In 1978 Arthur Roger opened his gallery at 3005 Magazine Street in New Orleans’ Garden District. A year earlier, the Contemporary Arts Center had opened in downtown New Orleans and the art scene in the city was beginning to burgeon. The Arthur Roger Gallery moved to the forefront of galleries in the city. Early on the gallery attracted a number of New Orleans’ most prominent artists including Robert Gordy and Ida Kohlmeyer.
As interest grew rapidly in the Uptown galleries, Arthur Roger played a leading role in forming the New Orleans Gallery Association (now called the Arts District of New Orleans) and in arranging remarkably successful coordinated exhibition openings such as Art For Art’s Sake which would transform the art scene in New Orleans. In the early 80s, the gallery was selected to assist in assembling several major corporate collections including the InterContinental Hotel in New Orleans with designer Angelo Donghia, the Pan-American Life Insurance Company with architect Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, and the Riverfront Aquarium of the Americas.
By 1984 the gallery was gaining national recognition and was selected for participation in the first modern art fair in North America, the Chicago International Art Exposition (now called EXPO Chicago), where it continued to exhibit for many years. The gallery has also later participated in art fairs in Los Angeles, Miami, Dallas, the Hamptons, and Seattle.
The Arthur Roger Gallery also played a central role in arranging the large Louisiana Arts Exhibition at the 1984 Louisiana World Exposition, the 1984 World’s Fair in New Orleans, which was regarded as one of the most successful exhibits at the Exposition. In 1985 the Arthur Roger Gallery presented a successful month-long group show in New York at the Exhibition Space at 112 Greene St. in SoHo. The gallery hosted shows curated by “Pattern and Decoration” by Ronny Cohen and “Works from Emmerich Gallery” organized by Nathan Kolodner. That noteworthy exhibition included original works by David Hockney, Hans Hoffman, Helen Frankenthaler, and Robert Motherwell.
In 1988 the Arthur Roger Gallery moved to a new carefully planned space with three separate exhibition areas in the historic Warehouse District in downtown New Orleans. The interior, designed by architect Wellington “Duke” Reiter, was described by the Times-Picayune art critic as “establishing a world-class standard of excellence for new art galleries in New Orleans.” A tribute to the new gallery was published in Architecture and received an Alpha Group Award for excellence in interior design.
In 1998 Peter Halley exhibited with R.M. Fisher and later curated “Comedies Dramatique” which included Richard Prince’s monochromatic joke paintings, and work by Meyer Vaisman and Saint Clair Cemin. “Dysfunction USA” was co-curated by Peter Halley and Robert Nickas and included Carroll Dunham, Wayne Gonzales, and Michael Kelly.
Later Deborah Kass curated a cutting edge exhibition “Regarding Masculinity” which included Kiki Smith, Rona Pondick, and Marilyn Minter. In 2007, Michael Klein curated “New Urban Vistas,” an exhibition of major national and international photographers who employed urban settings as the focus of their imagery.
In the early years of the AIDS crisis, The Arthur Roger Gallery organized New Orleans’ first Art Against AIDS Exhibition and the Art Against AIDS ornament show. In its first year, it became one of the top ten fundraisers in New Orleans and received the 1991 Mayor’s Arts Award.
With the assistance of Frederick Weisman, Arthur Roger opened a New York Gallery from 1991 until 1994 in the Bakery Building in SoHo at 130 Prince Street. Artists who received their first New York exhibit include Douglas Bourgeois, George Dureau, Gene Koss, Ersy Schwartz, Clyde Connell, and James Drake. The gallery also presented a curated exhibition by Dan Cameron titled “Fear of Painting” featuring the works of Lee Gordon, Jane Hammond, Deborah Kass, Marilla Palmer, Lari Pittman, Archie Rand, Alexis Rockman, David Sandlin, Megan Williams, and Sue Williams.
In the early 90s artists Charles Arnoldi, Derek Boshier, Roger Brown, Robert Colescott, R. M. Fisher, Peter Halley, Robert Hull, Leonard Koscianski, Clarence Laughlin, Peter Saul, James Surls, John Waters, Holton Rower, and Philip Wofford received solo exhibitions at the Arthur Roger Gallery in New Orleans.
Throughout its history, the gallery has presented several superb photography exhibitions including Herb Ritts, Bruce Weber, Tom Bianchi, Joel-Peter Witkin, Edward Burtynsky, Luca Missoni, Robert Polidori, Clarence John Laughlin, and John Dugdale. The Arthur Roger Gallery was included in the Art Market Guide as one of the 36 most influential galleries in the contemporary American art market. The author described the Arthur Roger Gallery as striking: “Just the right balance between showing local artists and artists of national repute” and anchoring the New Orleans art scene.
In late summer 2005, when Hurricane Katrina devastated enormous areas in New Orleans, the Arts District and the gallery were largely spared. Many gallery artists, however, had overwhelming losses both to their homes and to their work.
The gallery lost its offsite gallery storage facility and decided to acquire the adjacent building at 434 Julia initially to accommodate gallery artwork storage and restoration. Eventually, StudioWTA architects Wayne Troyer and Tracie Asche were hired to design the 434 space to connect with the existing gallery at 432 Julia St. and so expanding the gallery from 5,100 square feet to 7,500 square feet. The renovation received three AIA design awards in 2009 and 2010.
