A Columbus Museum of Art exhibition explores the influential career of the "godmother of contemporary art in the city."

A Columbus Museum of Art exhibition explores the influential career of the "godmother of contemporary art in the city."

To walk through the exhibit Keeping Pace: Eva Glimcher and Pace/Columbus, housed in the new wing of the Columbus Museum of Art, is to enter an earlier era. Works by 20th-century masters fill the space; many-including Andy Warhol, Jean Dubuffet, Pablo Picasso and Roy Lichtenstein-are long deceased.

Prominently featured near the entrance is a towering silkscreen by Warhol. In glittering shades of green, pink and blue, the work depicts three figures, including the one-of-a-kind woman whose life and accomplishments gave rise to the exhibit: Eva Glimcher.

A native of Kiev, Russia, who lived most of her life in Minnesota and Boston, Glimcher resided in Columbus during the final 17 years of her life, from 1965 to 1982. But the impact she left behind still can be felt.

"When you look back," says David Barker, an early buyer of works at Pace/Columbus, "she was like the godmother of contemporary art in the city."

After her husband, Paul, died in 1960, Glimcher turned her long-time interest in art into a career, opening the first Pace Gallery in Boston. A New York location followed in 1963, and two years later, Glimcher pulled up stakes for Central Ohio, where three of her children lived, and opened the third iteration of Pace on East Broad Street. (A fourth child, Arne, continued operations in New York.)

Glimcher faced a huge challenge stirring up interest for contemporary art in Columbus. Budd Harris Bishop, the director of the CMA from 1976 to 1987, says: "It would be hard to imagine how dry the landscape was before Eva got there."

At first, some potential customers were timid, says Charles Foley, who went to work at Pace Gallery/Columbus in 1966 and was its assistant director from 1969 to 1982. "This was unusual to them. If you never had a drink of water, how would you approach it?"

A market was created by presenting shows on a regular basis. Says Foley: "We brought works by Dubuffet and Chagall and Miro and things that were not accessible in the Ohio arena."

Glimcher also made collecting such works as pain-free as possible, with reasonable prices and creative payment plans.

Noted developer and art collector Ron Pizzuti made his initial purchase-Karel Appel's "Circus People"-by paying for the $900 print over time. "I put $100 down, paid $100 a month, and that was the deal that she made," says Pizzuti, the founder of the Pizzuti Collection Muesum. "When it got paid down 50 percent, I would have the privilege of buying something else from her."

Layaway was encouraged, Foley says. "It was the only way to get people to look at it and warm up to it."

Bishop has heard of collectors who would walk into Pace/Columbus and like a piece, but hesitate to make a purchase. "They would leave, and she would show up with it," he says.

Glimcher's methods may have been homespun, but her contacts were cutting-edge. In 1978, the CMA presented an exhibit of works by Andy Warhol, and Glimcher cajoled the artist to make a trek to Columbus. "He came out from New York with his entourage, at Eva's request, and held a press conference," Bishop says. "[He] really made something out of the show that wouldn't have happened without his fame and his personality."

When Glimcher died in 1982, Pace/Columbus met its end. (Pace still has locations in New York, London, Beijing, Menlo Park and Hong Kong.)"She was too unique," Bishop says. "There wasn't anybody who could carry on the work in Columbus."

But the important work had been done: Glimcher laid the foundation for a more welcoming contemporary art scene.

"I think she created an awareness and a sophistication that had never been in Columbus," says Hammond Harkins Galleries owner Marlana Hammond Keynes, who first encountered Pace/Columbus in the late 1960s, about a decade before opening her own gallery.

And what would Glimcher make of the changes that have occurred in her adopted home?

"She would be amazed," Keynes says. "With what's going on here with the Wexner and the Pizzuti and the museum and Urban (Arts) Space. It's an art city now. It really is."

Keeping Pace: Eva Glimcher and Pace/Columbus runs through Jan. 17 at the Columbus Museum of Art.