Greg Kucera, who built his namesake gallery into one of the most respected art spaces in the Northwest, is retiring after 38 years. He plans to relocate to Europe and will sell his gallery to two employees.
Jim Wilcox, the gallery’s assistant director, along with Carol Clifford, his wife and the space’s bookkeeper, have purchased the gallery at about 30% of ownership, with plans for a slow buy-in. The gallery will initially be co-owned with Kucera, then fully transition to Wilcox and Clifford over a number of years.
Kucera plans to move (likely this summer) to a small castle, a “medieval stone fortress, built in 1501 for one of the minor Knights of Rhodes” in the French town of Parisot, he wrote in a statement on the gallery’s website.
“I opened the gallery in 1983 and have enjoyed every minute of it for the last 37 years,” wrote Kucera. “Now, Jim Wilcox, my trusted employee for 21 years, is buying the gallery with his wife, Carol Clifford, who has worked with us for all of 2020.”
Kucera said he planned to work in a co-directorship with Wilcox “for several years and then my ownership will decrease over time,” and noted the gallery had “continued to have good business during all of 2020, which is a good sign for our future.”
Kucera wrote that, “The gallery will keep its name and its current location and configuration. We plan to continue to work with our current staff and roster of artists, updating with new talent as time and opportunity allow.”
Wilcox said the gallery’s change in ownership had been in the works for at least two years. “When [Kucera] decided he was going to move and retire, we started discussing whether I wanted to buy the gallery,” he said. “And I did. Partly because I didn’t want to see it go away. It’s been such an established gallery and really has been a guiding force in Seattle’s art community.”
Greg Kucera Gallery first opened in a Second Avenue storefront. The gallery distinguished itself by exhibiting work from local and regional artists alongside nationally recognized artists like David Hockney and Robert Colescott.
“He just tried to show that we aren’t a group of regional artists … that there was a place for us in the national idea,” said Wilcox, who noted that Kucera also brought business acumen and a spirit of interdependence to the operation, living out a core belief that “if one gallery does well, it helps the other galleries as well.”
Kucera moved the gallery into its current Pioneer Square home on Third Avenue South in 1998. More arts spaces followed. Foster/White moved in next door. Kucera doesn’t claim credit for the area’s focus on visual art, but said Thursday that galleries are “part of the fundamental beginning of development in an area.”
Kucera has “just been huge in terms of how important the arts scene is here and [how it’s] recognized well beyond the Northwest,” Sam Davidson, owner of Davidson Galleries.
Throughout its long life, Kucera’s gallery has shown major artists like Robert Mapplethorpe and Andres Serrano, both included in a 1989 group show called “Taboo,” that featured Serrano’s iconic “Piss Christ” as well as work from nationally known artists including Sally Mann, Cindy Sherman and Vito Acconci, alongside Seattle’s Howard Kottler and Marsha Burns.
In response to the cancellation of Mapplethorpe’s Corcoran Gallery show in Washington, D.C., and conservative attacks on Serrano, the show embraced work dismissed as too provocative to look at. “We had one protester opening night,” Kucera recalled with amusement.
The gallery also held solo shows for artists like Kiki Smith and Kara Walker early in their careers. “At the moment you don’t quite know how far-reaching they are,” said Kucera.
More recently, Anthony White became one of the youngest artists Kucera represents. White, who makes large-scale paintings incorporating a bright palette and pop iconography and 3D printer ink, first met the art dealer while finishing up a Bachelor of Fine Arts at Cornish College of the Arts.
Kucera has a keen eye for identifying potential in work that other people might not see, White said. “Greg is definitely a legend here, and I think he’ll always be remembered as one for the contributions he’s made to Seattle art and Seattle artists.”
Wilcox said he has no plans to make major changes and intends to carry on Kucera’s legacy and vision. “I wanted to do what I could to try to keep it going for the artists and for me,” he said.
As a first-time gallery buyer, Wilcox said making the decision to purchase the space was daunting, but that he was pleased the gallery would remain a cornerstone of the Seattle visual arts scene. “Life is fun sometimes, even when it’s scary like it is [right now] and I want to try to make this as fun a ride as possible,” he said.
Kucera said it was important to leave the gallery in trusted hands. “I’m really thankful to this community for supporting me all these years, so I don’t want to turn my back on it and sell to someone who doesn’t care about it,” he said.
This story has been updated to clarify the details of the gallery’s first opening.