The New York gallery Mitchell-Innes & Nash has promoted one of its directors, Courtney Willis Blair, to partner. The gallery says she will be one of the first few Black partners at a white-owned gallery in the US. Willis Blair joined the gallery as an artist liaison in 2016, following earlier roles at Mary Ryan Gallery and the Studio Museum in Harlem.
“I feel really excited for this step in my career,” Willis Blair says. “I’ve invested a lot in the gallery and me and Lucy [Mitchell-Innes] work incredibly well together.”
As a director at Mitchell-Innes & Nash since 2017, Willis Blair brought artists Jacolby Satterwhite and Gideon Appah into the programme, both of whom she sees as true originals befitting the gallery’s emphasis on pioneering art with a strong political or conceptual underpinning—like the work of Martha Rosler, Pope L. and Mary Kelly.
Willis Blair is doubtless one of few Black dealers to ever hold a stake in a white-owned art gallery, a reality that she says is disappointing: “I know most of the Black dealers at the blue-chip galleries in Chelsea very well,” she continues. “A lot of them have been working since the 90s or early 2000s.” Willis Blair is also founder of Entre Nous, a collective of Black dealers and advisors.
With a greater sway over the direction of the gallery, she says she hopes to cast an eye overseas. “There are things that I want to see more of,” she says, “like having a robust international programme. I’m really interested in South and Central America, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.”
The gallery’s co-owner Lucy Mitchell-Innes notes Willis Blair’s leadership, exceptional record in placing work with museums, and ability to discover artists and pilot them “through complicated projects in far-flung locations.”
As the art world establishment faces continued calls for equity and transparency at the highest levels, Willis Blair believes the gallery world is well-positioned to meet the moment.
“This is an incredibly sensitive time for the art world,” she says. “There are a lot of things that need to be fixed, and we’re beginning to see where some of those cracks are, particularly with institutions. They are asking themselves really big questions with complicated answers.” Galleries, she says, are in a strong position to address their flaws “because we are small businesses. There is flexibility and nimbleness.”