Shortly after Katrina the gallery helped spearhead efforts for the renewal of the visual arts in New Orleans. In January 2006 the Arthur Roger Gallery arranged a panel discussion “New Orleans Culture in a Post-Katrina Environment” to address the enormous challenges for the visual arts posed by the widespread destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina. Panelists included Dan Cameron, Douglas Brinkley, Richard J. Powell, and John Hankins. That night was a seminal event that led Dan Cameron to organize Prospect.1 in 2008, the international art biennial in New Orleans that receives critical acclaim and continues to this day.
In November 2005 the gallery hosted a “Comeback” exhibition. Organized before mail and delivery services were re-established in the city, it remains one of the most meaningful and celebratory gallery events. In the fall of 2006, Arthur Roger curated the award-winning exhibition “Katrina: Catastrophe and Catharsis” which opened at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center.
In January 2008 the gallery exhibited Robert Polidori’s dramatically moving images of Katrina’s destruction. The photographs had previously been exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and are now a part of the permanent collection of the New Orleans Museum of Art. His moving color photographs were taken just days after the storm passed over the city.
The gallery has hosted series of other panel discussions from its early years to the present, exploring topics of regionalism, video works, Post-Pop Postmodernism, Art Industries, “The Art of Collecting” with Frederick Weisman and Henry Hopkins, “The Creative Process” with John T. Scott and Ellis Marsalis, and “Race and Identity in Contemporary Art” with Richard J. Powell, Lowery Stokes Sims, and Douglas Bourgeois.
In 2003, Dan Cameron and Arthur Roger curated and organized a collection of contemporary artwork for the Human Rights Campaign Headquarters, its first permanent home in the heart of Washington DC. In 2014 the Arthur Roger Gallery suggested that the Gordon Parks Foundation print the recently discovered Segregation Series in a larger format than most Parks photographs. The first time the body of work was exhibited was at the Arthur Roger Gallery in 2014. In 2018 Arthur Roger coordinated a permanent collection for CrescentCare, New Orleans’ new medical center which focuses on providing medical care regardless of the patient’s ability to pay.
Sadly, over the past 40+ years, the gallery has lost many of its most beloved artists who shaped the gallery and pioneered the New Orleans contemporary art scene. The gallery now represents the estates of Ida Kohlmeyer, Lin Emery, Robert Colescott, Robert Gordy, Elemore Morgan Jr., George Dureau, Clyde Connell, and John T. Scott.
In 2017, in conjunction with the 40th anniversary of the gallery, Arthur Roger gifted his entire personal art collection, comprised of artwork from 1970 to today, to the New Orleans Museum of Art. Susan Taylor, the director of NOMA, called the gift “transformative” and featured the works in a major exhibition “Pride of Place: the Making of Contemporary Art in New Orleans”. “Pride of Place” was highly lauded critically and was accompanied by a catalog including John Waters’ interview with Arthur Roger and A History of Contemporary Art in New Orleans by William Fagaly.
In honor of the city’s tricentennial, The Times-Picayune curated their 300 for 300 list. The 181-year-old newspaper’s editorial board selected 300 people over the city’s 300 years who have made New Orleans New Orleans. Arthur Roger was included on this list.
The pandemic presented enormous challenges for both artists and art galleries, especially regarding facilitating patrons’ viewing of artwork. As part of its response, The Arthur Roger Gallery undertook the production of a series of virtual artists’ studio visits entitled “Artists’ Chronicles.” The videos, accessible on the gallery’s website, include exhibition walkthroughs, conversations with artists including John Alexander, James Drake, Demond Melancon, Holton Rower, a valuable insight by John Bullard into the works of Robert Gordy, as well as reviewing historical video archives of Ida Kohlmeyer, Lin Emery and John Waters. All over the country other major galleries were also making significant transitions to the importance of online platforms.
As the first wave of the pandemic subsided the Arthur Roger Gallery initiated the largest exhibition in its history: “Art in the Time of Empathy.” The epic exhibit opened in October 2020 and presented the work of over seventy artists. The exhibition was very well received critically, bringing many patrons back into the gallery.
In 2020, the Black Lives Matter Movement became immensely widespread and important. Tim Francis, a close friend of the gallery for many years and an important figure in the New Orleans art community, curated a major exhibition of historically important Black artists and also of emerging talents. Working closely with gallery staff Tim successfully arranged “Black Beauty” which featured work by Romare Bearden, David Driskell, Rashaad Newsome, Brandan Odums, Shoshanna Weinberger, Fahamu Pecou, Brent McKeever, Lezley Saar and Frederick J. Brown. Noted art historian Richard J. Powell of Duke University wrote a perceptive critical essay for the “Black Beauty” exhibition catalogue.
Arthur Roger has served on numerous boards including The Contemporary Arts Center, The Ogden Museum of Contemporary Art, The Mayor’s Art Commission, The Louisiana Children’s Museum, Halloween in New Orleans, United Services for AIDS, NO/AIDS Task Force, The Human Rights Campaign and The Greater New Orleans Foundation. He received the Young Leadership Award in 1994, Junior Achievement Role Model in 2009, the Human Rights Campaign’s Equality Award in 2016 and The Anti-Defamation League’s A.I. Botnick Torch of Liberty Award in 2017.
Arthur Roger, Brenda London, Bradley Sabin, Stephen Hawkins, Spencer Shaw, and Tierney Kelley.