well when he starts to complain. “Artists are a difficult group to get excited.” says Fort Worth painter Helen Altman. “The buzz among artists is that everyone’s excited.”
Talley Dunn was fresh oui of college when she started working for Gerald Peters Gallery in 1990. The art market was recovering from the severe crash of 1989. Carpenter/Hochman had closed; Eugene Binder had closed; DW Gallery had closed. The principals in those galleries had not just shut their doors-they had left town. “When the whole market suffered, contemporary galleries were the hardest hit and slowest to recover,” Dunn says. Gerald Peters was a big name in the Santa Fe gallery scene, long before he opened his current museum-sized space there. Naturally, the Dallas gallery featured exhibitions of Georgia O’Keeffe and antiquities from the New Mexico location.
Sam Gummelt had the first exhibition at Gerald Peters after Dunn became director. She stayed at the gallery late at night to hang and light his artwork herself to save the cost of outsourcing labor. She and Lisa Hirschler Brown, the gallery’s assistant director, licked envelopes and stamped invitations themselves at home rather than paying a mail house to do it. During Dunn’s first (wo years on the job, her hands-on approach won her credibility with artists, many of whom were old enough to be her parents. Her original plan was to work al the gallery for just a few years, then go back to graduate school. But in 1993. when she was 25 years old, Gerry Peters made her gallery director. “The challenge was, if I could slop losses, I could stay,” Dunn says. “It was very clear Gerry was giving me an opportunity here, but if I wasn’t successful, the gallery might close.’* In her ten-year stint at the gallery, Dunn turned the once-ailing space into a haven for mid-career contemporary artists in the difficult Dallas art scene, selling works by some of Texas’ premier artists and nurturing artists into regional art stars. The gallery has been referred to as the “800-pound gorilla” of Dallas art dealers, blowing out the competition and building the biggest stable of talent in the city’s history. Since owner Gerry Peters lives in Santa Fe and is more concerned with his gallery there. Dunn became the face and voice of the Dallas gallery among artists, collectors, and the press, and she earned their respect. Good relationships helped turn the Gerald Peters Gallery’s finances around.
But last spring, assistant director Lisa Brown was in the first trimester of it difficult pregnancy, and it caused her to think about her future. “I didn’t want the baby in full day care, but I didn’t want to be home full time.” She spoke with Dunn “about my needing and wanting to bring my baby to work,” Ms. Brown remembers. “She didn’t think it would work at Gerald Peters, but it could work in another situation.” Brown decided “owning my own business might be the solution.”
As it happens, Dunn was also thinking about her future. The professional equivalent of a biological clock was ticking in Dunn’s head. “I was not going to be at Gerald Peters for the next millennium.” says Dunn emphatically. “I never meant to be there ten years in the first place. The question was always, ’What am I going to do next?’”’ So when Brown decided to resign, “it wasn’t a shock,” Dunn recalls. “I knew this was imminent.” Even so. after eight years of working alongside Brown her decision was a necessary catalyst.
In the end Brown’s impending departure led to Dunn’s resignation on May 10, and the two agreed to work at the gallery together until June 18. Dunn planned carefully. “We worked so hard to leave Gerald Peters in good financial shape, without any loose ends,so when someone new came in. no one would ask. ’Where is this? Where did this come from?’ Everything was very clear and straightforward.” Still. according to Dunn, during her last weeks at the gallery she and Gerry Peters had a number of “unpleasant conversations” about her career. “It was a threatening environment,” recalls Dunn.
Well-known Gerald Peters Gallery artists -including David Bates, John Alexander, and Sam Gummelt-took a wait-and-see attitude toward the change, asking to have their artwork moved from the Peters gallery to other out-of-town galleries, at least until a new Dallas director was announced. As Dunn was busy last spring, managing a final show for James Surls, whose exhibition ended the gallery’s season, she watched and helped artists, her artists, pack up their artwork at Gerald Peters and leave. “1 wasn’t going to change my mind about leaving,” Dunn says, “Bui letting go of all that-my personal investment and time in creating that gallery, not knowing what was going to happen, then to watch things fall apart and watch artists remove their work from the gallery, was depressing. I’c worked so hard to get to that stage, but they were doing the best things for themselves. I really thought I’d leave with Gerry Peters’ blessing, congratulations, ’Let’s be colleagues.” I had no intention of opening a gallery down the street, no
On her last day of work, June 18, she worked through lunch. “My last day was a nine-hour day returning calls, selling James Surls. being director,” Dunn says. “I did it till the end. And I left my Rolodex on the desk at Gerald Peters.”
