It was time for a move, says Anthony Meier about his new gallery in Mill Valley, California, just across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco. He’s been in business four decades, specialising in contemporary masterpieces, and had run his gallery from his home in the San Francisco neighbourhood of Pacific Heights. Now, with his children grown and his wife wanting a change of scenery, they looked to more bucolic locations.
“We looked at other towns north and a bit east,” he says, seated on an antique sofa in the private viewing room of his new location, “and nothing had both this energy and the art history that has existed and continues.” (Last November Meier was appointed president of the Art Dealers Association of America.) Despite Marin County’s posh reputation, it used to have a reputation as alternative and countercultural, and modernist artists and Beat poets called it home. Today, Mill Valley is a hilly town with tony boutiques and a gourmet market, and when you order an Uber, a Tesla might show up.
“I think the other draw is greater space for our artists,” says Lauren Ryan, Meier’s business partner. “We have double the amount of exhibition space, and more space for programming. And our gallery roster is robust.” In addition to working with artists such as Larry Bell, Gerhard Richter and Zoe Leonard, they have younger artists such as Sarah Cain, too.
The renovated gallery in the centre of town is 5,000 sq. ft, with about half of it the main gallery, and the other half the private viewing room, set up as a living room and study furnished with choice pieces of antique European furniture. The opening exhibition in the main gallery is In the Shadow of Mt. Tam (until 17 March), curated by Ryan, and it's a surprisingly varied one, showcasing the artists who lived and worked in the area following the Second World War. The titular “Mt. Tam” is Mount Tamalpais, a conical mountain that is prominent in the local landscape.
One of the most famous artists to come to the area was British painter Gordon Onslow Ford, who persuaded fellow artists Wolfgang Paalen and his wife, Luchita Hurtado, to move to the Bay Area, then buy a house in Mill Valley. They were later joined in the house by Lee Mullican, and the three men formed the group Dynaton, which honed a kind of Surrealism touched by interests in ancient art and cosmic energies. “Pre-hippie surrealists,” is what Michael Auping calls them in his catalogue essay for In the Shadow of Mt. Tam.
Works by Paalen, Ford, Mullican and Hurtado are in the exhibition, but a small landscape by the latter is a showstopper. She and Paalen later split, and she married Mullican and moved to Los Angeles. Her career rested very much in the shadow of her husbands, until a late explosion of interest in her work after her inclusion in 2018’s Made in LA show at the Hammer Museum. She was then picked up by Hauser & Wirth.
Other art in the exhibition include work on paper and Masonite by Jay DeFeo, who took a respite in nearby Larkspur to recharge from the exertions of her epic painting, The Rose (1966). The gallery’s entrance is graced by a small painting of Mount Tamalpais by Etel Adnan, the poet and artist, who settled in neighbouring Sausalito. She once wrote, “Standing on Mount Tamalpais I am in the rhythms of the world. Everything seems right as it is. I am in harmony with the stars, for the better or the worst.”
Meier’s move follows a turbulent period in the Bay Area’s art scene, which has seen some major galleries (like Pace and Gagosian) move out entirely, while others like Jessica Silverman have expanded their footprints. The city has also gained an Institute of Contemporary Art, which opened last autumn in the trendy Dogpatch neighourhood that is also home to many galleries and the Minnesota Street Project hub.
“If you spoke with any gallery in the Bay Area, their outreach goes beyond a 50- or 100-mile radius,” says Meier. “So they’ve chosen to put their stake in the ground in San Francisco, we’ve chosen to put our stake in the ground in Mill Valley. We’ve obviously a closer proximity to the people in the North Bay, but it’s not an arduous drive to come and visit us from the South Bay.”
He adds, “We haven’t moved out of San Francisco, we’ve just expanded our footprint.”