Howard Yezerski can attest that he has taken more than one leap of faith during his 51 years as a dealer of contemporary fine art and photography. Back in 1968, when he opened his first gallery in Andover, MA, he was newly married, fresh out of the army – and had zero experience selling art. A friend from college suggested opening a gallery together, and 20 years later, the gallery moved to Boston on a shoestring. “I mortgaged our property and rolled the dice. I wanted to make my learning curve as steep as possible,” says Yezerski, “and I soon realized that there was a big difference between a gallery in the suburbs and one in the big city.”
Today, the gallery is in its fourth Boston location – its lushest address yet – on Harrison Avenue in the city’s trendy SoWa district, and its roster is deep with veteran photographers like John Coplans and international artists like London-based Neeta Madahar. “Sometimes, it’s better not to know too much before you leap,” says the 78-year-old dealer. “That way you can jump into things that, if you did know more, you probably wouldn’t do.”
Yezerski was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where his father had eventually found refuge after fleeing Lithuania. The family emigrated in 1943 to Nashua, NH, where his father set up a thriving paint and wallpaper business. The University of New Hampshire was the first place Yezerski was exposed to art, though he majored in political science. He graduated in January of 1964, and by March the draft board came knocking. Yezerski opted to enlist, and he spent the next three years in the army as a teletype operator, spending what free time he had “in and out of churches in Italy, looking at the art.” When his tour of duty was over, he returned home, got married, and got a job in Boston with a wine distributor. That is, until his friend David Sullivan suggested they partner up in the gallery business, showing local landscapes and watercolors.
Three years later, Sullivan opted out, but Yezerski remained, augmenting his growing stable to include riskier work as well as photography. “I had an appointment one day in 1984 with Ken Moffett [then curator of contemporary art] of the MFA Boston. I laid out all my show cards for him, and he said, ‘Why are you showing work with New York taste in Andover’?” By 1988 Yezerski had pulled up stakes and come to Boston’s South Street. “I knew I would have to up my photography game,” he says, “but I wasn’t sure how.” About a year later, he was at a Jiffy Lube waiting for his car when he picked up a copy of Newsweek and saw an article on John Coplans (who died in 2003). He took a chance and called Coplans who, to his surprise, immediately invited Yezerski to visit him in New York. “Coplans was a very big influence on me,” he says. “He was a brilliant guy and he opened up a lot of doors for me.” Today, Yezerski’s photography stable is conceptually and materially diverse, including UK artist Chris Killip, Moroccan-born artist Lalla Essaydi, and gallery artist John Goodman, whose work from the ‘70s and ‘80s is currently on view. “Many of Goodman’s subjects aren’t pretty,” observes Yezerski, “but they have strength and dignity and his print quality is beautiful. Photography can be an emotional medium; it can be dark and beautiful at the same time. It isn’t always one simple thing. And I like that.”