In Profile

Robert Klein

BY Sarah Schmerler, September 5, 2017

There are many points of entry into a single photograph, yet all can bring you to the same place: appreciation and wonder. Robert Klein came to photo dealing not by a direct route, but from an aggregate of paths. Among other things, the 64-year-old Bostonian got a master’s degree in business, pursued studies in Visarjana Buddhism and phenomenology, and clocked in many hours of work as a commercial photographer – all of which have culminated in an impressive 40-year career representing a stable of vintage 20th-century and contemporary photography. Why? “Because it makes me happy,” says Klein. “I consider myself fortunate that after getting an MBA I discovered something that I could really embrace, that would nurture me and stimulate my curiosity, satisfy me intellectually, and support me materially.” Lest we forget to mention, Klein was also president of AIPAD (the Association of International Photography Art Dealers), from 1995 to 2008. “AIPAD went through some turbulent years,” says Klein, “so yes, I was also very happy to put my MBA to good use.”

Affable and athletic, Klein grew up in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, the eldest of three. His father was a businessman; his mother a homemaker, and his childhood was happy and stable. He played sports (baseball, basketball, tennis), served as Junior Rabbi at his local synagogue, and attended a college prep school. At Hobart and William Smith Colleges, where he got his first exposure to a darkroom, he fell in love with photography. He transferred to Wilkes University after two years and studied the medium in more depth with photographer Mark Cohen, receiving his B.A. in philosophy and the history of religion in 1976. In 1977 Klein moved to Boston to pursue an MBA from Babson College, taking his own photographs all the while.

While still a student, he walked into Kiva Gallery in Boston with a box of his own work and secured a show. An artist residence from the Utah Arts Council followed, and on his return to Boston, Klein worked for Kiva for two years, then felt confident enough to begin dealing on his own. He gave seminal artists like Sally Mann and Arno Rafael Minkkinen their first exposures, along with local Bostonians like Nicholas Nixon and Abelardo Morell. The art market in the early 1980s was exciting but nascent, so for about a decade Klein supported his gallery with his own commercial photography. Eventually, Robert Klein Gallery became a successful concern and has been at 38 Newbury Street in Boston’s tony Back Bay for the last 24 years. Here, above Cartier and across from Valentino, Klein shows an eclectic stable of photographers including mid-career artists like Sandi Haber Fifield and more established artists such as Sebastião Salgado. Along the way, Klein also partnered with local antiquarian book dealer Ars Libri, where he has a satellite space focusing on lesser-known contemporary photographers, including Iranian photographer Gohar Dashti and Chinese photographer Yang Yueluan. “I’m very curious, and I’m always seeking images that are meaningful, challenging,” says Klein, “something that makes you look twice – three times. Show me something I haven’t seen before that inspires me to learn about what I otherwise don’t know.”