Today at Atmos we’re speaking with gallerist and collector, Fay Gold, in her Atlanta home. Read along for a chance to hear about her friendships with art legends, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Robert Mapplethorpe.
*This conversation has been lightly edited and condensed.
Atmos: Everyone has their own kind of path towards an art career. Do you want to talk a little bit about yours and how you got here?
Fay Gold: I came here in 1966 from New York and four years prior; I’d been studying oil painting with a protégée of Hans Hoffmans. She taught in my building in Riverdale. So my three kids would go to sleep and I would go upstairs on Wednesday nights and take art lessons. She taught us how to do pointillism and surrealism and color theory. So I had all these charts in an envelope when I moved to Atlanta. I had a little studio built in my backyard so I could continue painting when the kids went to sleep and people in the neighborhood asked me to teach their children. I said, ‘well I don’t teach’. But I had a school with me: I had four years of charts and all of the instructions….I decided once I saw what was going on in Atlanta that was so lacking in the kind of cultural I had come from, the restaurants, the food. I created Fay’s world in the backyard and I’ve been creating Fay’s world ever since. I’m too thick skinned to care what anybody thinks of me. I just keep walking through doors as they open. I always say that if I ever figured out what I’m doing I’m in trouble. I don’t have any five-year plans, I don’t even have a five day plan. I see something and I know it’s right and I trust my instincts. Sometimes I’m wrong but most of the time I’m pretty right.
A: I think most the time you’re pretty right too. I think so many people now, especially a lot of younger people; your life is so mapped out for you. You know what your next step is going to be and I don’t think a lot of people anymore really decide with their gut.
A: I had no idea that you were a painter though. Do you have any of your work here?
F: In fact I taught painting in the backyard for the next fifteen years. I had sixty students a week. I had ten to twelve children every afternoon. Ladies on Tuesdays and Thursdays and eventually a men’s class on Wednesday nights. In fact, two months ago MoCA acquired one of my paintings. The archives of my galley are at Emory at the Rose Library. About ten years ago I started writing my memoirs. Right now based on the memoirs I have written, a play is being written about my relationships with the artists and it’s called Basquiat’s Cat. Because Basquiat sent me his cat. I can’t tell you more about it but that’s an interesting project in the works and I’m very excited about.
A: I’m very excited about that. If you get a play, I’m going to go see it.
F: So I taught art for fifteen years and from the age of eleven Amy (daughter) was my assistant. Gina and Jason (daughter and son) painted every afternoon; they had twelve kids coming over. So Jason ended up being an architect.
A: And Amy works with you. What does Gina do?
F: Well Gina is a fabulous artist, but right you know she works on art on her own. She’s married and takes care of her husband… she’s very happy taking care of her home and husband. She has a fantastic garden called Donald’s Garden. And Amy is an art dealer so you can say they all got the bug.
A: Yeah I think growing up around art and your mom being an artist…you catch the gene of being visual I guess. Take my family for example all of us are so visual
F: So I started collecting pop art. I had a ten-foot Basquiat.
A: Where is that now?
F: Probably Zürich. (It was) from the first show. I paid $5,200 for it. I sold it for $750,000 and I didn’t want to sell it. My husband said to sell it. Now…
A: That one that just sold was…
F: $120 million.
A: That’s wild. How big was it?
F: Mine was ten feet. It was beyond. It was the best painting from the first show. $5,200.
A: How did you meet him?
F: What happened was…I made friends with Holly Sullivan, in the seventy’s she was a New York. She started a decorative school. Warhol did a portrait of her and Lichtenstein. She invited Amy, Jason and I to the gallery. It had just opened. She invited us to our house and to the parties of all the artists. I asked to do a group show and she said yes and she was (going to) come down. I couldn’t believe it. This was 1982. She’s sitting and we’re having coffee. I said, ‘you know, it’s my birthday I’m going to New York. What should I see?’ She said, ‘Well, you should see Keith Haring. Ever heard of him? It’s his first show. You should see Basquiat.’ And Donald gave me five thousand dollars to buy a bracelet.
A: You didn’t buy a bracelet did you?
F: So I said, instead of going to 47thth Street, maybe I’ll drop in to see those shows. I went into the Basquiat show and bought the painting for $5,200. I called Donald and I said, ‘no I think I’m buying a painting and I’ll pay the extra $20.
