Dealer Ales Ortuzar Ups the Ante in Tribeca

Taylor Dafoe

Photography by Stephen Kent Johnson

Ales Ortuzar, 2018.
Ales Ortuzar with Peter Roehr’s Untitled (FO-52), 1965, part of the late artist’s exhibition at Ortuzar Projects, “Where Your Driving Takes a Turn for the Best." Produced by Michael Reynolds.

Ortuzar Projects is technically a gallery, but in some ways it’s more like a small museum. Situated in a light-filled space with tall tin ceilings and exposed brick, the ambitious new exhibition platform is home to heavily researched shows from artists historically overlooked by the Western canon.

The gallery was launched in February by Ales Ortuzar, a young dealer who made his name rising through the ranks at David Zwirner. Early returns have been good. The gallery’s first show, a retrospective of French formalist painter Michel Parmentier, garnered a great deal of press and sold out. The second, an exhibition of works by Peter Roehr, a little-known German Conceptualist who passed away at the age of 24, attracted the attention of a number of institutions and high-profile artists.

Ortuzar Projects’s program is limited to only four exhibitions per year— a pace that’s closer to that of a museum than the nine or ten shows that most galleries trot out annually. It fits Ortuzar’s character—a stylish and soft- spoken Spaniard who doesn’t seem interested in rushing. “I believe in quality, not quantity,” he says on a warm day in May as sun streams in through the gallery’s back windows. “I’d rather do fewer shows and put more effort into them. The art world is an amazing thing—there’s room for every kind of gallery and every kind of model.”

Growing up, Ortuzar split his time between Madrid, where he was born, and London. His first taste of the art world came when he landed a job working with pioneering British art dealer Leslie Waddington. He moved to New York a decade ago, where he took a director position at David Zwirner, working closely with a stable of artists that included Jeff Koons and Bridget Riley.

He remained with the gallery for almost six years before branching out in 2015—a hard decision, one would imagine, given that at that point he had already been made a partner at Zwirner. Ortuzar opened an appointment-only dealership on the Upper East Side. It was the success of that venture, which he continues to run, that allowed him to open up his new downtown gallery.

Tribeca represents what Ortuzar drolly calls a “blank canvas.” “There aren’t any preconceived notions about what you’re supposed to be as a gallery here,” he says. “I didn’t want to do a mini-Pace or mini-Gagosian. I’ve reached a point in my career where I want to engage with a different group of people and do the exhibitions that I’ve always wanted to do.”

This summer, Ortuzar Projects opens a show of paintings by Raul Guerrero, a Mexican-American painter based in San Diego who was a close contemporary of Ed Ruscha and John Baldessari. In the fall, they will mount a show of works by surrealist Spanish painter from the ‘20s and ‘30s, Maruja Mallo.