When it was announced this week that Grover/Thurston, one of Seattle’s most respected galleries, would close when its lease runs out May 17, many assumed the business was another victim of a Seattle art economy that has yet to recover after the 2008 crash.
It turns out things are a little more complicated.
Co-owner Richard Thurston insists: “It’s not a business decision at all. Business in 2013 was quite excellent. It’s more that the thing has run its course, and there are other things that we want to do.”
By “we,” Thurston means himself and his ex-wife Susan Grover, with whom he established the gallery nearly a quarter-century ago.
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The business has not had the most straightforward history, however, as it had to survive the couple’s divorce in 2004. Thurston recalls they essentially had to restart the gallery after that, and perhaps the experience added to the fatigue that underlies their decision to close shop now.
“At 62, I don’t have the energy to reinvent the gallery one more time,” he says.
Online commerce, the growing importance of art fairs, changes in the very nature of collecting — Thurston cites all of these as demanding the sort of professional revitalization he is unwilling to tackle.
“There are plenty of people out there who are just like I was 20-odd years ago,” he says. “They’re ambitious and ready to go. It’s their turn.”
While Grover and Thurston discourage seeing their decision in negative terms, it is clearly not a good thing for another longstanding Seattle gallery to announce its closure only days after Francine Seders shut her gallery doors. (The gallery moved in 2011 to the site of the Catherine Person Gallery, which closed its physical gallery in June that year.) Grover is negotiating with other dealers to find the artists new representation, but Thurston admits to feeling “sadness that some artists will be left unserved.”
No wonder — in one of surest si
gns of a gallery’s genuine success, Grover/Thurston maintained excellent relations with its artists over the years.
Well-known Seattle painter Fay Jones, the most recent artist to show in the gallery, for example, has been with Thurston and Grover for almost 20 years, and she puts it very simply: “They ran a good gallery, and they’ve done very well by me.”
Other artists Grover/Thurston has shown include James Lavadour, Akio Takamori and Joe Max Emminger.
Grover and Thurston have always seen their role in simple terms.
“The focus of our gallery,” Thurston says, “has always been to sell artists’ work. For better or worse, that’s what we’re here for.”
Gallery artists were selected according to very simple criteria: “Am I interested in this work?,” Grover would ask herself, and then, significantly, “Could I live with it?”
Once artists had been taken on, the gallery sought to present their work as well as possible.
“I’ve made great friendships with artists and clients,” Grover says. “I’d rather we close our doors on a high note.”
So eager are the pair to move on, neither of them can say quite what they plan to do next. They talk vaguely of traveling, of doing things that running a gallery made impossible.
“We’ve been at this for 24 years,” Thurston says. “We’re relatively young, we’re relatively healthy, we’ve been successful, so we have some money in our pockets. This seemed like a perfect opportunity to do some other things that we’ve always wanted to do.”
Robert Ayers: firstname.lastname@example.org