Divorce got in the way of her doctorate, and around the same time, her nephew Andrew Goodman, a young civil rights worker, was murdered in Mississippi in 1964, during Freedom Summer. “That made me question everything,” says Goodman, who remains committed to social justice. (Says Richter, with some amusement, “She is full of passion against Bush.”) In any case, her new circumstances precipitated the need for her own income. With seed money courtesy of one of her dad’s Avery canvases, Goodman opened Multiples, dealing in artists’ editions, in 1965. “That was the time when the whole field of editions was exciting,” she says. “Artists were really interested in experimenting and also in the idea of reaching a larger population and younger public who could actually afford to collect such work.”
Projects with groundbreaking artists of the era, including Sol LeWitt, Bruce Nauman and Richard Artschwager, followed. Business eventually brought her to Europe, where she remembers discovering “this very mature art world, several generations of artists who were basically unknown here.” One in particular caught her eye: Marcel Broodthaers, a cerebral Belgian and early installation artist who frequently worked with found objects. Though she considered him, along with Joseph Beuys, the continent’s most influential artist, he had yet to have a single show in New York. Goodman made it her mission to find him a New York gallery, but no one would bite. “I finally thought that if nobody’s gonna do this, I would love to, and in maybe an irrational leap of faith, it made me decide to open a gallery,” she says. Marian Goodman Gallery debuted in September 1977 with a solo exhibition of Broodthaers.
From the beginning, Goodman looked almost exclusively abroad to build her roster. Perhaps ironically for a woman of Jewish heritage of her generation, she found a particular kinship with Germans, from Richter and Anselm Kiefer to a young man named Lothar Baumgarten, whom she had hired to hang the gallery’s display at an art fair in Düsseldorf. “I had no idea that he was an artist at first, and he told me very quietly and modestly that he was having a show at Konrad Fischer gallery,” she recalls. She went to see the exhibition, a slide show considering a recently discovered South American tribe that apparently lived without conflict: “It was fabulous, dealing with a very profound subject.” Of Baumgarten and other postwar German artists, Goodman says, “They all had to make peace with the past, and many of them had to judge their parents, and of course there was a great desire to seek a better way. The issues of life were far more present. And I think it produced a lot of wonderful art, some very meaningful.” Asked if troubled times produce better work, Goodman responds, “The thing is, people think more.” Unlike today’s climate, in which the supply of collectors with checkbooks at the ready seems infinite—whether the artist works in Chinatown or China—in the late Seventies and early Eighties there was still resistance to contemporary European artists. “New York could barely accept artists from California, much less from Europe,” she says. “There were very few collectors, especially for the work that I was showing.”