5 questions (and then some) with Susanne Vielmetter

I've been having such an incredible time sitting down with some of my favorite people in the arts for Yale University Radio.  I learned so much from this interview with Susanne Vielmetter-- ideas on how to shift gender and race disparity in the field, about the art market, about the stresses of gallery life and, the number one factor that she believes is the key to an artists success.  There are so many quotable moments. Click on the link or browse the transcribed text below. Some of my favorite quotes are towards the bottom and in bold.

Big thanks to Susanne for taking the time to chat with me and to Brainard Carey for the opportunity to host the program.

Susanne Vielmetter was born in Cologne, Germany and moved to Los Angeles in 1990. She founded her gallery, Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects, in 2000 to show artists of diverse backgrounds with a focus on idea-based work. From the beginning, the gallery’s program aimed to represent an equal number of male and female artists.

Over the years, the gallery relocated to progressively larger spaces, arriving in its current space at 6006 Washington Boulevard in Culver City in 2010. The gallery featured the first west coast solo exhibitions of artists such as Edgar Arceneaux, Rodney McMillian, Mark Bradford, Jutta Koether, Wangechi Mutu, Mickalene Thomas, Amy Sillman, Ruben Ochoa, and Sadie Benning

This coming year, the gallery will present solo exhibition by William Pope L. and by Mary Kelly. Artists of the gallery are regularly included in national and international Biennials, such as Charles Gaines and Wangechi Mutu in the 2015 Venice Biennale, My Barbarian, Karl Haendel, Shana Lutker and Dave McKenzie in the 2014 Whitney Biennial; and Amy Sillman. Nicole Eisenman and Sadie Benning in the 2013 Carnegie International.

The gallery has been instrumental in developing the careers of Nicole Eisenman, Charles Gaines, Wangechi Mutu, Karl Haendel, Rodney McMillian, Monique Van Genderen and Andrea Bowers to their current level of international importance.


Interviewed by Angela Fraleigh

>> AF:  I’m here today talking with Susanne Vielmetter, gallerist and owner of Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects. Thank you for being with us today.

>>  SV:  Thank you for having me.

>> AF:  So I guess I wanted to just start by asking you a little bit about your personal path, how you came to the art world.  Did you want to be an artist as a kid?  Were your parents involved in the arts?  How did you get interested in this work? 

>> SV:  I have always been interested in art pretty much as long as I can remember, from, you know, doodling on paper when I was very little.  There were two interests in my life actually.  One was art, visual art, and the other one was language.  So—and it took me a long time to find a profession where I could—where I could express the love for 2 both.

So when I went to college I studied art and German language and literature, but I didn’t have—I didn’t have a profession in mind where those two things could kind of be possibly useful.  So kind of directing my interest towards the gallery world or gallery work, that only happened kind of more by accident.  When we came to Los Angeles, my husband and I, I was trying to figure out what to do and where to go, and I did an internship, and it was in a contemporary art gallery.  And I knew within a week, wow.

>> AF:  Oh, really?  What gallery was that, do you mind me asking?

>>  SV:  It was a very local gallery in Los Angeles.  It was called New Space.  And I ended up working there for seven years.

>> AF:  So I imagine you changed from intern to something else.

>> SV:  Yes, the director.

>> AF:  All the way up to director?

>>  SV:  Yes.

>> AF:  In seven years.

>> SV:  Yeah.  Well, sooner, you know.  I was only an intern for I think three months.

>> AF:  Okay.  And they realized you were valuable to them in many other ways? 

>> SV:  Yeah.  Yeah.

>> AF:  So what was it about that job that you just knew that this is maybe a path for you?

>> SV:  Well, the amazing thing about it was that I was surrounded by art all day long.  Then I had a chance to talk to the artists and kind of learn about the—how the art works came about.  But then the more important—or the more important requirement was to translate this visual event into words, you know, to kind of mediate the visual experience to the curator or to the collector or to the critic.  And, you know, in the beginning that was very simple, you answered questions, and then more and more I found that—I truly found that I kind of found my calling, that I was helpful in, you know, sometimes there is a viewer comes in the gallery and there might be resistance.  Or there might be non-understanding.  Or there might be, well, you know, I don’t know this, I have never seen something like this, and therefore I do not want to know more. Or this is intimidating, or this I don’t like, or it offends me.  And so I saw that—I found it very satisfying that you could start a conversation in a context like this, and you could actually open doors that maybe before the conversation were closed.

>> AF:  It’s interesting because you talked about languages from the very beginning.  And you in this context you served almost like a translator to a certain extent. You’re educating.

>>  SV:  Exactly.

>> AF:  Yeah, interesting.

>> SV:  And that’s our—not that I would say that everything that’s happening in an artwork can be translated and remains a visual event, but sometimes language can help at least providing that first anxiety—you know, taking away that first anxiety, or whatever barriers there might be to ease into this kind of enjoying this visual experience.

Sometimes it’s just providing background information.

And very often what I learned over the years, as I was dealing more, you know, with the viewer and that experience of taking in this visual information, it became more and more important to me what the social context was around the making of the work, around the maker of the work, or how it was being perceived at different times in different contexts.  There’s a whole social, very complex social reality around what happens when a viewer perceives a work of art, and that became more and more interesting to me over the years.

>> AF:  I want to circle back around to how you went from working at a gallery to owning your own gallery.  But I do want to kind of expand on this idea a little bit more about sometimes it’s just fleshing out that background narrative or the kind of contextual narrative for the artist—what that work is coming out of, and you’re explaining that for a viewer.  Do you think that that’s one of their most intriguing aspects—what they come to the work wondering about the most, or that’s something you feel is part of your vision and for your program? 

