Brent Sikkema, influential gallerist, is found dead in his Rio apartment

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Brent Sikkema, influential gallerist, is found dead in his Rio apartment
The Brazilian police said they were investigating the art dealer’s death and looking for witnesses.

by Zachary Small

NEW YORK, NY.- Manhattan art dealer Brent Sikkema, who represented prominent artists like Kara Walker, Jeffrey Gibson and Vik Muniz, was found dead in his Rio de Janeiro apartment Monday night.

Brazilian publications reported that the gallerist, who helped found Sikkema Jenkins & Co., was discovered with stab wounds to his body after the local Fire Department was called to his apartment in the neighborhood of Jardim Botânico.

“It is with great sadness that the gallery announces the passing of our beloved founder,” Meg Malloy and Michael Jenkins, his business partners, said in a statement. “The gallery grieves this tremendous loss and will continue on in his spirit.”

The Brazilian police did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“Officers will listen to witnesses, are looking for more information and are carrying out other inquiries to shed light on the case,” the Civil Police of Rio de Janeiro state said in a statement.

Sikkema, 75, worked in the art world for more than 50 years, opening his New York gallery in 1991 under the name Wooster Gardens. The gallery, which focused on contemporary art, was an early transplant from the SoHo neighborhood to the Chelsea arts district in 1999, where he soon brought on new partners and renamed the gallery.

The dealership maintained a small but influential roster that helped build the careers of artists like Walker, who presented her first solo exhibition in New York nearly 30 years ago and continues to show with the gallery. Other notable artists with the company include Sheila Hicks, Louis Fratino and Jennifer Packer.

“I’m shocked,” said Yancey Richardson, a longtime friend who runs a gallery across the street and shared representation of photographer Mitch Epstein with him. “Brent had a terrific eye and thought outside of the box. He wasn’t just mounting one painting show after another.”

Richardson said Sikkema was less involved at his gallery in recent years as he looked toward retirement. “He was trying to step back,” she said.

Alexander Gray, a New York gallerist, said the visionary program of Wooster Gardens in the early 1990s honored lives affected by AIDS, homophobia, sexism, racism and censorship.

“Through the gallery and his personal activism, Brent nurtured a generation of artists exploring identity, representation and experimental forms,” Gray said.

Sikkema’s death comes before a critical showcase for one of the gallery’s top artists, Jeffrey Gibson, who is preparing to represent the U.S. at the Venice Biennale in April. The exhibition is considered the art world’s version of the Olympics, and it requires substantial fundraising and planning to succeed.

Sikkema lived most of the year in New York but found an affinity with Rio de Janeiro. Speaking to the magazine IdeaFix about his apartment there, near the Tijuca forest, he described it as a true urban “oasis.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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