After 40 Years, Metro Pictures Will Permanently Close

The legendary New York gallery, which helped champion the provocative Pictures Generation, will wrap up a four-decade legacy this year.

Metro Pictures in Chelsea, New York

Metro Pictures, the pre-eminent New York gallery that became a launchpad for several key members of the provocative Pictures Generation, will shutter this year. In an email, founders Helene Winer and Janelle Reiring cited “a demanding year of pandemic-driven programming and the anticipated arrival of a very different art world” as reason for the closure. “We’ve decided to announce this difficult decision far in advance of our closing in order to give the artists we represent and our staff time to pursue other options and to allow us to participate in their transitions,” the duo wrote. “We’re extremely grateful to all of the brilliant artists we’ve worked with over the past 40 years and to our excellent staff, who have sustained the gallery and its program.” 

Founded in 1980 by Winer and Reiring, Metro Pictures quickly established itself as a force within New York’s nascent art sphere that championed the Pictures Generation, a loose collective of artists marked by their witty appropriation of mass media and advertising imagery. High-profile artists such as Cindy Sherman (whom the founders discovered while she was working as a receptionist), Robert Longo, Sherrie Levine, and Louise Lawler enjoyed early success at the gallery, and many maintained representation there over the years as their careers flourished. The Metropolitan Museum of Art even memorialized the Pictures Generation in the 2009 exhibition of the same title, and a follow-up, called “Pictures, Revisited,” is currently on view.  

Don’t blame declining sales for the closure; according to Winer and Reiring, the prospect of pivoting to an entirely new post-pandemic art-world dynamic is too daunting. The duo first discussed closing when the pandemic broke out but held off due to the volatile economic situation. They also briefly considered merging with a younger enterprise, not unlike how Gavin Brown joined Gladstone Gallery and closed his own business.

Cindy Sherman, Untitled Film Still #21, 1978

“I don’t think people can understand what the art world was like back then,” Reiring says of the early 1980s, when the gallery first opened in SoHo. “There were maybe five private art galleries in New York who were showing young artists. We opened with what we considered to be the most interesting art of the last ten years, and there was a lot of attention on us immediately. It came very fast and it wasn’t something we foresaw.” 

The announcement set off widespread speculation about where the gallery’s two-dozen-strong roster of high-profile artists would land. Some were caught off-guard by the news: Trevor Paglen, who was deeply influenced by Metro Pictures in his formative years and joined the roster ten years ago, described the situation as “shocking and sad.” Others, such as top-seller Sherman, were quick to secure representation elsewhere—she recently joined mega-gallery Hauser & Wirth, and details of her first project there are forthcoming.

In an interview with Artnet News, Reiring explains how she views the new “daunting” art world as a positive: “We’re just not the ones to deal with this new coming art world and we leave it to other people. The art world is constantly changing, and there will be big changes after we come out of this period. We just both felt like we weren’t the right people to navigate [it].” While the enterprise will be sorely missed, there’s something refreshingly candid about Winer and Reiring’s perspective on closing. After four decades of being one of the greatest galleries out there, they haven’t lost the sense of humanity and realism that cemented Metro Pictures’ success early on. “We still have a lot of work to do,” Reiring says. “We want to work hard to get all of our artists settled. We have 40 years to deal with. So no concrete plans as of yet, but I’m sure I’ll stay involved in the art world. We’ll see.” 

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