Colin de Land (1955-2003) was a gallery owner whose New York City spaces challenged traditional modes of exhibition and art dealing.
Raised in Union City, New Jersey, de Land came to the art world from an academic background, having studied philosophy and linguistics at New York University. In 1984, de Land opened Vox Populi, a largely unrenovated space in the East Village, at 511 East 6th Street. The gallery showed experimental work by emerging artists, including the enigmatic John Dogg, thought to be a collaboration between de Land and artist Richard Prince.
In 1986, De Land opened his longest standing gallery, American Fine Arts, Co. (AFA), in the same space previously occupied by Vox Populi. The gallery moved to SoHo in 1988, first to 40 Wooster Street then to 22 Wooster Street in 1993. During the late 1990s, as most SoHo galleries moved to Chelsea, AFA remained a mainstay of the downtown arts scene. De Land's wife, Pat Hearn, whom he married in 1999 after over a decade together, was also a well known art dealer. Her gallery, Pat Hearn Art Gallery, also moved from the East Village to SoHo, later becoming one of the first to set down roots in Chelsea.
Known for his eccentric fashion and unorthodox business style, de Land cultivated a culture of experimentation within the AFA community. He typically hired young art students or recent graduates, often nurturing their own artistic careers. Along with a group of Cooper Union graduates, many of whom worked at the gallery, he founded the artist collective Art Club 2000. De Land often showed artists working in hybrid media, for example film and photography or music and installation. He was especially interested in ecological and environmental art, as well as work that took as its subject exhibition practice and the act of creating art. He often staged large thematic group shows. Artists who showed at the gallery included Mark Dion, John Waters, Andrea Fraser, Moyra Davey, Dennis Balk, Peter Fend, Tom Burr, James Welling, Mariko Mori, Dan Graham, Jessica Stockholder, Alex Bag, Christian Philipp Muller, and Jack Pierson.
In 1994, de Land and Hearn, along with gallerists Matthew Marks and Paul Morris, established the Gramercy International Contemporary Art Fair. Fashioned after the tradition of inexpensive hotel art fairs, four galleries were invited to exhibit artwork in rooms of the Gramercy Park Hotel, to be sold in a cash and carry model. The fair became an annual event, branching out to other cities, including Miami and Los Angeles, and growing significantly in size in New York. It later became known as The Armory Show.
De Land often carried a point-and-shoot camera and kept several on hand in the gallery. He documented opening receptions, art world social gatherings, concerts, and day-to-day happenings and invited visitors to the gallery and employees to do the same.
After Hearn's death from liver cancer in 2000, de Land became involved with Kembra Pfahler, the performance artist and leader of the rock band The Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black. De Land took over Hearn's Chelsea gallery, operating it as a second location of AFA. Following his own struggle with cancer, de Land passed away in 2003. AFA remained open, closing at the end of 2004 with a tribute group exhibition to de Land.