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A Day In the Life of Art Dealer Julie Saul and Her 30-Year-Old Gallery in Chelsea

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Julie Saul at her dining table, portrait of a bullfighter by Rineke Dijkstra

Since she first opened her doors in 1986, art dealer Julie Saul has not only kept her finger on the pulse of the New York art scene but has also helped to define it. Representing a diverse set of artists, from leading photographers Charlotte DumasArne Svenson, and Bill Jacobson to graphic artist Elaine Lustig Cohen, illustrator Maira Kalman, and the late outsider artist Morton Bartlett (and everyone in between). Saul’s days are unpredictable and full; luckily, she had time to fill us in on her routine before hopping on a call with an artist overseas in London for an upcoming art fair. Photos by Tahir Karmali for Feature Shoot.

Up and At ’Em! I wake up at around 7:00. I look at my phone and schedule and say, ‘what do I have to do today?’ The first face I see is my dog Augie’s face. He’s a long-haired dachshund; he’s a rescue.

Walk to Work Sometimes I go to the gym or do some stretching at home. If I need to leave my dog home for the day, then I need to take him on a longer walk and remember to text the dog walker to come. If I’m heading straight to work, I walk the dog to work, which I love. That’s one of my favorite parts of the day. I listen to tons of public radio, and I listen to the BBC News as I walk Augie to work on my headphones.

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Augie with artworks by Shannon Ebner, Bill Jacobson, Tseng Kwong Chi

First Things First I get to work around 10:00. When I get to the gallery, I check in with everybody. I have three employees and an intern. We have a formal meeting every Tuesday morning at 10:30. We meet for about an hour, and we go over everything for exhibition planning, art fair planning, and because we specialize in photography, there’s a lot of production planning that goes on. We go over things that need to get to the framer, emails going out to announce exhibitions and art signings.

Meet the Team The Gallery Director Edna Cardinale has been with the gallery for almost twenty five years; we finish our sentences for each other at this point. We know each other so well that it really is a fantastic collaboration. I rely on her to help make decisions for just about everything. Edna does a lot of the work directly with the artists. We have a Registrar/Preparator named Jae Cho, and he does all of the actual handling of the work: the shipping, the installation, the framing, the storage, the organization. Jacqueline Cruz is really the multi-tasker: receptionist, assistant, front desk public person. She prepares our email communications and handles our social media and a lot of paperwork.

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A piece by Gonzalo Puch hangs on the wall

You Never Know My days are often very varied; for example, Thursday I’m going to one of my artist’s houses who lives close by because a client/collector is meeting me there, and she wants to see the rooftop garden he planted. The thing about a gallery is you never know who’s going to walk in and what’s going to happen that distracts you from whatever task you’re working on. So that’s what’s exciting and annoying at the same time. The main function of the gallery is to exhibit, promote, and sell the art; if you don’t sell the art, you can’t do all the other things, so that takes priority. There’s very rarely a day that I don’t have some sort of interaction with one of the gallery artists, and most days, there’s interaction with a client, so there’s a lot of back-and-forth.

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Julie Saul’s gym shoes

Staying Organized I try to remember to write things down, and my staff helps keep me organized. I do a lot of the writing (press releases, etc.), so we’ll put on our shared calendar when things are due. It’s good to be part of a team. I’m a pretty organized person myself; this spring, it will be the thirtieth year that I’ve had my gallery, so I’m starting to figure out how to do it (laughs).

Lunch Time I often bring lunch from home, which generally consists of arugula with something on top of it. If I’m not doing that, then I usually order from Bottino like everybody else in Chelsea. I do make lunch dates, probably once every week or every other week, either with an out of town curator, collector, or artist.

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Portrait of Julie Saul riding a dachshund by Sarah Anne Johnson

Mounting an Exhibition Preparing for a show is probably the most interesting part of what we do. It can be a solo show, a three person show, a thematic show with twenty five works and one work for each person. Some of the shows I delegate, and very occasionally we have an outside curator. Isaac Mizrahi curated a summer show for us a few years ago. Ingrid Schaffner curated a few shows for us over the years. Basically, because it’s the most fun part, we mostly handle the shows ourselves. You have to figure out the actual selection of the work and the presentation of it. That’s a really big part of what we do on a day-to-day basis.

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(from top) Artworks by Oliver Boberg, Kate Shepherd, and Christiane Feser

The Future of Galleries Days have become more low-key in the sense that people don’t visit galleries as much. In the twenty-nine years that I’ve had my gallery, I would say that the traffic is less now than it used to be. In general, if you walk down and look in the windows at the ground floor spaces in Chelsea, you have these big, huge spaces that are often empty. The timing of things is so strange; everything will be really dead, and then three people will come in at the same time who are wanting to look at different things.

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Julie Saul, with artworks by Adam Magyar and Morton Bartlett in the background

The Making of a Great Artist We choose work that we think is interesting and important and that represents something no one else at the gallery is doing. I always say the trifecta with an artist that you look for is critical attention, institutional support from museums and curators, and commercial sales to private collectors. That’s what you hope will happen with every artists. You’re really happy if you get at least two of those; three is fantastic! That’s what you’re looking for.

Down Time On my day off, which is Monday, I spend a lot of time in my neighborhood (the West Village) doing things like grocery shopping, getting things repaired, going to the gym. I just got back from running a bunch of errands, and I ran into three different friends as I walked around. I love living in the village; where you live is a big part of your life.

All images © Tahir Karmali

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