Since the 19-year-old Boone was Kertess’s one and only employee, she did more than just sit at the desk and look cute. “I sold something the first day I was there. Yay!” she chirps proudly. “To Citibank. No, not to Citibank, to Chase.” Ker- tess entrusted Boone with both major collectors and major artists. “I mean, he let me take Victor Ganz to Brice Marden’s studio,” she says.
“Mary was ambitious, as she still is,” says Kertess, adding that, though he had always encouraged his employees to build collector clienteles and earn sales commissions, “Mary was actually the first one to take me up on that.”
In 1975 Kertess decided he wanted out of Bykert. He liked launching new talent, but his artists had simply become too successful. “I was not so happy as a career manager,” he says. (“I thought, Wow, that’s when most people would buy more gallery space,” Boone says with a laugh.) The exact genesis of Boone’s gallery is somewhat murky. Boone says she declined Kertess’s offer to take over Bykert, preferring to start fresh on her own. In Kertess’s version, Boone lacked the financial backing to keep Bykert open, plus the gallery’s big names intended to join more prominent dealers. One of those artists, Chuck Close, says Boone would have liked to hold on to him and the others. “I think it made her very upset and sad that she couldn’t get Brice or me,” Close says. “She had to go out and make her own stable, which was the best thing that could have happened to her.”
To be sure, appropriating someone else’s vision would not have risen to Boone’s ambitions. She had deep admiration for Kertess and also for legendary dealer Leo Castelli, and she wanted to accomplish no less a feat than they had: to build a gallery every artist of her generation would want to join, one that, with a critical mass of influence, would leave a lasting mark on art history. And she did, making stars out of Julian Schnabel, Jean-Michel Basquiat, David Salle, Eric Fischl and Ross Bleckner in the Eighties—and changing the way the art market works in the process. (Ironically, several Bykert artists, including Marden and Tuttle, would later show with her, albeit impermanently.)
In the beginning, though, “because I showed predominantly unknown artists, it was a struggle,” she says, adding that it was also hard being taken seriously as a 26-year-old proprietor. “Now, it’s like the ageism goes in the opposite direction.” She did have a Rolodex of collectors from her Bykert days, and doing deals on the secondary market kept her afloat. She also had backing from a consortium of collectors, in exchange for first dibs on the best art she had to offer.