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Margo Leavin (1936–2021) – Artforum International

Margo Leavin (1936–2021) - Artforum International


Margo Leavin (1936–2021) – Artforum International

Margo Leavin, a veteran gallerist and a longtime champion of Los Angeles artists, has died at the age of eighty-five, the Los Angeles Times reports. Widely known by both artists and collectors alike as a forthright and fair dealer, Leavin staged more than four hundred solo shows by emerging and international artists and was instrumental in elevating LA conceptualism as it developed in the 1970s. A generous philanthropist and a strong believer in, as she put it, “giving back,” Leavin in 2016 donated $20 million to her college alma mater. The gift—the largest ever made by an alumna to a school in the California University system—funded the reconstruction and expansion of UCLA’s Culver City graduate art studio facilities. The newly renamed Margo Leavin Graduate Studios opened in 2020.Born in New York, Leavin grew up in Mexico before moving to Los Angeles as a teen. She graduate from UCLA with a degree in psychology in 1958 and embarked on career as a social worker. Interested in art, Leavin soon began selling prints out of her apartment. A neighbor who found this practice disruptive complained to the county. Given thirty days to cease her apartment-based business practices, Leavin opened her eponymous gallery in 1970 in the confines of designer Tony Duquette’s West Hollywood studio. The fledgling gallery soon outgrew the space and expanded to nearby buildings, with Leavin finally purchasing Duquette’s studio outright in 1987. The gallery was in the late 1980s easily findable owing to the presence of a tremendous butcher knife—a work by Claes Oldenburg—which appeared to be cleaving the building in half.Leavin’s refusal to hew to a single guiding principle beyond aiming to represent honestly artists whose works she admired led to unusual juxtapositions and groundbreaking launches. “To tell the truth,” she explained to Regen Projects’ Shaun Caley Regan last year, “I didn’t know what the norm was, or I never paid attention if there was one.” Among the many artists Leavin represented over the years are Billy Al Bengston, John Baldessari, Lynda Benglis, Charles Gaines, Dan Graham, Roni Horn, Ellsworth Kelly, Jasper Johns, Joseph Kosuth, Liz Larner, Sherrie Levine, Sol LeWitt, Agnes Martin, Louise Nevelson, Tony Oursler, Martin Puryear, Alexis Smith, Haim Steinbach, Rudolf Stingel, Hannah Wilke, and Christopher Williams. Additionally, though she admitted to being “shut out” at the beginning of her career by male dealers who didn’t take her seriously, she ultimately came to be respected within the competitive circles in which she moved, earning praise from noted veterans such as Nicolas Wilder, who lauded her as “one of the best in LA,” and forging strong relationships with others, including Gianfranco Benedetti and Xavier Fourcade.As the new millennium dawned, auction houses became ascendant, and artists began offering their work for sale via that avenue. “Nothing came back to the galleries at a time when we really needed it and wanted it,” Leavin told Regen, while noting the burgeoning art scene in Los Angeles and the plethora of arts-related institutions that had sprung up. Leavin closed up shop in 2012; a few years later, in 2015, the Getty Library acquired the Leavin Gallery’s archives.“What was my secret?” she said in 2020. “I don’t know that I had one. I just worked very, very hard and was extremely responsible. I paid my artists immediately, paid my bills immediately, and didn’t believe in owing money.”


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