June 14, 2024

The Pace / MacGill Archives

Peter MacGill

Interview with Mary MacGill

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Peter MacGill in his office with artists Robert Frank and Harry Callahan in front of Muhammad Ali cutout, 1990s. Via the Getty Research Institute. 

MM: What piqued your interest in photography? Why photography as opposed to painting etc.?

PM: I grew up in the 1950s and 60s, the heyday of the picture magazines: Life, Look and the Saturday Evening Post. I was one of those who learned about the world we live in by looking at photographs. I was taken and as a kid, I knew which day each of the magazines was delivered and would run off the school bus to retrieve them.


MM: How did you decide to become a gallerist instead of pursuing your own photography?

PM: In the mid 70s, I worked at the Center for Creative Photography in Tucson right after it opened and was the first curator of exhibitions. At the same time I earned my Masters of Fine Art.
During the day, I put exhibitions together and organized photographers’ archives. At night, I worked in the dark room, to print my own photographs and one evening I realized that, after several years of graduate school, I had made several decent pictures as opposed to the thousands of pictures made by the people (Ansel Adams, Lisette Model, Harry Callahan, Paul Strand, Imojen Cunningham among others) whose archives I was charged with exhibiting and organizing. That was it for me - - I was not very good at making pictures but was lucky enough to become pretty good at working with those who had made transformative work over the span of their careers.

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(Above) André Kertész, "Distortion #126", 19.33. Via The Museum of Modern Art. 
(Below) André Kertész, "Untitled, (Portrait of Peter MacGill)", 1982. Via Art Institute Chicago.

MM: What was your first show at Pace/MacGill Gallery? What was the most memorable show at PMG?

PM: We opened Pace/MacGill Gallery in the fall of 1983 with an exhibition of Andre Kertesz’s nude distortions.

It’s hard to put my finger on what was the most memorable show as I had the privilege of mounting over 500 shows during my 50 years in the field. Perhaps the last one at the gallery is my favorite. Richard Learoyd took over two entire floors of our building on 57th Street with the most ambitious, extraordinary work we’d probably ever shown. His exhibition was a very good way to end the Pace/MacGill era, by looking forward.

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Exhibition views of Richard Learoyd's "Curious" show, 2019. Via Pace/MacGill Gallery.

MM: What do you tell clients when they ask, “How do I know what good art is?”

PM: Generally, I encouraged clients to do their research, work with someone they trusted and to follow their hearts and their minds. If you go home and can’t get a work of art out of your mind or can’t sleep at night, it’s probably a keeper. First and foremost, however, it must be deemed an original work of art.

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Robert Frank's seminal book, "The American's", published by Steidl.

MM: What role do books play in the art viewing / education process? Can you name a few of your favorite photography books?

PM: Books play a great role in art education, and that role is being enhanced by material which can be found online. Both are important, but the book, properly done, comes closer to conveying the true spirit of the original photograph and actually holding a book is a wonderful experience. This dynamic will continue to evolve in time as the quality of what is found online improves and people learn to rely upon it’s veracity.

"The Americans" by Robert Frank, "Evidence" by Mike Mandle and Larry Sultan, and "Looking at Photographs" by John Szarkowski -- these are the old standbys and, I am sure, have been or will be eclipsed by many other books but, if you want to start somewhere, these provide an extraordinary foundation.


MM: Gerhard Steidl published many of the books put out by Pace/MacGill artists and is regarded as one of the best book publishers in the world – why, in your opinion?

PM: Gerhard Steidl works for the artists. He never says no and he always learns from being on press with the artists he is publishing. This methodology creates a true collaboration between a genius artist and a genius offset lithographer - - hence his unrivaled library of books.

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Exhibition views of Irving Penn's "On Assignment" show, 2013. Via Pace/MacGill Gallery.

MM: Can you tell us a favorite story involving one of the artists you represented?

PM: Most probably the day I introduced Robert Frank to Irving Penn. When they met each other, they simply hugged and went on to tell each other why they liked each other‘s work. Penn to Frank, “I have always loved your work because you could make a meaningful picture out of nothing.” Mr. Penn was referring to the photograph of the kids playing on the slag heap in Wales. Frank to Penn, “I have always respected your work because you create your own light and work on a schedule.”The two giants met with an embrace and shared the bare essentials which, in their minds, might make a great photograph. No pretense, just honesty based in heartfelt respect.


