Like many others in Sarasota, I was shocked by the sudden death several weeks ago of Allyn Gallup, longtime owner of Allyn Gallup Contemporary Art Gallery in downtown Sarasota.
Recently at a memorial at Ringling College for the late Kevin Dean, the illustrious longstanding director of the Selby Gallery (and a very interesting if iconoclastic artist) who was crucial to the development of the art community in Sarasota, Allyn, who was Kevin’s art dealer, was asked to say a few words about his friend. The memorialists slated to speak had been asked to be rather celebratory about Kevin's life, even to be upbeat.
The first words out of Allyn Gallup's mouth were that there was "no way" he could be upbeat about Kevin Dean's death. With those first solemn and brutally honest words, which for a few moments created a silent pall over the audience, Allyn demonstrated, as he always did, his devotion to candor, to an almost bombastic form of honesty. This quality got him a kind of funny reputation in Sarasota. I think some people thought of him as "grouchy." If you didn't get to know him well, that impression might stick.
Having been only casually acquainted with Allyn for years, this was certainly my impression, too, until a few years ago when he approached me after seeing a work of mine at a Selby Galley exhibition and asked If I would like to show with him,.. so there you go. When someone's personality has a transformative dimension, the quality to surprise and contradict appearance, it makes for a richer experience as you go on. Getting to know Allyn these last few years was really a kind of astonishment, as in so many instances I found him to be warm, considerably understanding, compassionate, open-minded and even joyous, especially if the topic was a work of art he admired. He also shared very personal things with me, like the tragic death of one of his children. So this was no curmudgeon.
Allyn had a ritual of spending mornings having coffee over at Louies Modern across the street from the gallery on Palm, with any number of his pals who knew he'd be there from 7 a.m. until about 9. So if you wanted to find him, he was always there then. I usually found him a little later, sitting in his office reading, feet propped up on the black office chair covered with newspapers, which he would clear if you needed to sit down. We'd chat about things, the latest news in the art world or about artists he was showing or about shows that might be put on. When he called you on the phone, he never said, "Hi, this is Allyn." He'd just start right in on the topic he'd want to discuss. At first I didn't like the abruptness of it, but now, with him gone, I'd do anything to get one of those calls again. "Hey, what's the size of that big diptych?"
I have been around a lot of art dealers in my time. Not all art dealers like artists. Allyn actually liked artists. And we artists can be difficult, the prima donna thing, the insecurity thing, the competitive thing, but Allyn was really devoted to helping the artists he worked with, was willing to take the bangs and bruises sometimes dished out, to give artists a sense of support, a sense that somebody actually "got it." And he really did get it. Allyn was not in art dealing for the money. He was in it because he was in love with art. It was that passion that grew all that he did, and what made his gallery Sarasota's very best.
Of course the gallery's reputation was not just due to Allyn alone, but also because of his partner in all its workings, Sheila Moore, his wife. Sheila and Allyn are like different sides of the coin. If Allyn was the face of the gallery, Sheila was the "eminence gris" who worked behind the scenes. It was a perfect partnership as well as a perfect marriage. When I told her I was doing this little piece, Sheila was kind enough to share with me some of her thoughts about Allyn.
The first thing she said was that Allyn had no idea that so many people cared for him or appreciated what he achieved here. She was kind of sad about that, seeing the great outpouring of appreciation that has come since his untimely death. "If only he knew."
Somehow I had the temerity to ask her about his personality. I guess I was still trying to get to the heart of this mysterious man. Sheila said, "Allyn was a perfectionist, and was very often dissatisfied with his own efforts." This reminds me of something my artist/father, Syd Solomon, said about making art. "The greatest artist is eaten by the worms of discontent." That was Allyn, all right. "He was very critical of himself and had such high standards for the gallery, as well as for art and artists," Sheila said. I think, his expectations could also be extended to the prominent collectors in town, from whom he expected more support for the quality of art he represented.
Sheila explained that the gruff exterior was protection. She said you had to just scratch the surface to see the real guy inside. Sheila "saw through it immediately." They met in 2001. Sheila had just moved to Sarasota with her daughter and was living next door to the artists Ben and Evelyn Wilson. One day she was having lunch at Epicure with them when Allyn stopped to say hello. He turned to Sheila and said, "Do you like this place?" Sheila said, "Yes." Then Allyn said, "Good, because we are going to eat here a lot." And that was it. It was love at first sight.
He had no idea at the moment they met that she had been raised by artists. Her mother was a serious painter, and Sheila had spent her youth going to museums and galleries in Paris. Allyn, too, had an art background. His father was an art collector who shared this interest with his son. As Sheila and Allyn's relationship evolved, they came to work every day together at the gallery, or would be out visiting with artists or collectors or going to see art in galleries and museums around the world. Pulling from all their experience, they established a venue which showed a wide variety of styles and genres but always contained the highest level of quality and presentation.
Sheila says, "Allyn Gallup Contemporary will certainly continue." She's excited by the shows that are lined up for this season, saying, "I can deal with all the extra matters that Allyn usually handled…It’s just the loneliness." This season at least, she will have some company, as the esteemed curator Mark Ormond has helped to organize a number of shows that will be presented at the gallery.
Allyn will be greatly missed by so many of us. Perhaps he and Kevin Dean are now looking down from art heaven and will send us the inspiration we need to help us to carry on the legacies of excellence that they both demanded and perfected in their lives here. We could do far worse.
A memorial for Allyn Gallup will be held Nov. 29, 4-6 p.m., at The Francis in downtown Sarasota. People can stop by the art gallery afterwards for a glass of champagne.