William Biety, a highly regarded gallery director and independent curator who was active in Colorado over the past fifteen years, died September 2 in Trinidad, after a brief illness. He was 68.
In 2002, Biety moved to Denver from Miami, where he had worked in the gallery and art-consulting business for many years. In 2003, he took over as director of the Sandy Carson Gallery, then one of the city’s premier exhibition venues. When Sandy Carson sold her namesake gallery to Bill and Jan van Straaten in 2008, Biety was part of the package and stayed on at what became the Carson/van Straaten and then the van Straaten Gallery, until Bill’s failing health forced the couple to close the gallery in 2012.
In the nearly ten years that he directed Carson and van Straaten, Biety organized a dizzying array of exhibits that either tapped into this state's contemporary-art greats or drew on the art connections he had made in Miami, and before that, New York and Chicago. Biety mounted more than 100 exhibits featuring a cavalcade of Colorado talent, including Floyd Tunson, Jeff Wenzel, Lorelei Schott, Homare Ikeda, Quintin Gonzalez, Lorey Hobbs and dozens more.
Probably his greatest curatorial coup here was organizing two museum-worthy shows of the later works by modern master Jules Olitski, one at the Mizel Center and one at Sandy Carson. Biety had met and become friends with Olitski in the 1980s, and had maintained his relationship with the legendary artist over the intervening decades.
After the closure of van Straaten, Biety put together important shows for other venues as an independent curator. For example, he cherry-picked the enormous Royal Bank of Canada collection for The Human Touch at RedLine in 2012, including works by such international figures as Chuck Close, Kerry James Marshall, Mimo Paladino and Roy Lichtenstein. Biety said he chose the artists in order to represent “different cultural views and ethnicities, but with the common denominator of the figure linking them."
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As revealed by The Human Touch, Biety was long a champion of diversity in art, so a;though he seemed an unlikely pick at first, it ultimately made sense that he was tagged to curate The Transit of Venus, also presented at RedLine. The 2014 blockbuster was a forty-year retrospective of Front Range Women in the Visual Arts, a local advocacy group established in the 1970s to combat discrimination against women artists. Sally Elliott and Margaretta Gilboy, two of the founders, asked Biety to do the job. "I was surprised that they asked me," he said, "and so I said to them, 'Are you sure? Wouldn't it be better to have a woman do this?' But surprisingly, my being a man wasn't an issue with them at all." That’s because Biety had earned a solid professional reputation with his fair treatment of everyone, as well as his exquisite taste, an unspoken but essential attribute for a curator.
Biety’s association with RedLine was more than professional; it was highly personal, which is why he held his wedding to longtime companion John Pocernich there in 2013, before same-sex marriage was legal in Colorado. After the ceremony, Biety addressed the attendees. “Each of you, simply by being here, have made a political statement in support of us," he said, "and we want to thank you for that.”
A little over a year ago, Biety moved to Trinidad, though he continued to attend art events here in Denver. In Trinidad, he became involved with Artocade, the annual art-car event. This year’s Artocade gala included a memorial display dedicated to Biety, to acknowledge all he had done to promote the festivities in the short time that he’d been involved. Biety’s independent curating was a component of his art-and-design consulting business, Space Editor; he worked with private clients across the country until he was diagnosed with cancer this summer.
To honor Biety's memory and the contributions he made to the art scene, RedLine is hosting a celebration of his life at 6 p.m. Sunday, September 23. It will surely be bittersweet to have his spirit back at RedLine this one last time. The gathering is open to the public; RedLine is located at 2350 Arapahoe Street.