Trailblazing Gallerist Margarete Roeder Dies at 84

This month, the world lost the extraordinary gallery owner Margarete Roeder, known as one of the sharpest eyes of the post-war art world in New York. She passed away on December 11 in Cologne, Germany, at the age of 84.

Margarete Roeder was an old-style gallerist who was involved deeply in the lives of the artists in her circle and pivotal in encouraging the work that they created and exhibited. This group of artists included composer and conceptual artist John Cage, choreographer Merce Cunningham, video artist Nam June Paik, conceptual artist Tom Marioni, sculptor Fred Sandback, and other American and European abstract, minimal, and conceptual artists. She became known for her discerning eye, her intelligence, and the respect she earned from museum directors, curators, collectors, and artists in her milieu. A visit to Roeder’s eponymous gallery in Soho often led to extended conversations spent questioning the world of images, and joined by artists and connoisseurs of many nationalities. Thanks to her continuous dialogue with leading museums in the world (including the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Museum of Contemporary Art in LA, the Pinakothek der Moderne in Munich, and the Albertina in Vienna), her regular participation in Art Cologne, and her second gallery in the city, Roeder became a key figure in the transatlantic dialogue that was fundamental to the development and understanding of Western art of the second half of the 20th century. A woman of elegant bearing whose cultural curiosity drove her to become widely knowledgeable, a thread of rebellion and adventure also ran through Roeder’s life and profession, a rare mixture whose ingredients shaped her unwavering sense of aesthetic excellence.

Margarete Roeder on her 80th birthday in New York City in 2019 (photo Christine Hiebert/Hyperallergic)

Born in Neukirchen, Austria, in 1939, Roeder’s spirit of discovery was already evident at the age of 18, when she got on a boat for Canada and asked to be tied to the bow overnight so that she could experience the swell and spray of the sea. She studied Urban Planning at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, where she also got involved in the city’s arts and music scene, including working with singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen. After making her way to Cincinnati, Ohio, in the early 1970s, she began working for art dealer Carl Solway. Her instincts led her to other well-known musicians including John Cage, whom she met through Solway, developing a lifelong friendship and working relationship with him and Merce Cunningham. When Solway set up additional operations on Spring Street in New York City in the mid-’70s, Roeder was his director there until the late 1970s, before joining the New York branch of the California-based Crown Point Press. By that time, Crown Point Press had become renowned for encouraging major artists to venture into printmaking. At Roeder’s urging, Cage embarked on his first etchings with Crown Point, which became the Where R = Ryoanji series. Their success led to Cage’s continuous work in the visual arts from that point on, including his experimental prints with smoke at Crown Point, the large monoprints and watercolors he made with Ray Kass at the Mountain Lake Workshop, and the more than 170 Ryoanji drawings. Roeder left Crown Point Press in 1986 and the Margarete Roeder Gallery was born at 545 Broadway in Soho, which she ran for well over three decades, continuing to deal in prints as well as painting and drawing by artists including Tom Marioni, Eve Hesse, Sol Lewitt, Eva Schlegel, Michael Toenges, and Rudolf de Crignis. She also represented the estates of John Cage and Merce Cunningham.

As a child in Austria, Roeder had suffered from the loss of her birth parents at a young age, the violence of war at close view, and the lies that are born out of war. The lifelong impact of these events was the sort of trauma shared by many artists of her generation. Her sophisticated search for visual forms of expression that could address such a world went hand in hand with that of the artists whom she knew and loved. Her embrace of art was both analytical and deeply empathetic. The discovery and preservation of artistic quality for the public was Margarete Roeder’s life work.

Jill O’Bryan and Margarete Roeder in her Soho Gallery at Jill O’Bryan’s exhibition in 2018 (photo by Jason Mandella)

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