Nathan Vonk (center) is the new owner at Sullivan Goss, where Jeremy Tessmer and Susan Bush are curators.
Paul Wellman

Sullivan Goss, An American Gallery has changed ownership. In a press release dated February 10, 2017, the Central Coast institution announced that longtime gallery employee Nathan Vonk is the new owner of the business that Frank Goss and Patricia Sullivan Goss brought to Santa Barbara from its original location in Sierra Madre in 1994. In a conversation on Thursday, February 16, Vonk expressed his excitement about the opportunity and his determination to preserve and extend the legacy of the gallery’s original owners. “We’re not going to change the gallery’s name or its mission,” said Vonk. “I love Sullivan Goss. I put everything I have on the line to purchase the whole business — the name, the inventory, and the lease — because I believe in what we are doing here. If I could have made this happen without anyone even noticing, I would have done that,” he added.

Known internationally for his vast knowledge of American art and his extreme devotion to forwarding the reputations of California artists, Frank Goss has spent more than two decades at the center of the Santa Barbara art scene. No one has done more to advance the careers of fine artists in this city than him. While representing such contemporary giants as Hank Pitcher, Nicole Strasburg, John Nava, Meredith Brooks Abbott, and Angela Perko, Goss has cultivated a thriving market for the work of a remarkable roster of historically important figures. Lockwood de Forest, Colin Campbell Cooper, Leon Dabo, Anya Fisher, and Nell Brooker Mayhew are just a few of the artists whose estates have been tended and documented, and whose reputations have been polished to a rare glow, by the unstinting efforts of Goss and his team. Encompassing everything from plein-air landscapes and discreet still lifes to hard-edge abstraction and finish-fetish minimalism, the shows at Sullivan Goss have educated a generation of artists, collectors, and citizens about the enduring significance of California in the history of American art. At times functioning more like a small museum than a traditional gallery, Sullivan Goss has been responsible for the publication of dozens of beautiful books, including the excellent first-ever monograph on Ray Strong, Ray Strong: American Artist, in 2015.

For Vonk, the acquisition of the gallery represents an investment in his personal passion for fine art and in the future of Santa Barbara. Backed by the curatorial team of Jeremy Tessmer and Susan Bush, he has ambitious plans for the coming years, including a major show of work by Pitcher as soon as spring 2017. Vonk’s ability to fund the purchase stems from a remarkably similar experience in which he went from employee to owner of a small business back in 2008. “I was teaching at Ventura College at night, and during the day I worked for a dog-walking company,” he told me. “As I became more and more involved in running that business, and as it became increasingly successful, the owners decided that they wanted to retire, and they asked me if I would buy them out. I did, and that’s how I got my stake as a small business owner,” Vonk said. Going from walking dogs to deciding what’s on the walls in a prestigious art gallery is quite a journey. Here’s to the continued success of a beloved Santa Barbara institution.


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