At Gordon Locksley’s Minneapolis mansion, Andy Warhol partied with his “superstar” pals Viva and Paul Morrissey, artist Christo wrapped nude women in clear plastic and tied them up as library sculptures, and top-tier American art hung on the walls, including pieces by Ellsworth Kelly, Frank Stella, Ernest Trova and Dan Flavin.
Locksley, 83, a former Minneapolis art dealer, hairstylist and proprietor of one of the city’s first openly gay bars, died Feb. 1 in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., after a brief illness.
His death was announced by Wayne Boeck, his partner since 1998 who recently became his spouse. The couple were wed “when same-sex marriages became legal in the United States,” Boeck wrote in an e-mail, adding that Locksley “strongly believed in equal rights for everyone.”
Locksley and his former partner, George Shea, have loaned and given important art to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (MIA), but they are also fondly remembered in the Twin Cities for the extravagant parties they threw at their mansion on Mount Curve Avenue in the 1960s and ’70s. Locksley was the more outspoken and flamboyant of the duo.
The shindigs attracted socialites, hippies, business executives, professors, politicians, actors and art collectors.
“He was huge in this community for generating excitement about contemporary art,” said Liz Armstrong, curator of contemporary art at the MIA and a longtime friend. “He had such enthusiasm for life and living big, and that’s always captivating to people, but it’s also fascinating how open he was about being gay at a time when this community wasn’t so comfortable with it.”
Locksley’s chic Red Carpet hair salon on Nicollet Avenue was already thriving when he and some partners leased a 7th Street bar and on Dec. 31, 1965, transformed it into Sutton Place, a gay bar papered with old movie posters “with campy titles like ‘I Married a Queen’ and ‘Girls on Probation,’ ” reported the Minneapolis Tribune.
“Nothing pretentious,” Locksley said then. “It’s just a small, gay, side-street bar like you find in most of the big cities.”
Controversy ensued. An alderman demanded police surveillance. In May, men were found dancing with men, an underage (19-year-old) woman was arrested for drinking a beer and “evidence” was found of a beer lottery. In June 1966, the liquor license was suspended.
Locksley was born in Chicago on Aug. 27, 1930. He moved to Minneapolis in his early 20s and in 1954 met Shea, an assistant professor of Japanese language and literature at the University of Minnesota. They started the Red Carpet beauty salon, where Locksley’s stylish hairdos quickly attracted a posh clientele.
When they wanted to expand the business, Walker Art Center curator Jan van der Marck advised them to look at contemporary art. At first Locksley sold posters at the hair salon and added original paintings in 1963, starting with shows by British artist Leonard Baskin and Colombian-born Guillermo Silva. By 1966 he was selling New York hotshots Christo, Warhol, Ernest Trova, Roy Lichtenstein, Tom Wesselman and others, among the wigs and hair dryers.
Later Locksley and Shea ran a private art business, the Locksley Shea Gallery, in the Mount Curve mansion they shared. They sold the mansion and moved to Europe in 1974 after falling in love with Rome while on vacation. After two years in Rome, they moved to Cannes and later to Paris.. They returned to the United States in the early 1990s and settled in Palm Springs, Calif., where their residence was a set location for the film “Ocean’s Eleven.”
Locksley and Shea continued their business partnership until Locksley’s death and retain joint ownership of their art collection. They remained friends, talking virtually every day by phone, said Shea, who still lives in their Palm Springs house.
At Locksley’s request, there will be no memorial service, but his ashes will be scattered in Palm Springs, Boeck said. The two met there in 1998 and subsequently moved to Fort Lauderdale.
Locksley and Shea were especially fond of the MIA, where loans from their collection enabled the museum to start a contemporary art department five years ago. At one point, the museum had at least 50 of their pieces on loan. All of their art loans were recalled in late October, when Locksley’s health deteriorated.
“Starting a contemporary department here would have been impossible without his support and enthusiasm,” Armstrong said of Locksley. “He was persnickety and loved being provocative, but basically, to know him was to love him.”