Valerie Goodman

New York dealer Valerie Goodman speaks with Art Review City about her new gallery, and forging her path to freedom.

Goodman opened her eponymous gallery after a long and prosperous career in the music business. She began on this new path to the art world selling French decorative art mostly from the 1930s and 40s. Today, she works closely with a high-profile roster of artists who have been featured in publications from World of Interiors to Architectural Digest, and in shows from New York to Taiwan including at the Queens Museum and the Aqua Miami fair.

Valerie Goodman, photo by Karen Kolberg.
“Art is the way to freedom,” declares Valerie Goodman, a veteran dealer with over a decade of experience selling art and design in the Upper East Side of New York.

While studying for a master’s degree in literature at The Sorbonne in Paris, she became interested in the music world and quickly became engrained in that community. It was then that she first found her passion for interacting with creators and started to work with them to bring to life their ideas and goals. Scouting talent in her city of Paris, Goodman helped young artists get record deals. She was managing a group of artists, promoting shows, and this new career would bring her to the United States. Seeking to expand her reach in the world of art, Goodman sought out opportunities that were of interest: from bringing talent to the New York trendy music convention, the New Music Seminar to managing musicians, to distributing a French film by Claire Denis, and to developing opportunities for the Sam and Larry Shaw photographic collection.

In 2003, Goodman met a gallerist who specialized in French decorative art. She started working with him and discovered the treasures of 20th century decorative art. For seven years she explored the field and learned the business. By 2009 the draw to help develop the careers of contemporary artists and give them opportunities to create was too strong to delay any longer. She opened up Valerie Goodman Gallery in 2010 at East 91st Street in Manhattan’s vibrant Upper East Side neighborhood. Opening a gallery had not been her lifelong plan, it came her way and it was the perfect catalyst for her strengths and passions. 

Goodman’s first exposure to art was her exploration of architecture and art while walking along the streets of Paris. She frequently walked to Notre Dame from the outskirts of Paris to figure out how the structure was built, to appreciate the stained glass, and to take in all its beauty and grandeur. These walks are still some of her most cherished memories. At a young age she became aware that art was central to life, and with schoolmates she set out to visit all of the art museums in Paris. She particularly liked to spend hours dreaming in Musée de l’Orangerie surrounded by Monet’s Water Lilies.

In 1977 an artist friend invited her to documenta, the exhibition of contemporary art in Kassel, Germany. This was the catalyst that made her realize art was a living breathing thing and it sparked her interest in contemporary artists. It was also when she had a first glimpse that working with contemporary artists could shape her career. For Goodman, art was alive, and as she had experienced it growing up, it was closely linked to hope and freedom.

Goodman recalls that the first art forms she connected with were literature and poetry. In novels she found the strength to overcome pain; humanity became illuminated and art was an expression of freedom for the human soul.

Valerie Goodman Gallery has spent the last decade specializing in the representation of artists yet unknown in the US, and making launching their American careers its goal. Introduction into a new market is a long-term proposition that requires perseverance and strategy.

When Goodman opened her art and decorative art gallery, there were only a handful of her colleagues who were exclusively showing contemporary artists and designers. Most of them represented already well-known artists with an established market in the US. Today a growing number of antique dealers have branched out into contemporary art, but most buy and sell the pieces rather than focus on developing an artist’s career. Goodman feels her calling is more akin to a promoter with a focus on getting the artists she represents more productive and expand their creative reach.

Goodman started her business with a handful of French artists she found inspiring, soon followed by others from the States and around the world including Cristina Salusti an Italian American and Tinatin Kilaberidze from the Republic of Georgia.

Her role is to listen to the artists, learn from them, and foster a connection with potential collaborators and collectors. She has worked with most of her artists for over a decade, committing to their professional needs and their success. This symbiotic relationship has proved fruitful. She contributed to having some of them create their best work and expand their range. She also encourages collaborations between creative minds. Following the trend of the week or being on the art fair circuit is not her path. Goodman’s vision is to achieve the long-term cultural and societal impact her artists dictate, not just focusing on their commercial success. 

The new Valerie Goodman Gallery, designed by Jacques Jarrige.

Goodman’s dedication to her roster of artists and growing network of clients has been what sustains her interest and enthusiasm through the years, and faced with the challenges of COVID-19, she has focused on several long-term projects. The first major project was the opening and design of her new ground-floor gallery space in the same building she’s occupied since the opening of her gallery. This new space opens in January 2021 and was designed by Jacques Jarrige.

Goodman met Jarrige over a decade ago as she opened the gallery, and five years into a rewarding collaboration he redesigned her home in Piermont, New York. It was the first time she had embarked in the design of a home. When she asked Jarrige if he would take on the project he immediately said yes, envisioning what walls to open, and how to make the space flow.  Within two years, Goodman had a brilliantly designed new home, and Jarrige had created a masterpiece. It unofficially became a showcase for the artist’s breath of work. Very soon after this, Goodman had Jarrige built her first gallery space, and now naturally he designed the new one. The new gallery opens on January 19th with an exhibition of recent works by Jarrige including sculptures that he created in the Massif Central last spring during the confinement. 