A: No bracelet for you.
F: That’s how I got my Basquiat and while I was there Annina took me
downstairs to the basement and introduced me to him.
A: What was he like?
F: He…wasn’t overly friendly. He’d knowledge that you were there but it was like painting. And then after he left Annina and after he left Mary Boone I called him and said I want to buy some drawings. I went to New York, it was winter, and he was living Andy Warhol’s little duplex. And the door had graffiti on it, no number. I had on a fox coat and in those days you know, you’d get hit over the head. I had $20,000 in the bank I’d saved. And I said I wanted to buy some drawings. There were paintings on the floor and out came this Maine Coon Cat. So I’m making nice on the cat because I had a Yorkie at home and I had a Persian. And he talked to me, ‘should I cross this list out?’ The drawings were $1,100 each, that he picked out himself. He sent someone out for a tube. $16,500 (all together) and I had $20,000 in the bank. I walked out with a tube of 11 Basquiat drawings under my arm.
A: That’s insane. And over time they’ve just been sold?
F: Yes. I was building a gallery.
A: And it’s art, you never know…
F: I knew.
A: Did you know that about Mapplethorpe too? When did you meet him?
F: Of course I knew that. I’m a founding member of APIAD, The Association of International Photography Art Dealers. There were 30 of us and we met in 1980 and we had a table of photographers….that was the first I had laid my eyes on that work. It blew me away. Did you ever hear of Harry Lunn? He was king the photographer. Lunn did a show and Mapplethorpe did his photograph for the invitation. At that time his photographs were fifteen hundred dollars. I got forty off. And I said I wanted to do my photograph for my invitation and then I met him. It was just the two of us alone on Great Jones.
A: What was he like?
F: Robert was very thin and very wiry. First we talked for a half hour. He told me to wear whatever I wanted to. I still have my dress in the closet. And I wash my hair. Curly hair. Grows this way, what can I do? And we just sort of chatted, just two of us he was….he was jumping up and down changing a light…you know like for an hour or two. He only offered me two pictures. One is a profile, which I have hanging. And the full face. Later on I went through the books and I saw all of the sheets of all the shots we took. That’s a lot of pictures jumping up and down.
F: But then, Robert came here twice. Sam Wagstaff, he was one of the handsomest men in the world. Socialite with great wealth. And he fell in love with Robert. Bought him a home for five million dollars and that’s where I sat with Robert three weeks before he died, in that apartment. As I said came down here first time with Sam. You know I had a long friendship with these artists. For whatever reason. And Haring did his last show with me. Didn’t do it with Tony. Tony had a fit. And he would call when he was coming to Atlanta to do a mural or something and he would say, ‘Wanna play?’
A: Did you go out with him?
F: Oh sure. We used to go to the diner. The Buckhead Diner was new. It was a big deal. And I taught him how to balance spoons on his nose.
A: So you were teaching in your backyard for years and years. How did you start?
F: And I’m buying! Making twenty thousand went far. And so some of the women said, ‘can you take us to New York?’ Most of them had never even been. So I got together a group of twenty-four of them. The first place I took them was to George Segal’s in New Jersey. He made a sculpture in a big chicken coop, a chicken farm. Carol Janice represented him. So you know, they set me up. Unbelievable we went to George Segal’s. And that was successful and they said to me, ‘Can you help us get some art?’ And I didn’t think I was going to be an art teacher or an art dealer or anything. It just became a mission in a way. It just happened.
F: And so I started helping them. And then I had a client who just wanted photography. There were two photo galleries in the United States…in the late seventy’s. I have owned everything that you can ever name. I used to have a wall just from ceiling to floor. And then I had these granddaughters and I said, oh my God. Because I had (photographs) the priests with the bloody girl on the ropes and I had the coyote…everything in my house drew tough things. So I sold them.
A: Because you didn’t want to freak out your granddaughter.
F: And you know something? They couldn’t care less. So then before you know it, the kids grow up. And I lived in a brand new house, four bedroom. I could only buy little things. I wanted to buy big things! I have to sell this house or you know get a man to sell this house.. So once I sold the house and didn’t have an art school, I rented a store for the art school. And I rented the front to a guy named Myott, now the biggest framer in the Southeast. Myott worked for the frame circus. He was a young kid with three babies. And I had sixty students and I sent them all to him in the frame circus.
