The milestone for the German Village gallery commemorates two brothers' devotion to timeless art.

Editor's note: To accommodate social distancing, the opening celebration for Keny Galleries’ 40th Anniversary exhibition will be held as an open house on Friday, May 29th from noon to 8 pm. RSVP at 614-464-1228 or rsvp@kenygalleries.com.

In February of 1980, James and Tim Keny found a home for their new art gallery. The fraternal twins decided a 19th-century brick building tucked away in German Village would be the perfect place to showcase their artistic treasures. Plus, if the gallery failed, the building could serve other purposes.

“We thought, ‘Well, the worst that could happen would be, if the business doesn’t work out, we’ll have a place to live,’” says James Keny.

Four decades later, Keny Galleries is not only still in operation at 300 E. Beck St. but has carved out a distinctive niche in the Columbus arts community. While many galleries are focused on the latest contemporary art, the Keny brothers, 64, take the long view, keeping one eye on the present and another on the past.

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During any given year, the gallery might display works by its roster of current artists alongside masters of years gone by, including such iconic figures as Mary Cassatt and Edward Hopper. A 40th-anniversary exhibition—An American Album: 150 Years of Masterworks on Paper: 1870–2020, planned for May 1 to July 1—will highlight the full range of the gallery’s offerings.

“It’s a wonderful community of gallerists here, but much of that is contemporary,” says Nannette Maciejunes, the executive director of the Columbus Museum of Art, which has both acquired works from and made works available to the brothers. “One of the things that distinguishes the Keny Galleries is that they do have that piece that goes back to the early 20th century, even at times into the 19th century,” Maciejunes says.

Two of six children born to Gebhard and Julianne Keny, the twins were raised in a household with art in the air. The renowned Alice Schille, a former CCAD teacher, painted the boys’ maternal grandmother. “We grew up surrounded by some pretty amazing things,” James says.

Deviating from their initial professional paths—James was studying law and Tim was pursuing a career in business—they used family funds to purchase works of art and began to place some major pieces, mostly with art dealers. Assessing the local artistic landscape, the brothers judged there was room for a new gallery. “We only felt there were two significant scholarly galleries in the state, which was pretty amazing to us given the wealth in Ohio,” says Tim Keny.

The gallery, which also functions as a brokerage arranging sales of art between clients and collectors, beat the drum for the works they considered undervalued, including works on paper by past masters. The brothers describe several areas of focus, including not just historic American art but female artists, folk artists and Ohioans past and present; local artists featured in the new exhibition include Schille and George Bellows.

They also praise the advancement of the local visual arts scene, noting the emergence of the Wexner Center and numerous commercial galleries since they opened.

Forty years in, the brothers continue to follow their own muse, as James describes: “It is important to create a niche of expertise and stick with it.”

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