THE GALLERIST: Richard Edwards
Few people predicted 25 years ago that the contemporary art market would grow into a multibillion-dollar global economic force, and nobody foresaw that a gallery in Aspen might be a player in it. Richard Edwards, who co-founded the Baldwin Gallery with his late partner Harley Baldwin in 1994, certainly did not.
Edwards was a savvy art collector, and ran in artist circles in New York and London, but hadn’t thought of making a living in the art world. A Cambridge-trained attorney, Edwards was on a business trip to Aspen when he met Baldwin—the iconic Aspen impresario who founded the Caribou Club and made downtown a luxury shopping destination. The pair started dating and Edwards took a leave from his practice to spend a winter here. They soon sparked the idea of opening a contemporary art gallery of a caliber rarely found outside New York or Los Angeles.
“He said, ‘We’ll put up the money together and we’ll see if we can get something going. If it doesn’t work, well, we’ll end up owning a lot of art,’” Edwards recalls.
The curatorial principles they started with still guide the gallery today: Find the world’s best artists, invest mightily in them to create new work, and stage shows of pieces that can’t be seen anywhere else.
In its first year, Baldwin Gallery hosted a show by the often-overlooked painter Pat Steir, whose abstract “waterfall” paintings are now selling for seven figures. Art stars like Tom Sachs and Enrique Martinez Celaya have shown regularly over the last two decades amid the gallery’s 50-plus artist roster, which also boasts zeitgeist-y names like Sanford Biggers (who staged a sculpture show last summer) and Mickalene Thomas (who is bringing new paintings to Baldwin in December).
Early on, the art world was skeptical that this remote operation could succeed. But the quality of the work soon spoke for itself, and word got around among blue-chip artists and dealers.
“Two or three years in, we started to have shows that sold out,” Edwards says. “There was a buzz in New York about the fact that we were selling out. It wasn’t just interesting coming out here—people were actually making money doing it.”
Many assume that the gallery’s bread and butter is Aspen clientele looking to decorate walls in palatial mountain homes, but the truth is that the vast majority of the works sold here go to collections elsewhere (Edwards estimated 90% of his sales are shipped out). Many collectors buying from Baldwin have never been to the resort town.
For most of its 25 years, Baldwin was the only gallery between Chicago and Los Angeles in the international market’s top tier (the addition of Boesky West in 2017 gave Aspen another such player—the two remain the only accredited galleries in Colorado and the only non-major-city members of the Art Dealers Association of America in the U.S.) and one of the few small-town galleries on the rarefied Modern Painters “Top 500 Galleries in the World” list.
Looking back, Edwards admits it may have been reckless to go it alone as a museum-grade gallery here. “It was OK because we didn’t know any better,” Edwards says. “It was a little foolhardy. But we had strong support from the artists from the beginning, and all of a sudden it came together.”
Photography by: Jamie Jaye Fletcher