Remembering Richard Gray


Chicago has lost one of its leading cultural ambassadors, art dealer Richard Gray, who died in May at age 89.

While known mainly as the head of his namesake gallery, Gray and his wife, Mary, were intimately connected with many of the city’s leading cultural institutions, including the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Chicago Humanities Festival, the Art Institute, the Smart Museum of Art at the University of Chicago and WFMT.

Two of his major philanthropic efforts are the Richard and Mary L. Gray Wing for prints and drawings at the Art Institute of Chicago and The Richard and Mary L. Gray Center for Arts and Inquiry on the University of Chicago campus.

The gallery began modestly in 1963 at 155 East Ontario Street. Gray was looking for a new career after working for his father’s construction business. The gallery soon moved to 620 North Michigan Avenue, where it remained for nearly 30 years before moving to the John Hancock Center in 1995. Gray opened a warehouse venue on West Carroll Street in the Kinzie Industrial Corridor last year. He also had a Madison Avenue location in New York.

The gallery’s sales currently top $100 million. Its clients included collectors and museums from Europe, Asia, the Middle East and South America. Natalie van Straaten, founding publisher of Chicago Gallery News, was quoted as saying that he “helped transform the Chicago art gallery world” and was “a mentor and a model of integrity for other dealers” in that same publication. He helped found the Chicago Art Dealers Association in 1967 and served as its president from 1967–75.

The gallery represented a number of leading modern and international artists, including Jim Dine, David Hockney, Alex Katz and Jaume Plensa. Among the newer additions to his roster are Rashid Johnson and Theaster Gates.

A number of artists mourned his passing. Plensa, creator of the Crown Fountain in Millennium Park, called Gray “a beacon in the art world. We are orphans without him” as quoted in the Chicago Tribune. And Jim Dine, whose association with Gray spanned 40 years, said, “His humanity and appreciation for the human condition was immense. His deep love of drawing suited my obsession for the medium to a tee. To me he was a great dealer and a great guy.”


Tom Mullaney




SUBSCRIBE to the print version of the New Art Examiner via PayPal