On September 14 Gerry Peters surprised artists and clients with the announcement that Dunn would be succeeded by Dr. Edmund Pillsbury, the renowned former Kimbell director. An even bigger surprise was that Pillsbury became an equal partner in the gallery, which would now* be called Pillsbury and Peters Fine Art. Pillsbury-Yale graduate, curator of Yale University’s Art Gallery, Italian Renaissance scholar-came to North Texas 19 years ago to build the tiny Fort Worth institution. His accomplishments there were huge. During his tenure the museum presented top-notch exhibitions like “Matisse and Picasso: A Gentle Rivalry,” “Renoir’s Portraits: Impressions of an Age.” and the Barnes collection, as welt as adding significantly to the Kimbell’s permanent col lection. With a superb eye and a connoisseur’s touch, he made the tiny Kimbell into a force in the international art world.
But 18 years in the same post is wearying to a director and can wear out the welcome mat with a board-Last year, after his plans to expand the Louis Kahn-designed Kimbell ran into obstacles. Pillsbury resigned. Within days Steve Wynne, the Las Vegas casino developer, snapped him up to consult on the fine art gallery at Wynne’s ultra-flashy Bellagio Hotel.
Pillsbury has spent most of his career in museums: he knows he has to prove himself to many people in the gallery world. “Artists who have shown [at Gerald Peters Gallery] in the past have every reason to evaluate options and consider if they are pleased with my direction,” says Pillsbury. who had been thinking of opening his own gallery in Fort Worth. His old friend Jack Lane, new director of the Dallas Museum of Art. “talked me into considering Dallas and mentioned that Gerry Peters was looking for someone to direct his gallery here,” Pillsbury says. Pillsbury knew the space and had purchased work from Gerald Peters in the past. When Peters offered to make Pillsbury a 50/50 partner with a name change, it was “too good an opportunity to pass up;”. Pilisbury says.
Artist Frances Bagley says of Pillsbury. “After Lisa and Talley left. Gerry Peters needed somebody that strong. He had huge shoes to fill, and he did it.”
“I was incredibly impressed when I found out who the new director was going to be,” says Gummelt. “Everybody in the art world was surprised. You don’t get much bigger than that around here.” Gummelt adds. “If I had not known how great it would be with Talley and Lisa, he’d be an impressive guy to go with, even though he’s dealt on a different level as a museum director. And even though Fort Worth and Dallas are two different places.”
Pillsbury acknowledges the difference between museums and galleries. “The similarities are you’re running something that has a potential for contributing to the cultural life of the community.” Pillsbury says. “You do have a very important educational and cultural enrichment opportunity and interface with the public, collectors, artists, and the man on the street. The public program side is comparable to a museum’s. The difference is running it like a business, developing programs and making them meaningful, but at same time paying the rent. It’s an entirely new type [of work] for me, but I’m 56 years old. I have energy and ideas.”
Pillsbury does indeed have experience,energy.and ideas. All that’s missing is the stable of artists Gerald Peters used to have. “I’ve had no serious discussions with artists about coming to my gallery,” says Pillsbury. But he is making personal calls on artists like Sam Gummelt. who has since sold work through Dunn and Brown, “He said he liked the work and would like to show it,” Gummelt says. “When I talked to him on the phone, I thought I’d made it clear I’d made my decision. After I said that I’m staying with Talley and Lisa, he said, i admire your loyalty.’ He did not try to hustle me.” But Pillsbury’s going to have to hustle eventually. In the gallery business, unlike the museum business, attendance doesn’t count. Sales do.
In the formal announcement of the mutated gallery sent to the Gerald Peters’ customers and Pillsbury’s contacts, the former museum director seemed to want to make it perfectly clear who is in charge: “Dr. Edmund Pillsbury. CEO of the new Pillsbury and Peters Fine Art.” His new “CEO” status, even if it’s only CEO of a little remodeled house on Fairmount Street ,seems to reflect Pillsbury’s opinion of himself. “I am a pretty important person,” he says with casual assurance.
