Portrait of Deborah McLeod by Joshua White, courtesy Gagosian.

Art, artists and the people who love both — welcome to Deborah McLeod’s world.

It’s rare to know the moment that changed your life changed forever; the inspiration that led you in a brand-new direction.

Deborah McLeod, Senior Director of Gagosian gallery in Beverly Hills, can describe that moment. “I remember a Robert Therrien show changing my life, being so moved by these minimal works and allowing these breathtaking, sensitive, simple shapes to really move me. That was the beginning for me. The James Turrell “Roden Crater” earth art? A sculpture three miles wide, WOW! That opened my mind to all the possibilities of what art can be. So, I realized this was my career.”

McLeod, growing up in a conservative community in Northern California, was not exposed to art. “In my community growing up, souvenirs from travel and portraits of your kids on the wall were the norm. No one collected contemporary art in Piedmont.” McLeod entered UCLA as an English major, pre-law, but switched to art history after taking Baroque Art 101 her freshman year. It wasn’t until a few years after school as McLeod started working in the reputable art gallery eco system when she had the moment.

Richard Avedon, Ten Exhibition Prints from In the American West, installation view, 2021 © The Richard Avedon Foundation, photo by Jeff McLane, courtesy Gagosian.

After working in several art galleries and Christie’s auction house, McLeod started her work with Gagosian as the director of the Beverly Hills gallery in 2005. Now with 19 galleries worldwide, Gagosian is, without a doubt, the largest art gallery in the world. It works with an impressive stable of established artists such as Gerhard Richter, Andreas Gursky, Jenny Saville, Damien Hirst, Richard Prince, Ed Ruscha, Chris Burden, the Cy Twombly Estate, Richard Serra, Theaster Gates, Mary Weatherford and Takashi Murakami — and that’s just a small sampling.

Surrounded by inspiration, McLeod feels blessed to work with such visionaries and icons, from Irving Blum (she was his gallery director from 1985 to 1991) to Larry Gagosian — whom she refers to as one of her best teachers and bosses. “I learned so much from Larry. I don’t think he features himself a teacher, but I was lucky. He was tracking all of my deals and projects in those days, and he taught me a lot.” McLeod says. At Gagosian, she works closely with art figures including architect Frank Gehry, Thomas Houseago and the Chris Burden estate, most recently showing Burden’s “Dreamers Folly” a breathtaking, life-sized installation at Frieze Los Angeles 2022, where she sold the masterpiece during the show’s first hour.

With the ever evolving and constantly moving art world, one does need a respite from the flurry of activity. McLeod’s place of solace is Hawai‘i. “This is my happy place, it’s like heaven to me. Stepping off the plane with the humidity in the air there is the faint smell of plumeria, I immediately start to relax,” she says. Hawai‘i has always had meaning for McLeod — she came here for the first time at the age of 5 and returned every summer because her father had a rigging business with work in Hawai‘i. She even attended the University of Hawai‘i for a summer. “Outrigger Canoe Club is like a home away from home,” McLeod says.

Mineo Mizuno, Stories from a California Forest, installation view, 2020 © Mineo Mizuno, photo by Fredrik Nilsen, courtesy Gagosian

Hopefully she can still carve out a few weeks for a stay on this side of the Pacific despite all the gallery momentum. So far, Gagosian opened the third gallery in Paris last fall and the new Gstaad gallery this past February. “We also recently opened a new Gagosian shop in the historic Burlington Arcade in the heart of London,” McLeod adds.

Additionally, Gagosian has partnered with the Marciano Art Foundation to use the ground floor (30,000 square feet) as a blank canvas for the gallery’s programming. “Last year, we staged a show there featuring eight colossal paintings that comprise Albert Oehlen’s Tramonto Spaventoso project, and we have some exciting things in the works for it this fall,” she says. What may wind up on McLeod’s plate, one can only guess, but for someone who thrives in that kind of creative environment, it’s a welcome challenge.

Jeff Wall, Installation View, Artwork © Jeff Wall, photo by Jeff McLane, courtesy Gagosian.

McLeod has clear passion for what she does and feels incredibly rewarded working with clients and artists. As for a few words of art world wisdom? She advises new collectors: “Allow yourself to see and be moved by art [by visiting galleries that show budding and mid-career artists, as well as blue-chip art]. Buy with your eyes, not with your ears. Find what gives you chills.”


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