Art collector, gallery owner, pioneer of photorealism
Louis Meisel’s name carries considerable weight in the East End art scene, but he is neither a gallery owner nor a local artist – rather he is the coiner of the word ‘photorealism’, expert art collector, owner of the Sagaponack Sculpture Field and the Louis K. Meisel Gallery in SoHo, as well as curator of classical music and board member of the Parrish Art Museum.
“I started my career and my life when I was 14 in September 1956 by going to the Museum of Modern Art,” Meisel says, thinking back to the catalyst moment that would inspire his passion for art collecting. By 18 he was a regular at the legendary Cedar Tavern, meeting art world icons like Abstract Expressionists Mark Rothko, Franz Kline, Theodoros Stamos and Larry Rivers. Through his ties to this illustrious group of painters, he befriended many pop artists, allowing him to witness the development of the “New Realism” movement as it swept across the New York art scene.
In 1969 Meisel noticed a subset of realism which he would describe as “photorealism”. He defined this conceptual genre as the creation of paintings that appear like photographs in their finished state, and which are created by skilled technical painters who use photography to gather information for each piece. He describes the disconnect between the original photorealists, like Richard Estes, who had to be very deliberate with every expensive film role, and today’s painters, like Bertrand Meniel, who “can shoot 10,000 images with a digital camera ” and use them to create their desired image composition on the computer before painting.
“I got to see thousands of artists… and in 50 years I found about 50 artists who could do what I was talking about (photorealism),” Meisel says. “Many have fallen by the wayside, and the final tally is around 30. The only real difference between creators and artists working today, which I outline in my fourth volume of Photorealism (digital age)… is that they have digital cameras and computers.
While Meisel is best known for his connection to Photorealism, he and his wife Susan have a massive and diverse personal art collection. “Our collection of thousands of works is much more than photorealism,” he says, noting that it includes American pop art, sculpture and pin-ups, of which he is a major dealer, collector and historians. “(However), as far as my professional career goes, photorealism is that.”
With an eye for collecting art and a strong connection to Photorealism and other art movements, Meisel opening a gallery was inevitable. After a five-year stint as the Meisel Gallery on Madison Avenue, the Louis K. Meisel Gallery opened on Prince Street and West Broadway in 1973, possibly making it the oldest gallery in SoHo.
At the time of opening, the idea of a gallery emphasizing photorealism had its detractors. “How are you going to make money with one, two or three paintings a year? Meisel remembers people asking him, but he believed in the undeniable talent of the artists he represented, and 50 years later, it seems to have paid off.
An important aspect of his gallery’s success is its inviting aura. Meisel remembers feeling ignored by gallery owners at that time, and he made the decision to be more welcoming to his own gallery.
“Our gallery has always been open to everyone,” he says. “Everything we have done has always been open to the world. Anyone who came into my gallery, from the 1970s, I was there to talk to them, whether it was an exhibiting artist, a collector, — whoever it was — I was always available, and I was , in music and art, and everything I do.
This mantra extended to Meisels Sagaponack Sculpture Field on Wilkes Lane, where the village resident hung a sign inviting visitors to come in and enjoy. “That’s how we are. Anyone can access it, any time of the day or night, all year round,” he says. The sculptures on display – including works by Audrey Flack, Robert Graham and Joel Perlman – create a unique atmosphere for the many picnics and charity events held on the grounds. Additionally, last year he shared his Hans Van de Bovenkamp sculptures with the Dan’s papers SculptTour, which placed them in the Hamptons until 2023.
This collaboration may only be a temporary arrangement, but Meisel is no stranger to more permanent endeavors. He and his wife have donated artwork to more than 100 museums, including the Parrish Art Museum and, most recently, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, which he promises will have the “best collection of photorealism in the world. “.
In his own gallery, Meisel is currently holding his first exhibition since the pandemic, titled Modeling: Tara Lewis X Brooke Shields. Until May 27, visitors to the Louis K. Meisel Gallery in SoHo can see realistic portraits of Brooke Shields and her daughters. Then, from June 2 to September 3, visitors can contemplate the moving works of the late composer and Hollywood artist Bradford Boobis. Longer term, Meisel Gallery will hold a fall exhibition of works by Photorealist painters Raphaella Spence, Photorealism’s leading female artist, and Rod Penner, whose latest art book, Rod Penner: Paintings, 1987-2022debuts in October.
Beyond his work in the art world, Meisel also has a firm hand on the music scene, working with the Hamptons Festival of Music, Pianofest of the Hamptons, Concert Artists Guild and the Parrish Art Museum to curate classical concerts. He lives in SoHo and Sagaponack with his wife Susan Meisel, a painter, photographer and real estate expert.
To learn more about Louis Meisel and the Louis K. Meisel Gallery, visit meiselgallery.com. To learn more about the Sagaponack Sculpture Field, visit sculpturefield.com.