Not many leaders, no matter how well-known and well-respected among their peers they are, have two long and successful careers in separate fields. Robert Mnuchin, who was a partner at Goldman Sachs and a member of its management committee for more than 30 years when the investment bank was still a private partnership, spoke about his second 30-year career as an art dealer during this ARTnews LIVE with Leaders interview.
In the interview, he talks about his passion for art, the difficult decision to leave Goldman Sachs and the great challenge he had in breaking into the art world. “It was hard to give up,” Mnuchin remembers of the decision to leave banking. “But I decided it was worth it because I really wanted to find out for myself how much of what I’d done well with was me and how much of it was this terrific machine that I had behind me. I wanted to see what could I do on my own.”
“I loved art,” he says. “I really did. I loved the experience of being around art and being with art. And I wanted to do that full time. The part of it that I really wanted to do most that I could tangibly express was I wanted to create exhibitions. And although I think I was pretty good at it, nobody would have considered hiring me. I had no degrees in art. I had no experience in art. They would have laughed at me any museum. So the only alternative was to start my own gallery, which is what I did.”
That gallery held numerous thought-provoking exhibitions around a wide range of artists including Mark Rothko, Alexander Calder, Donald Judd, Jeff Koons, Andy Warhol, Frank Stella, Philip Guston, Damien Hirst and many others. There were also a great many surprises in exhibitions of the work of Julian Schnabel, David Hammons, Sam Gilliam, Ed Clark and more. Above all, Mnuchin’s career as an art dealer and gallerist always came back to and was centered upon the work of Willem de Kooning.
Mnuchin Gallery has held eight exhibitions culminating in the recent show “Willem De Kooning: Five Decades” held two years ago. “I think the de Kooning is the chairman of the board,” Mnuchin says. “Pollock might be in some people’s minds. Pollock is a great and innovative artist. His drip paintings are phenomenal; but basically he’s a one painter career. De Kooning is Picasso-esque. He really has at least five totally distinct periods, and I think that really separates him from anybody that didn’t have many periods. Nobody else has done that.”
In this interview, Mnuchin discusses a wide range of topics from artists to collectors to strategies for advising on the market. Beyond all of that, Mnuchin gives an honest and heartfelt accounting of his career as a gallery owner and the paramount place that passion played in his decision to become an art dealer late in life. “It hasn’t been something you would go out of your way to do hardly,” he says. “But that’s not why I ever did it.”
“I love what I do,” Mnuchin says at the end of the interview. “I’d be lost without it.”