Julie Saul (1954–2022)

February 9th, 2022

Julie Saul, who through her long-running eponymous New York gallery did much to elevate contemporary photography within the art world, died February 4 in Tampa after a battle with a rare form of leukemia. Saul was known for her willingness to show an eclectic range of works in media ranging from painting to sculpture to video to ceramics by an equally diverse range of artists, but it was her eye for both traditional and avant-garde contemporary photography that cemented her reputation and that of her gallery, which she first established in 1986 in SoHo, then a frontier for the arts.

Saul was born in Tampa on New Year’s Eve in 1954 to a father who was head of a sewn-products company and a housewife mother, a native New Yorker and volunteer docent whom Saul would later credit with introducing her to the arts. “Tampa had no museums, but she would take us to museums in New York,” she told the Tampa Bay Timesin 2003. “We had a house that wasn't filled with great art, but there were great reproductions and great art books.” In 1979, Saul moved to New York, obtaining her master’s degree from New York University’s Institute of Fine Arts in 1982. Four years later, with partner Nancy Lieberman, she opened Lieberman Saul Gallery at 155 Spring Street in SoHo, showing contemporary photography at a time when not many others were.

“One thing that drew me to photography from the very beginning—and it still holds—is that photography is an affordable medium. Almost anybody can afford to collect photographs,” she told the Association of International Photography Art Dealers (AIPAD) in 2010. “Fundamentally, photography is a medium and what makes work great is the idea behind it and how well it’s executed.” Among the photographers whose work Saul championed are Nikolay Bakharev, Morton Bartlett, Eugene Bellocq, Andrew Bush, Sally Gall, Luigi Ghirri, Andrea Grützner, Sarah Anne Johnson, Adam Magyar, and Arne Svenson. She was instrumental as well in the career of painter Maira Kalman, ceramicist Christopher Russell, and multimedia artist Zachari Logan. Saul in 1993 moved her gallery, now known as the Julie Saul Gallery, to 560 Broadway. In 2000, the gallery took up residence at 545 West Twenty-Second Street in Chelsea, where it would remain until its 2019 closure, which Saul chalked up to diminished physical gallery attendance as audiences increasingly sought work online.

Over the course of her career, Saul worked as an independent curator for the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art, both in New York. Additionally, she lectured at institutions including the Fashion Institute of Technology, NYU, and the School of Visual Arts, and served on the boards of AIPAD, ArtTable, and Her Justice. In 2010, the Aperture Foundation recognized her contribution to the arts. Saul recently initiated the idea of an exhibition devoted to the career of Berthe Weill after reading about the dealer in a footnote. “Berthe Weill: Indomitable Art Dealer of the Parisian Avant-Garde” will go on view at NYU’s Grey Art Gallery in fall 2024.