Alan Avery Art Company celebrates 40 years in Atlanta this year. Here, we sit down with Avery to discuss the resilience it took to hit this milestone.
It can be easy to celebrate macroconcepts like legacies—a retrospective look at all the moments that got you here to this exact one. But for people like Alan Avery, it wasn’t just one milestone, one relationship or one moment that got him and his gallery to 40 years, it was a lifetime of resilience. In fact, his story starts in a classroom, one where he didn’t belong. “I was born in Greenville, N.C., and attended public high school, where I was bored and, truthfully, always in trouble,” says Avery. “One day, I was called into the principal’s office. I thought, ‘This is it, they are sending me to military school,’ but to my surprise they said I needed to go to art school.” Before this, 9-year-old Avery had worked day in and day out in tobacco fields to save up to buy his very own Thomas Hart Benton painting—if this is any indication of where his passions lie. While his father had just passed, and his mother had no idea where they would get the money, both knew he had to go. In the fall, Avery attended University of North Carolina School of the Arts, a place where he finally felt at home with the people around him. He studied art and ballet and graduated both high school and college before his 15th birthday.
Alan Avery outside his gallery atop his car that dons the license plate “Buy Art”
From there, Avery applied and got accepted to Parsons in New York. His time there consisted of struggling artistry and a couple of run-ins with pals at Studio 54. But it was in 1978 when Avery’s Atlanta story begins. He started attending Georgia State University, working toward a third degree in business, waiting tables and began an apprenticeship at the Atlanta Ballet. Avery also picked up a job at a gallery during this time, one he passed on his way to class—Abstein Gallery. While at Abstein Gallery, Avery started The Atlanta Gallery Association, the city’s first and only association that set out to establish ethical standards for art dealers. “My mother raised me to be the best of what I could be,” says Avery. “I didn’t think I had what it took to be a great artist. I didn’t think that I had the suffrage and the penitence, but I was a great teacher.” And so began his gallery career. The gallery we now know as Alan Avery Art Company was originally established in 1981 as Trinity Gallery on Trinity Avenue, taking on its new name in 2007. “When I look at my career in this business, I look at it in stages. First was 9/11, where no one was buying art. Then we went to war and it happened again,” says Avery. During the housing crisis a collector, friend and developer of Avery, David Martin of Legacy Property, advised him that, “Those who operate by the same blueprint are going to fail in this business climate, but those who change, alter and become something else will not only survive, they will come out on top.” When he moved his gallery to Miami Circle in July 2016 and found himself in a coma by August that same year, this phrase couldn’t have been more relevant. Avery had contracted necrotizing fasciitis, a disease that almost killed him and left his body covered in scars from multiple surgeries. But, he survived, persisted, pivoted and changed, and now recovering from this disease, he feels drawn to do so yet again.
When faced with the reality that perhaps white privilege stood in the way of achieving his goal, Avery did not rest with being “the little engine that could.” He instead stepped up to the plate, overhauled and rebuilt the engine, changing his programming for the inclusion of everyone in the Atlanta art community. He is the man that would. alanaveryartcompany.com
Photography by: Patrick Heagney