MM: You just donated your archives to the Getty Museum in L.A., how does correspondence and the legacy of Pace/MacGill gallery teach us about photography?

PM: I am privileged to continue to enjoy a long run in my field at a time when there are myriad and challenging opportunities. I was lucky to work with the greatest practitioners of the medium, always hoping to do what we did on our side of the equation as well as what they did on theirs. The Getty Research Institute now has the papers and materials which chronicle this activity from 1973 onward.

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Yto Barrada, "Bricks," C-print 2003/2011. 

MM: Which contemporary artists excite you at the moment?

PM: Yto Baradda, Paul Graham and David Hockney come to mind immediately because of their determination to wrestle the creative sprint and enlighten humanity.


MM: Did fatherhood inform your work in any way?

PM: Of course. Both of our kids are enormously creative and kind. To see them navigate life and explore its meaning has been enlightening, to say the least. They have informed everything I do since they’ve been born.

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Peter with family at Yto Barrada opening. Peter with familiy at Richard Learoyd opening.

(Above) Peter with family at Yto Barrada opening.
(Below) Peter with familiy at Richard Learoyd opening.

The PMG Archives

A collection of limited print materials from the Pace/MacGill archives, along with a selction of books from artists represented by MacGill.

Robert Frank - The Americans
Robert Frank - The Americans

Robert Frank - The Americans

$48.00
Hiroshi Sugimoto - Theaters
Hiroshi Sugimoto - Theaters
Hiroshi Sugimoto - Theaters
Hiroshi Sugimoto - Theaters

Hiroshi Sugimoto - Theaters

$300.00
Yto Barrada - Guide to Trees + Guide to Fossils
Yto Barrada - Guide to Trees + Guide to Fossils
Yto Barrada - Guide to Trees + Guide to Fossils
Yto Barrada - Guide to Trees + Guide to Fossils
Yto Barrada - Guide to Trees + Guide to Fossils
Yto Barrada - Guide to Trees + Guide to Fossils

Yto Barrada - Guide to Trees + Guide to Fossils

$80.00
Richard Misrach - Notions
Richard Misrach - Notions
Richard Misrach - Notions
Richard Misrach - Notions

Richard Misrach - Notions

$85.00
Rodchenko
Rodchenko
Rodchenko
Rodchenko

Rodchenko

$45.00
Andy Warhol - Polaroids 1971-1986
Andy Warhol - Polaroids 1971-1986
Andy Warhol - Polaroids 1971-1986
Andy Warhol - Polaroids 1971-1986

Andy Warhol - Polaroids 1971-1986

$100.00
Richard Avedon - Relationships
Richard Avedon - Relationships

Richard Avedon - Relationships

$50.00
Yoshimoto Nara - Will the Circle be Unbroken
Yoshimoto Nara - Will the Circle be Unbroken
Yoshimoto Nara - Will the Circle be Unbroken
Yoshimoto Nara - Will the Circle be Unbroken

Yoshimoto Nara - Will the Circle be Unbroken

$156.00
Robert Frank - Come Again
Robert Frank - Come Again
Robert Frank - Come Again
Robert Frank - Come Again

Robert Frank - Come Again

$40.00
Magritte - Pace MacGill Exhibition Catalog
Magritte - Pace MacGill Exhibition Catalog
Magritte - Pace MacGill Exhibition Catalog
Magritte - Pace MacGill Exhibition Catalog

Magritte - Pace MacGill Exhibition Catalog

$50.00
Lee Friedlander - Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom
Lee Friedlander - Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom
Lee Friedlander - Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom
Lee Friedlander - Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom

Lee Friedlander - Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom

$45.00
Lee Friedlander - A Second Look: The Nude
Lee Friedlander - A Second Look: The Nude
Lee Friedlander - A Second Look: The Nude
Lee Friedlander - A Second Look: The Nude

Lee Friedlander - A Second Look: The Nude

$115.00
JoAnn Verburg - Present Tense
JoAnn Verburg - Present Tense

JoAnn Verburg - Present Tense

$100.00
Hiroshi Sugimoto - Seascapes
Hiroshi Sugimoto - Seascapes
Hiroshi Sugimoto - Seascapes
Hiroshi Sugimoto - Seascapes

Hiroshi Sugimoto - Seascapes

$500.00
Harry Callahan - Seven Collages
Harry Callahan - Seven Collages
Harry Callahan - Seven Collages
Harry Callahan - Seven Collages

Harry Callahan - Seven Collages

$45.00

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