Sukanya Rajaratnam, Taste-Making Dealer Behind Groundbreaking Shows at Mnuchin Gallery, to Depart After 15 Years

Sukanya Rajaratnam, a closely watched dealer who has steadily built the markets for artists like Sam Gilliam, David Hammons, and Alma Thomas over the past decade, will depart her role as part of New York’s Mnuchin Gallery after 15 years. Her last day will be January 31.

“I feel incredibly privileged that I’ve allowed my core belief in equity and opportunity to dovetail into the work that I’ve been able to do on such a prestigious platform, thereby enabling it to be seen, validated, and celebrated,” Rajaratnam told ARTnews in an interview. “Fifteen years is a nice round number. I felt it was important to start writing the next chapter of my life, and to do it on my own terms.”

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In a statement, Robert Mnuchin, the gallery’s founder, said, “Sukanya has been an important contributor to the gallery over the years, an effective voice in exposing the gallery to new artists and a great partner to Mike and myself. We wish her much success in her future endeavors.”

Rajaratnam joined Mnuchin in 2008 when it was called L&M Arts, and his business partner at the time was Dominique Lévy. (Mnuchin had founded his gallery in 1992 with James Corcoran as C&M Arts, which lasted until 2005.) In 2013, Rajaratnam was named partner of the newly formed Mnuchin Gallery.

During her tenure, Rajaratnam became known for staging important surveys of major artists who at the time were under-recognized for their contributions but who have since been brought into the canon, in part because of Rajaratnam’s efforts. In doing so, she helped bring those who had long been cast to the margins in.

Those exhibitions include the first New York surveys for Gilliam, Thomas, Ed Clark, Mary Lovelace O’Neal, Betty Blayton, and Lynne Drexler. Another major artist Rajaratnam has worked with is Hammons, to whom Mnuchin first gave a show in 2007. But it was 2016’s “David Hammons: Five Decades,” organized by Rajaratnam, that was key, bringing together major bodies of work from both museums and private collections.  

“I feel like it has an important work and that it has been on the forefront of something structural at this point that should have happened decades ago,” Rajaratnam said. “I’m glad that it’s happening at all.”

Rajaratnam added that though Mnuchin was not the first gallery to support up these artists—many others “have advocated for these artists and stood by them through thick and thin,” she said—it was Mnuchin’s space that could put the global spotlight on these artists.

“I knew that our shows would be game changers—and they were,” Rajaratnam said. “I knew that we could make all the difference to these artists, their markets, and their recognition. It was sort of trial by fire, but then became something that we could do over and over again. It wasn’t a flash in the pan because then subsequently their representation was being taken over by other blue-chip galleries, and our show basically cemented that place. That was an important contribution we were making.”

Rajaratnam said that after she takes some time off to recharge, she will focus on philanthropic pursuits. The first of these is to set up a scholarship fund for women from Sri Lanka to attend the University of Cambridge in England.

“That’s how I got my start—my entire trajectory was changed as a result of it,” she said.
“I would have been living a parallel life if I hadn’t done that. I want to make that available to other women who might not have the cultural liberty or economic liberty to pursue that kind of education.”

She said she also plans to work with arts institutions “to make sure that these changes are happening on structural and institutional level. I want to do that in a way that’s meaningful.”

She added, “I want my life at this stage to reflect the work that I’ve done.”


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