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Courtney Willis Blair Lets Artists Lead at White Cube’s First New York Space

The inaugural group show at the gallery’s Upper East Side location was curated by Willis Blair and highlights White Cube’s unparalleled community of artists and robust programming.

The New Senior Director Shapes the Gallery’s U.S. Presence

Last year, Courtney Willis Blair was named senior director of White Cube in New York. The powerhouse gallery was founded in London 30 years ago, and expanded to include locations in Hong Kong, Paris, Seoul, West Palm Beach, and now New York City. For its first-ever space in New York City, it opened with the inaugural exhibition “Chopped & Screwed” on October 3, 2023. The group show at the gallery’s Upper East Side location was curated by Willis Blair and highlights White Cube’s unparalleled community of artists and robust programming, featuring work by names like Michael Armitage, Mark Bradford, Julie Mehretu, Adrian Piper, and more. Whitewall spoke with Willis Blair about following an artist-led approach to her new role at White Cube, which opens a solo exhibition by Theaster Gates in early 2024.

Michael Armitage,

Michael Armitage, “Mimi Ni Mwizi Ya Soko,” 2023, 59 1/16 x 39 3/8 in., oil on Lubugo bark cloth; © Michael Armitage, photo © White Cube (On White Wall), courtesy of the artist and White Cube New York.

WHITEWALL: How would you describe your role as senior director, overseeing strategy and programming? 

COURTNEY WILLIS BLAIR: My role as senior director is to shape White Cube’s presence and strategy in New York and the U.S. at large, working to develop the U.S. program, engage in partnership with artists, and deepen our relationships with museums and collectors. My leadership is defined by an intention for White Cube New York to remain distinct and influential in such a robust ecosystem. 

WW: As someone who has worked in galleries for years, how would you describe your overall approach as a gallerist?

CWB: My overall approach as a gallerist is pretty simple. White Cube is artist-led, and like the gallery, my focus is the artists. I believe what we do begins and ends with them, and as a gallerist I have a responsibility to help realize their ambitions and ideas while lending my expertise and insight. 

David Hammons,

David Hammons, “The New Black,” 2014, 30 7/8 x 7 11/16 x 10 1/4 in., painted wood; © David Hammons, photo © White Cube (by Patrick Dandy), courtesy of the artist and White Cube New York.

Courtney Willis Blair Uplifts White Cube’s Sterling Programming and Multifaceted Expansion

WW: What does the gallery’s expansion to New York mean for programming? For representing your artists in New York?

CWB: White Cube’s expansion to New York means that we can better serve our artists and clients in a city that is crucial to the cultural landscape, and we can bring the kind of fresh, unexpected, sought-after programming for which White Cube is known. 

WW: How does a footprint in New York—which also marks White Cube’s 30th year—allow for an expansion of the gallery’s foundation?

CWB: There is the physical aspect of our expansion—our sovereign building boasts almost 8,000 square feet, and we have added several exciting artists to our program in the last year. 

Our presence in New York will also allow us to expand several areas of the business, from artist engagement and programming to the further development of our secondary market activities. White Cube New York will be a launchpad for exciting initiatives that build on what the gallery has achieved in Europe, Asia, and online in recent years. 

We’re also thinking about the needs of artists, museums, and collectors in all regions of the country. As for how this dovetails with our global personality, for 30 years White Cube has been known for being artist-led, pioneering, and ambitious, and our New York space will maintain that core ethos. 

David Altmejd,

David Altmejd, “The Whaler,” 2023, 36 x 21 x 38 in.; © the artist, photo © White Cube (On White Wall), courtesy of the artist and White Cube New York.

“Chopped and Screwed,” Curated by Courtney Willis Blair Ushers in a Powerful New Era for White Cube

WW: What was the starting point for the inaugural show, “Chopped & Screwed”? What kind of tone did you want to set with this debut group show?

CWB: Jay Jopling (White Cube’s founder), Susan May (White Cube’s global artistic director), and I were having dinner when they presented me with the very exciting opportunity to curate the inaugural show. The impetus was to show off, in a way, the incredible program but to also think through the ways in which this show could signal that White Cube New York is, out of the gate, coming strong.  

White Cube is known for programming rigorous, thought-provoking group exhibitions —like “Dreamers Awake” (2017), “Memory Palace” (2018), “About Time” (2020), “Tomorrow” (2021), and “Sweet Lust” (2022)—and it is an elegant, searing addition to that tradition. 

WW: Can you tell us about how the artists and their work were selected for the show—some represented by the gallery, some not?

CWB: The selection of artists and their work was quite organic. I wanted to engage with our program, while also including key artists who I felt maintained the spirit of the exhibition premise in their work. It takes a lot of reading and conversation and consideration to find the right rhythm between so many differing practices, and in the end, I’m thrilled with the tenor of the show and the artists who trusted my vision. 

Theaster Gates,

Theaster Gates, “Civil Color Spectrum,” 2023, 84 x 108 x 5 in., wood and decommissioned fire hose; © the artist, photo © White Cube (by Theo Christelis), courtesy of the artist and White Cube New York.

White Cube Uphold’s Art Tradition on New York’s Upper East Side

WW: Could you tell us about the space on the Upper East Side—how you imagine artists responding to the architecture as well as the neighborhood?

CWB: The reaction of the artists who visited the gallery and celebrated this momentous occasion with us is the ultimate indication that we made the right choice, that the wait was worth it.   

Some are responding to the space itself, the feeling of the building and its aesthetics. Others are looking at its history. And still others are interested in the pulse well-felt when you step outside. We’re a stone’s throw from museum row, surrounded by colleagues, clients, and friends. It’s nice to continue the tradition of art-dealing in the neighborhood where it began. 

Tracey Emin’s Solo Show, on View through January 13, Sparks Raw Emotion

WW: In November, the gallery will host a solo show of new paintings by Tracey Emin, her first in New York in seven years. Are you able to share any details on what we can expect from the exhibition?

CWB: Tracey brought some heat to the Upper East Side! It’s raw, emotional, breathtaking, passionate, damn good painting. She is undoubtedly one of the most important artists of our time, and her significance within the canon of art history remains undeniable with this show. 

SAME AS TODAY

FURTHER READING

Theaster Gates Illuminates the Chicago Public Library

The Chicago Public Library presents a powerful public artwork by the American artist and University of Chicago professor Theaster Gates.

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Kelly Wearstler

THE WINTER EXPERIENCE ISSUE
2023

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