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Bennett Roberts: It's About Time

By Tulsa Kinney

Back in 2006, I approached Bennett Roberts at his gallery on Wilshire Boulevard with a bit of chagrin. The LA art dealer had always been nothing but nice, helpful and accommodating to me as a person and as an arts writer. So my heart was heavy when I had to break it to him—before he could read it in the latest edition of Artillery—that we had panned his Kehinde Wiley show.

Roberts, unflinching, seemed to be suppressing a grin. Was it because a review in Artillery had no significance to him, or was it his absolute confidence that Wiley was already untouchable? I chose to believe the latter. He graciously invited me in to linger at the show and told me not to hesitate to raise any questions. That made quite an impression on me as a journalist; I really respected his very adult manner.

Fifteen years later, a lone Kehinde Wiley painting hangs on an empty white gallery wall, surrounded by brown-paper–wrapped canvases awaiting installation at Roberts Projects. I assumed the unopened art was Wiley’s; Roberts informed me otherwise, stating it was Amoako Boafo’s next show—the Wiley was there for a client-viewing later in the day.

The irony did not escape me as we sat down in the main gallery for the second meeting of our interview. The first time was at the Los Feliz home that Roberts shares with his wife and business partner, Julie Roberts. That was nearly a year ago (that pesky pandemic kept delaying things), and it was now September, the start of the new fall art season. Julie, a full and equal partner in the gallery, was in New York at The Armory Show while hubby stayed behind to attend to their upcoming exhibition—there’s a long waiting list for Boafo’s work—“hundreds.” The African artist who has been showing with Roberts Projects since 2018 is super-hot right now; Roberts could not afford to be away that opening weekend.