artnet: Matthew Brown, the 26-year-old gallery owner from Los Angeles, could be the star of Frieze Week. Don’t ask him to confirm
We’ve all heard the origin story of this young man in his twenties who moved to Los Angeles, started selling posters out of the back of a car, met all the right people and became the most powerful art dealer in the world. But Larry Gagosian might want to watch his back, because nearly four decades after opening his shop, another savvy 20-year-old has gone, in the space of just four years, from fetching coffee for his underlings. to run the gallery whose name is on everyone’s lips. I’m talking, of course, about Matthew Brown.
Brown burst onto the art scene in 2019, snagging a shingle in Hollywood when he was just 23 (It’s easier to be successful overnight if you’ve got a family fortune behind you, but we’ll talk about that later.) later). Since then he has mounted shows by Andy Goldsworthy and Kenny Rivero and has provided representation for rising stars such as Kenturah Davis, Heidi Lau and Vincent Valdez.
Olivier Babin, the founder of the Clearing gallery, says that before meeting Brown in 2019, “I was going to dinner in Los Angeles, and people were talking about Matthew Brown. But even more meta, people were talking abouthow many people were talking about matthew brown.”
I first heard of Brown in a way similar to Fitzgeraldian. At the Felix Art Fair last August, I came across a party hosted by Babin and Brown at a rented house in Laurel Canyon, where celebrities and art luminaries like Caroline Polachek, Matt Copson, and Rebecca Dayanswarmed around a Spanish-style mansion with a trail fountain leading to the front door. Dazzled, I asked someone how this party was born. Their response ? “Annie, you don’t know who Matthew Brown is East?”
Brown himself is stunned by the buzz. “I think it’s kind of funny,” he told me of his reputation as a prodigy. “I used to get frustrated with it, but I guess it’s like, better than nothing.”
Matthew Brown. Photo: Matthew Brown.
Matthew Brown opened his first gallery in Hollywood in 2019. Two years earlier, he had dropped out of an economics major at the University of Texas at Austin to work for Gagosian in LA”[Gagosian] actually asked me what city I wanted to move to, and I already had the ego to think I was going to open a gallery one day in LA,” he added, laughing to himself. “What an asshole.”
He worked for Gagosian half the week and the other half with the smaller talent incubator Hannah Hoffman. “It was really great, because it was like two sides of the art world,” he said. However, Brown’s eyes were still on the prize: “When you’re young in the art world, you can just reach out to people, and they want to help you or give you advice because you don’t you’re just a kid, more so than if I was a 45-year-old ex-financier or some shit.”
After about a year and a half, he left to start his own business, which now includes two separate spaces on North La Brea, totaling approximately 6,800 square feet. None of this would have been possible without the invisible hand of Jeffrey Deitch, whom Brown paraded at an art fair and introduced himself to before founding his gallery. Brown charmed him enough to extend a coffee date invitation, and before he knew it, Deitch was advising Brown on where to open his space, telling him, “Open down the street from me. You know, I can send people to you.”
A solo exhibition of Sasha Gordon’s work at Matthew Brown. Photo: Ed Mumford.
The charm that snagged Deitch is what many people first notice about Brown, but try to dig deeper and you might find yourself frustrated. He can be kept in conversation, and most everyone I spoke to about him for this story described him as shy.
He grew up mostly in Texas, but his mother worked for the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, so Brown went to high school in Southern California. Texas, however, is where his grandparents live, esteemed collectors Jeanne and Michael L. Klein, who are the classic oil-money Texans familiar to the art world. Brown didn’t say much about them, but said “many things in their collection look like really famous artists, but are literally worthless because they can never be moved” – a likely reference has aJames Turrell site-specific “Skyspace” readily visible in their home in Austin.
All of this means, of course, that you can’t talk about Matthew Brown without talking about privilege. Brown does not deny that he is there. In my conversations with him, he often belittles himself, saying he doesn’t want to come across as an “asshole”. Babin, who is 21 on Brown, jokingly refers to him as his mentor, adding: “There’s no shortage of gallerists who come from ultra-privileged families, and most of the time it doesn’t turn out anything interesting. But he is good.”
Brown’s List is a varied bunch that’s stuck with the times; it initially focused on local artists, but has since branched out. In addition to presentations in his gallery, in the past year his artists have been exhibited by LACMA, Deitch Projects, the FLAG Art Foundation and El Museo del Barrio in New York (which acquired a work by Valdez, which Brown also showed in the artist’s Nova sector at Art Basel Miami Beach).
A solo exhibition of the work of Sedrick Chisom at Matthew Brown. Photo: Ed Mumford.
In my interviews with him, it’s hard to animate Brown about anything other than his artists. A former colleague of his at Gagosian was quick to describe him as a hard worker; Brown himself has stated that in the past year he has made at least 95 studio visits. Of all the art dealers he admires, he cites Peter Blum in particular, because “he takes the time to come and see the exhibitions, which means a lot to me”. When asked what his long-term goals are, he hesitates and simply says: “For now, I just want to build a program that the artists of the gallery will be proud to be part of.“
This was reflected in talking to his artists. Brooklyn-based painter Sasha Gordon was introduced to Brown by New York real estate ace and collector Jonathan Travis, just after graduating from the Rhode Island School of Design. Brown added her to his roster in 2020 and kicked off his first show in his second space with a solo exhibition of his work.
“I hear horror stories from my friends about their galleries and their experiences with them. But I loveworking with Matthew, the gallery is very stimulating.” She added, “I feel like there are a lot of galleries that want POC artists just to have them. But I feel like he doesn’t care and he really cares about his artists. Plus, I think his roster is absolutely insane.”
An artwork by Sasha Gordon. Photo: Ed Mumford.
One of the first artists to sign with the gallery, Sedrick Chisom, said Brown is “someone I can really get into art with, and even chat with him, but then send him a meme the next day. He can get on with a lot of different people.” Gordon describes him as an enigma, adding: “He’s a very quiet man, but he has a lot to say.”
Like I said, Brown doesn’t really like to talk about his ambitions and tries to divert questions about it to his artists’ careers and where he’d like to see them go. That doesn’t keep people guessing, though. As Chisom said, “I think he wants to be the best dealer of his generation, probably. That’s my honest opinion.”
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