Shout Magazine

Mark Kostabi on Norman Dubrow

In 1983, standing in Sidney Janis Gallery on 57th Street, I overheard an older gentleman enthusiastically and very audibly explaining the work of Jean-Michel Basquiat and graffiti artists Crash and Daze to a throng of entranced fellow collectors. Far from the downtown wilds where Basquiat plied his trade, it certainly was an uncharacteristic outburst. Except of course for the fact that the older man’s name was Norman Dubrow, one of the world’s top collectors, and probably the most enthusiastic character of the bunch.

This encounter helped shape my image of the glamorous, big-time New York art world. How I wished someone like that would someday boost my own work. A short year later Dubrow bought my drawings from the Semaphore Gallery in SoHo – and did just that.

Dubrow is not a snob. While scores of much richer, more exclusive collectors follow his every move, Dubrow will talk to everybody and thus belongs to that very small group of highly important-yet-accessible art world people – a group that also includes Louise Bourgeois and included the late Howard Finster and Beatrice Wood. Gallerist Stefan Stux recently said that we need to clone Dubrow because of his unparalleled enthusiasm.

Originally, Dubrow only bought drawings, because of budget limitations. He used to donate all his drawings to important museums shortly after acquiring them. Now he’s fed up with museum politics and is waiting for a distinguished institution to promise a Norman Dubrow gallery or wing. In recent years, Dubrow switched to buying more expensive, large paintings and sculptures. Dubrow is also a champion of large-format, color photography. He rarely takes a work home, preferring to keep it in the gallery’s storage until the Dubrow Wing opens.

Dubrow knows more about the young art scene than most young artists themselves. He was an adult during World War II but currently buys albums by punk rock bands and rappers, in order to keep up with the interests of the artists he collects. After buying a work, Dubrow interviews the artist extensively for a to-be-published book on his collection.

In the early 1990s Dubrow was a creative consultant at Kostabi World, attending my weekly, Wednesday idea-approval meetings. He helped design many of my best paintings. Dubrow likes to tell artists what to paint.

Recently Dubrow began curating group shows. Roberta Smith raved about one in the Times. Now he’s curated a very big show in a very small gallery in Chelsea. The smallest in fact: Kravitz/Wehby on 21st Street. The title, Subject Matters, astutely addresses the new climate of embracing content in our new, all-too-real world. Don’t miss the salon-style installation of subject-driven art, by about 30 of New York’s most interesting artists, beautifully organized by a truly one-of-a-kind New York personality.

January 2002