Bill Arning has been a force in the Houston art world for a long time. (Photo by Mark McCray)
Nancy Littlejohn Fine Art under construction. The gallery reopens after a decade-plus hiatus, roaring into River Oaks, Saturday, January 19. It neighbors design destination Found, at 3465 B West Alabama. (Photo via Instagram @nancylittlejohnfineart)
Nancy Littlejohn checks out Kenneth Noland at Mnuchin Gallery, New York. Littlejohn's landing Bill Arning for a key curatorial role at her eponymous gallery is a coup. (Via Instagram)
Two of the biggest art stories we have been tracking these last three weeks have now converged — the re-opening of Nancy Littlejohn Fine Art and the sudden departure of Bill Arning, the director of the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston.
PaperCity has just learned that Arning, whose plans at the time of his leaving CAMH were uncertain, will be entering the gallery world as a key leader at Nancy Littlejohn’s gallery.
Arning confirms his new role with Nancy Littlejohn Fine Art, that begins in the New Year when the gallery unveils its River Oaks location in January. “My title will be curator and artist liaison for special projects,” Arning tells PaperCity.
Littlejohn reached out to Arning after hearing of his stepping down from his directorship post at the CAMH.
Arning who is known for his depth of knowledge and personal history with artists going back decades — relationships like those with Marilyn Minter that resulted in her widely acclaimed survey, “Pretty/Dirty,” which Arning co-organized that began its four-city tour at the CAMH in 2015 — revealed how his decision was made.
From Museum World to White Cube
“Every meeting I have had with Nancy, I am inspired by her vision and thrilled by the quality of high-profile genius artists we will be able to bring for their first Texas exhibitions,” Arning tells PaperCity.
Was leaving the museum world hard to do?
“I loved working in museums since my twenties but there are a whole lot of considerations and multiple communities nonprofit institutions must serve,” Arning says. “With Nancy Littlejohn Fine Art, we only have to make beautiful exhibitions in a gorgeous space that will make the most discerning, informed, and adventurous art lovers flip out.”
That said the gallery scene is not entirely new terrain for this museum director-turned-gallery curator. Nor is it without precedent in the art world.
Arning notes, ”While I worked in commercial galleries in my early twenties, I was never in a decision-making capacity, but so many of my museum colleagues have jumped to the gallery side (Toby Kamps, Eric Shiner, David Norr, Dianne Vanderlip) and assured me with my deep knowledge and history with artists that I will find tremendous career satisfaction in this new way of working.
“I am happy I get to make the move in a city as art obsessed as Houston.”
News of Arning’s new title will now hit the national art wires.
Littlejohn tells PaperCity that Arning will be joined at NLFA by two other respected art professionals, whom have formed associations with the gallery.
The gallery has reached special arrangements with Katharine Barthelme of Barthelme Art Advising and Cali A. Pettigrew of Art Portfolio, Inc. “Barthelme will lead art advising services for clients interested in modern and contemporary art from both the primary and secondary markets,” Littlejohn says, while “Pettigrew will offer appraisals and collection management services to NLFA clients.”
Emily Griffith will serve as gallery director. Griffith most recently managed Lynn Goode Vintage, so brings with her a plethora of designer connections. Prior to living in Houston, Griffith’s connection to the art world included time working at the iconic Manhattan dealer, Marian Goodman Gallery.
Littlejohn — who is set to open her new space at 3465 B West Alabama on Saturday, January 19, with a show for the commanding color-field abstractions of Houston artist Paul Kremer — says of Arning’s commitment to the gallery: “He brings extraordinary vision, integrity, and unparalleled professionalism to the program. I am confident Bill will play a key roll in NLFA’s international success.”
The gallerist and former museum director already are lining up studio visits and travel schedules, which include stops in Texas, New York and London.