The new Valerie Goodman Gallery, designed by Jacques Jarrige.

The other significant project that transpired in quarantine was the ongoing production of a mid-career book on Jarrige. Not simply a catalogue raisonné; more of a work of art itself with text by an award-winning French novelist – and collector of Jarrige’s work – relating her relationship and understanding of what Jarrige has created over the years. The book will focus on Jarrige’s history, his studio, his work, and his extensive reach including a practice in sacred art introduced by a French art historian and priest. The book will aim to foster a conversation about art and the place of the artist; it will be a testament to her dedication to Jarrige’s career and continued success. Look for this to hit bookstore shelves in the Fall of 2021.

Another long reaching project that came to fruition in 2020 is connected to   a significant relationship that has shaped her life from childhood:  she took on the task of promoting  the work of László Rajk (1949-2019) who was an artist, architect, film set designer, and political activist in Hungary. Rajk is very well-known in his homeland and his father – also named László – was a Hungarian Communist politician who served as Minister of Interior and Minister of Foreign Affairs and was executed in 1949 making him the first victim of the Stalin show trials. Laszlo Jr. was just a few months old at the time, but the brutal event shaped his life and work. His mother was arrested as well, and he spent his first years at a state orphanage under an assumed name. After he and his mother were reunited, she fought relentlessly to have her husband rehabilitated in the form of a ceremonial reburial. The public funeral was attended by a crowed of over 100,000 people on October 6, 1956 and became the event later characterized as a prelude to the Hungarian Revolution.

Drawing studios at Plymouth College of Art, Plymouth, UK. Photo by Stephanie Owens.

As a teen Goodman was fascinated with Rajk’s art, charisma, and resilience, and they became close. Having been mentored by Hungarian refugees as a child, she was familiar and sensitive to the plight of political refugees. Naturally she felt she was in a position to help since she was from a richer and freer country. Rajk further educated her about the regime that continued to be oppressive, and he demonstrated to her that even a strong authoritarian regime could be overturned.

When the Communist rule in the People’s Republic of Hungary came to an end in 1989, Rajk was elected to parliament, and actively continued his art and architecture practice. He had stayed close to the New York art scene that was introduced to him in the 1970s by groundbreaking architect and thinker James Wines. In the following decades he began lecturing in the US, and teaching master classes in ethics and film at Princeton University. In 2019 Goodman and Rajk reconnected and she asked him if she could exhibit his work; he agreed. Sadly enough, a few months later he was diagnosed with an aggressive terminal cancer and died within weeks. 

In 2020 Valerie Goodman Gallery sponsored an event culminating in a student exhibition inspired by Rajk’s work at the Plymouth College of Art in the UK. In the coming years she will bring the students work, along with Rajk’s cinematographic sculptures, his frottages (rubbings), and political art to the United States for a series of exhibitions. Parts will be shown at her gallery, and others at New York institutions with which she is currently organizing.

This online event joining together viewers from Plymouth, New York, and Budapest took place in November 2020 during quarantine, and was conducted by Rajk’s widow Judit Rajk. She introduced the students to Rajk’s life long practice of frottages, and in particular those of the removed words of the constitution by the current regime of Hungary, and those of the walls of Auschwitz where 400,000 Hungarian Jews who were put to death had inscribed their names and the cities they were from.

Goodman and head of school Stephanie Owens began promoting the project as they thought Rajk’s work fit into the school’s mission as a leader in drawing education in the fields of art, design, and media. The institution itself was founded as the Plymouth Drawing School in 1856. The event “Drawing as Monument” aimed to inspire the art students by introducing them to a low-tech process with which they could unearth and record the heritage of their own city of Plymouth being a part of trade slaves and its history in WWII where half the city was destroyed.

Goodman believes powerful artworks such as Rajk’s frottages will encourage and activate new generations through hard and troubled times. Seeing how successful the event and exhibition were made her more determined to pursue showing the works of meaningful artists who can open the minds of viewers. Jarrige with his dedication and use of humble materials similarly demonstrates the power of art. The freedom in his work inspires curiosity, and reminds us to pay attention and be present in the moment.

Laszlo Rajk, “Farkas”, rubbing from the Missing Fate series (2004-2014). Photo courtesy Judit Rajk.

In addition to running a successful business in New York, Goodman is strongly connected to her local community through outreach programming, cultural exchanges.  She is on the board of COPE NYC, an international artist residency exchange program. Goodman’s vision is precise: partner with artists and help change the world for the better. Visit her online at www.ValerieGoodmanGallery.com, and visit her new gallery which will open to the public on January 19th, 2021 from 11-5pm.