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Steven Kasher Gallery

Steven Kasher Gallery

515 West 26th Street
New York, NY 10001
212 966 3978
stevenkasher.com
Hours:
M-Sa 11am-6pm

When the Steven Kasher Gallery, known for its fine art, vintage, and contemporary photography exhibitions, moved from the ground floor of 23rd Street to an upper floor of 26th Street, no one was worried. Though they have had a “handful less walk-ins” according to Cassandra Johnson, the Gallery Director, they have had no problem attracting both visitors and the press. As she explained, Steven Kasher has been in the art world for over thirty years and is well respected amongst his peers. “Openings are always packed.”

Cassandra showed me around the large space, which can display two exhibitions at once, noting that Steven especially likes to feature “Undiscovered and rediscovered artists.” Cassandra used Mike Disfarmer as an example: Steven was a key figure in the discovery of Disfarmer, a photographer from the early twentieth century, and played a major role in bringing his work to the forefront of the photography world. Jill Freedman, a street photographer who was similarly “primed for rediscovery,” was on display during my visit. Cassandra went on to explain that Steven focuses largely on the history of photography and the ways photographs are used, choosing to show work that expands our understanding of the role of photography in society and in art. For instance, the gallery produced an entire show and book on mugshots.

I then had the opportunity to sit down with Steven Kasher himself in his client room, which was lined with various photographs that did not have a place in the two exhibitions. Steven told me that he had been an artist long before he owned a gallery. He never dreamed he would be a dealer, despite the fact that his mother had owned a gallery on and off. Steven spent a good deal of time in his mother’s gallery, called “Multiples,” which was located on the block where the Whitney is now. Steven had his own artist studio for twenty-five years and wrote for various magazines, such as Art Forum, before ever entering the world of art dealing. He specialized in photo-text installation projects, which hinted, in a way, to his future as a gallery owner. In one of his most memorable projects, he set up a fake museum focusing on art in Nazi Germany. He combined reproduced work, originals, and text into a piece that marked him as being somewhere halfway between an artist and a curator. He names Leon Golub and Martha Rosler, two of his advisors at Rutgers University, as his greatest teachers and influencers.

Despite his love for his own teachers, Steven realized that teaching was not the profession for him. He said that when he was almost forty years old and looking for a way to pay the bills, he turned instead to working in a photo archive. He discovered the photography agency Black Star through the Yellow Pages and started curating for them. They had a large collection from the Civil Rights Movement and Steven felt a strong connection to it, since he had family and friends who were involved in the movement. The show that Steven put together using those photographs traveled to seventeen different museums. He also made a book based on the show, which, he proudly told me, is “still in print after twenty years.”

Steven then became director of the Howard Greenberg photo gallery before opening his own art dealership in 1995. Located in Tribeca, he focused primarily on private dealing before moving on to selling entire photo archives, which is still a big part of his business. Steven’s next move was to open his gallery in Chelsea with the Mike Disfarmer exhibit. He shared with me that his mission is to “expand the dialogue around what a photograph is and what it can do in our culture.” He explained that he never saw photos from the Civil Rights movement in museum collections before he elevated them into the “sphere of public importance.” He sees photography as a “shape-changing medium” that can easily change a simple family snapshot into fine art. He pays a lot of attention to context, saying that a photograph means different things depending on if it is in a magazine or on a gallery wall. Citing social media and camera phones, Steven pointed out, “Today, everyone is thinking about photography.” And there is no doubt that he is excited to “keep the dialogue going” and open people’s eyes to both the history of photography and the way photography can change history.