F: So for two years he was in the front until he needed more space and then I rented to a plant shop. And then a nail place wanted it and a guitar school. And I said to Donald, ‘you know maybe I’ll open a little gallery in the front. I’ll keep the art school in the back because I know that’s income’. And he loaned me twenty thousand dollars I we renovated. Who do I open with? George Segal. Who do I follow with? Alec Katz. Third show Rauschenberg. Cindy Sherman, fifteen hundred dollars each. And Kathy Fox, the last line of her review is, ‘As said, Gone With The Wind, personally I don’t give a damn.’ She didn’t like it.
F: That’s all I knew. I only knew the New York school. And that’s what I brought to Atlanta. Nobody did anything like that. That for a first year, Irving Penn. My first big photo show.
A: So how did you how did you pick artists to show?
F: It took three years to show a profit and that’s when I closed the art school. Because I would be in the back teaching then would run up in front to the gallery and then I would run back. When it showed a profit, I needed storage. I have pictures of everything. I’ve been going over to Emory now couple of hours a week. I just gave him the fifteen boxes when I moved and look through them or anything. All the installation shots, all the P.R. books. Anyway so that’s how the gallery got started.
A: So you closed the gallery seven years ago, right?
F: In 2009.
A: And you consult now. Do you have an eye on any emerging artists right now that you really like?
F: I’m on the advisory board at SCAD. There are some unbelievable artists. SCAD is beyond anything in New York and that takes a lot for me to say that. It’s the top fashion school in the country now and it’s the top interior design school in the country. Both. The talent there is fantastic so I’m going to look for talent that people can afford. Because of all of these unbelievable apartment buildings going up everywhere, you need a painting over the couch and a painting over the fireplace. That’s the two basic, you know I’m saying. And every time I see another apartment building I say, ‘wow, wish I had a gallery.’ I know business can be fabulous right here. You know I’m an art fair junkie. I’ve done FIAC, I’ve done ARCO. I’ve been in the Armory Show. I love doing art fairs.
A: You love working them or you love going to them?
F: I love working them. That’s how I got my name out. It’s a bit different. I’m not looking to spend fortunes on art fairs and fortunes on shipping. If I do something, I’m going to discover younger artists without crazy egos. That’s what I’m going to look for. I’m going to look for good stuff for these apartments here. And not try to bring New York in anymore. It’s too expensive.
A: What do you look for when you meet a young artist?
F: I just know. I look at it and you know. After a while, I mean if you never shop, you don’t know what’s going to look good on you. You don’t know what’s out there. You don’t know anything. If you go to a store once a year, you keep up on things. When you see the right thing, you know.
A: Is there a gallery in Atlanta you like going to?
F: I went to Avery when he opened his new space. He has a lot of my artists.
A: Do you have an idea what the next big art city is going to be?
F: Well Miami is big and they’re getting some very good galleries. Chicago was big. Not anymore. When the Chicago art fair was the only one and in its heyday, Chicago was so great. Los Angeles is coming in very strong because it got all the Hollywood money. You know wherever Gagosian has a branch is going to be good.
A: That is really true. We should all live by that rule.
F: Miami is good but it’s gotten so big; it’s too big Miami. I mean I remember when I did Miami Art, it was one fair. And now just the Miami art is about eight fairs. But I’ve taken clients shopping there. You can not buy at the Miami art fair, it’s too expensive. The main thing when you shop with a client is you can never let them buy what they want, because it’s always terrible. Never. But if they’re smart enough, I always recommend something that I would want to buy myself.
A: So if your advice is not to buy what you like, what is your advice to collectors?
F: If you don’t know anything, you will make tremendous mistakes just saying, ‘oh, I like this’. You need advice, unless you’ve been looking and educating yourself. Then you can trust your judgment. I buy thing that ask questions. I don’t like people I can figure out. I like people that reveal themselves to you and great art reveals itself to you so that each time you look at it, you see something else. When I pull a painting out from the racks, if it didn’t continue speaking to me, I’d return it.
Images Courtesy of: Fernando Decillis