Two days after the opening of the new Pillsbury and Peters Fine Art was announced, Dunn and Brown publicized their plans to open their own gallery. Even though she left Gerald Peters under a contract containing a non-compete clause, Dunn was advised it was unenforceable. So she decided to go into business for herself with her long-time colleague. She and Brown found a tiny space off the beaten gallery track, on the edge of Highland Park, but she had every reason to think patrons would beat a path to the new Dunn and Brown Contemporary. Without making any effort, the two already represented an impressive roster of artists formerly associated with Gerald Peters, including David Bates. Melissa Miller, Nic Nicosia and James Surls-all artists who had contacted her, claims Dunn. But the unpleasantness started before then. After protracted discussions got her nowhere. Dunn sued Gerald Peters Corporation on August 23 for breach of contract, specifically, failure to compensate her for sales of artwork from the Dallas Gerald Peters Gallery. She also asked for a declaratory judgment rendering the non-compete clause void. She then proceeded with plans for the inaugural show at Dunn and Brown Contemporary, which opened October 29. At press time, litigation is still pending, and the Peters Corporation was threatening a counter-suit to enforce the non-compete if Dunn did not drop her suit for compensation.
The dispute is over the compensation clause in her contract that states she was entitled to 1 percent of gross sales and 10 percent of the net profit from the Dallas gallery. Her suit compares the payment she received to financial statements obtained from Gerald Peters. According to these figures. Dunn alleges, she was not paid S133,590.39 based on gross sales in the Dallas gallery between 1994 and 1998. She is also owed commission for sales from the Dallas gallery during the five and a half months Dunn worked there in 1999. The total could be as high as $800,000, Pillsbury admits candidly. While the Peters Corporation agrees that Dunn’s contract “unambiguously provides that she would receive I percent of the gross sales of the Dallas Gallery and 10 percent of the net profit of the Dallas Gallery.” it disputes the numbers used to calculate Dunn’s figures. According to the company, several art invoices with Dallas inventory numbers (including a painting by Albert Bierstadt sold for $2 million on February 18,1999, and a Frederick Remington and a Charles Russell sold together for $2.85 million on April 23,1999) were actually marketed and sold through other locations. Peters declines to comment on why the sale of these artworks was originally reported on the books of the Dallas gallery if the sales were actually made out of state., “It’s an easy issue to misunderstand,” Pillsbury says. “Artists are being told stuff that’s not true. The third hand commentary is very misleading.” Beyond that, neither Pillsbury nor Peters has anything to say.
Deedie Rose, board member of the Dallas Museum of Art and a collector herself, is chatting with Howard Rachofsky, owner of the most public private contemporary’ art collection in the Southwest. Betty Blake, doyenne of the Dallas art scene, is congratulating Talley Dunn. Her new gallery is crowded, and the party has that adrenaline-charged atmosphere of success. Clearly, Dunn and Brown Contemporary is the place to be on this Friday night. And the success is more than a feeling. By the end of the evening, 18 pieces of art will be sold, an amazingly high number to be purchased on an opening night.
Although this is Talley’s night, Pillsbury is there also, in a sense. Every group buzzes his name and speculates about the gallery Dunn left behind. The artists, whether in Ted or Talley’s camps, are “excited about it because new galleries and changes provide more opportunity for everybody,” says Frances Bagley, who decided to show her work at yet a third gallery. Turner & Runyon.
Meanwhile. Pillsbury refuses to be explicit. “I’m reorganizing,” he says. “It will be much bigger, much more influential than what Gerald Peters has been before. I’m more interested in presenting art and artists than in making a lot of, you know, money. I’m a public servant, a soldier if you will, who’s been in the field. I hope to make a contribution to this community.”
The new gallery owner is already shopping for new artists. Recently he traveled to New Mexico and El Paso with collectors Richard and Nona Barrett on a “scouting” expedition. And at the inaugural ceramics show at Pillsbury and Peters, he was working the crowd, charming everyone and glad-handing strangers like the experienced host he is.
Pillsbury surveys the developing scene with patrician broad-mindedness. “I’m not sure what all the reasons were for Talley Dunn or Lisa Brown to retire. But the more serious galleries there are-supporting work of the best artists in the community, developing collectors and their eyes, buying more things, and buying more broadly-the better for everybody.”