Ronald Feldman, a New York dealer who made his gallery a home for out-there conceptual art, died at 84 on December 20, 2022. His eponymous gallery announced his death on January 2; he had stepped away from the space in 2019, citing reasons related to his health.
“Ron was an impassioned collaborator, coach and leader that made everyone feel part of a movement,” the gallery wrote in a statement posted to social media. “He fostered a community built on deep-rooted values and was a fearless visionary of a better world. We are grateful for the outpouring of support and know that we will all miss Ron very much.”
Ronald Feldman Gallery, which was founded in 1971 as Ronald Feldman Fine Arts, was initially a haven for the kind of conceptual art that many dealers would not show. Possibly for that reason, the gallery sometimes appeared to be “bankrupt on paper,” as Feldman once put it. Also possibly for that reason, Feldman developed a rolodex that included a number of top artists, from Andy Warhol to Eleanor Antin.
The gallery was one of the first to offer a solo show to Hannah Wilke, a defining member of the feminist art movement during the ’70s, and it provided early support to artists like Chris Burden and Mierle Laderman Ukeles, whose hard-to-define works enlisted performative elements and conceptual prompts.
In the decades since then, the gallery has continued to mount outré exhibitions by Roxy Paine, Pepón Osorio, Komar & Melamid, and Cassils. In 2017, the latter artist staged an exhibition in which they collected 200 gallons of urine, in a commentary on how the Trump administration had stripped transgender students of their legal right to use bathrooms that best fit their chosen gender identities.
Ira Ronald Feldman was born in 1938 in Long Beach, New York, to a father who served as the president of a drug company. He would go on to marry his wife Frayda in 1963; eight years later, they would found their gallery in an Upper East Side townhouse that was in proximity to the Whitney Museum, then on Madison Avenue. The gallery would later move to SoHo, where it has remained ever since.
In addition to running his gallery, Feldman was active in the political sphere, serving on the National Council on the Arts under Bill Clinton’s administration. He also served on the boards of People for the American Way, Creative Capital, the Art Dealers Association of America, and The New School’s Vera List Center for Art and Politics.
When Feldman retired in 2019, his son Mark told the New York Times that his father was “passionate about championing ideas-based work, and advancing and creating platforms for artists that truly engage with the widest range of social issues and political causes in our world.”