In Profile

Spencer Throckmorton

BY Sarah Schmerler, March 6, 2017

Ideally, every gallery should reflect a dealer’s unique taste and sensibility; but what makes a gallery special is when it opens new connections between makers and genres. So don’t be surprised when you walk through the doors of Throckmorton Fine Art looking, perhaps, for the largest collection of Frida Kahlo photographs in private hands and find, instead, a luminous Chinese jade amulet of a tufted dragon from 4,000 B.C. Spencer Throckmorton has long exhibited ancient works from China alongside 19th- and 20th-century vintage photography from Latin America. He sees a series of connections, both scholarly and intuitive, among those subjects. “I started collecting jade in Latin America in the 1970s,” he says, “when I also started my own collection of Latin American photography. That led me to the jade of China, and then the sculpture of China. Exquisite jade objects bend and reflect light much like photographs do. I approach the situation of dealing as calling attention to the things I’d like to live with – and so far, people have liked what I like.”

Throckmorton grew up on a tobacco farm 100 miles southeast of Richmond, Virginia, fascinated by culture and history. His grandparents, who mostly raised him, took him frequently to museums and encouraged his interest in art. A high school history teacher suggested that art history might be his path of study, and Throckmorton pursued it at Virginia Commonwealth University. Still rather rudderless and needing to fulfill the language requirement for his major, Throckmorton decided to study in Munich, Germany. After graduating with a B.A. in art history, he accepted an invitation to visit Latin America, and his love of Latin American art was galvanized as he traveled for the next five years – “Guatemala, Mexico, El Salvador, Costa Rica – by bus, and plane,” he says, learning all he could about the artwork and culture. Along the way, he began his own collection of photographs, and for a year, he advised collector Jorge Castillo on acquisitions for a new archaeological museum in Guatemala.

With enough expertise, connections, and works to start dealing on his own, Throckmorton returned to the U.S., and in 1980 he settled in New York, renting an extra apartment in the building on East 86th Street, where he lived, for his  private dealership. In 1991, he went public; and in 1993, he expanded and moved to East 61st Street, where he added contemporary photography from Mexico and Brazil and a regular roster of Asian and Buddhist sculpture and Chinese jades. In 2001, he moved his gallery to East 57th Street, where museum-quality shows that survey a theme or a single practitioner are the norm, often accompanied by hardbound catalogues with research by specialized scholars. His Frida Kahlo portrait survey, Mirror, Mirror, is at the University of Florida’s Harn Museum of Art through April 2. Did you know that Kahlo bred hairless dogs that descended from the ancient Mexican Colima dog? And that Diego Rivera collected ancient Colima dog sculptures? Photographers Lola Álvarez Bravo and Héctor García document them both in Mirror, Mirror. It’s all there in black and white.