>> SV:  Well, I feel like I’m working for my artist.  So the first objective is to make—to make this interaction between the viewer and the artwork as easy or as rich an experience as possible.  So what I do I see strictly as a service that I provide to my artists.  And in a conversation, I try to feel what is most helpful, what information is most helpful.

Some viewers might not want to know what the artist meant by doing this.  Or they might not want to know who the artist even is.  Some other people might find this incredibly interesting.  And, you know, there’s a—you know, a person might come to

the gallery and they are looking for this uplifting painting that they want to hang in their living room and they want to look every day at.  And that’s a different—that requires a different conversation than let’s say if a curator comes in and wants to exam the political meaning of a certain artist’s work within a certain community or at a certain moment in time.  So these people require different conversations.  And so I feel like my role is to provide them with whatever information it is that they need.

>> AF:  Right.

>> SV:  So, for instance, if a collector wants to—looks for a red painting over like their couch, they might not be interested in, you know, knowing the entire context, political context, of this particular piece.

>> AF:  Right.  Right.  And how do you determine what—because oftentimes I imagine people don’t even know why they want something or what they want.  So how do you—I imagine there’s a series of probing questions or, you know—or maybe even just intuition that is part of this whole dance that happens between, gallerist and collector.

>> SV:  Yeah.

>> AF:  Or curator or—

>> SV:  The more you have these conversations, the more experience you get with it, and the more you’ll find out where people—what angle they are coming from.  I feel, you know, it’s a—listening skills are good skills to have in that context.  So it’s good to listen and find out where somebody is coming from.  But then of course you have it in your power to also shape the conversation or maybe point out certain things.  In general I am trying to be as respectful as I can towards whatever motive somebody has.  Sometimes people want to have the painting that matches their couch.  I never look down on that.  You know, that’s a valid, I feel, aesthetic concern.  Sometimes a collector might want to have that one signature masterwork, often artists that they already have collected in depth, and they want to find that particular important piece.

It’s—you know, people come from very different angles.  And I try not to judge them as to, you know, sometimes there is a tendency to value one over the other.  And I don’t do that.  I don’t want the gallery to be an intimidating or judgmental experience.

>> AF:  Well, that leads me to another question.  How do you bring people in?  How do you attract people in a way that maybe filters out into different audiences?  Or how do you find people to come and support these artists?

>> SV:  I found over the years the really— the fundamentally important strategy or strategies is to be—to provide them with an experience that they like, to make that experience of coming to the gallery a great one, not just, oh, yeah, we went to this gallery and that was kind of nice; to make it truly great.

>> AF:  Um-hmm.

>> SV:  And, well, you do that first, I feel, the most important thing is that you’re respectful, but then that you also give an opportunity to learn something that they might find incredibly interesting.  Or they look at this painting, then they know a few things about how this painting came about, or what this painting means in a certain context.  And all of a sudden that kind of nice experience turns into, wow, this is so amazing, or this is so interesting to know, or—and that affects people emotionally.  And, you know, I feel looking at art is partially also a nonverbal emotional experience.

>> AF:  What role are art fairs playing for you now?  I know that it’s changed the landscape for a lot of galleries, and it becomes—well, I don’t need to tell you.

>> SV:  Yeah.

>> AF:  What’s your view on that?  What are the benefits and what are the challenges for you from your point of view?

>> SV:  Yeah, the art fairs are—well, I opened a gallery in 2000, and they were important then. But they have become even more important since.  When I opened the gallery, I always thought that they were incredibly important.  And I know that at the time I—there were galleries that had different opinions about them, and they didn’t like them, and they didn’t want to do them.  And I can say in retrospect that the galleries who didn’t do them have ceased to have an international presence.

I feel like the art fairs fulfill a very important function to make galleries visible internationally.  And as with any business—unless you sell a product that you can survive off by selling it to a very local community, you know, a baker or—you probably don’t have that problem.  But if you’re reaching for an international audience, which as an important gallery you have to, then you have to do art fairs.

And an art fair is this very concentrated opportunity for the collectors, but also more and more for the curators and for the critics to travel to one place and do basically the concentrated super information overkill, you know, in three or four days.  You can speak to all the divas.  You can see a very good representation of a wide range of artists that you might be interested in.  And you have all of this happening in a very short amount of time in one place.

Particularly for the curators, I feel the curators don’t have much time and usually they don’t have the biggest travel budgets either.  So for a curator to travel to several cities, international cities, to meet with galleries and artists and to see current work, it would require a lot of time and a lot of money.

If they go to an art fair, they can see a lot of information all right there.  And so for us, it’s almost like going to an art fair.  It’s not only for the sales, it’s also to connect with the curators.  If I do a fair in New York, I know that a very good range of very important New York curators will come and see me.  And it might take years for them to see them here at the gallery, because we are in Los Angeles.

>> AF:  Right. As of this recording, the latest Art News, the issue of Art News, is dedicated to strictly female artists. And you have a roster of a lot of very strong female painters and artists.  I guess I wanted to know from your point of view, what’s been your experience in terms of gender as both a gallerist and for your artists?  Do you see disparities and, if so, where and how?  Let’s just talk about that a little bit.

>> SV:  Um-hmm.  It’s a very important issue, and it has been extremely important to me from the moment I opened the gallery. And it’s—sadly, the art world—one always thinks that the art world is this very progressive, evolved place.  And it’s absolutely not.  It’s shocking to me that female galleries—the biggest problem is in the fact that female artists are not represented equally, in equal numbers, as their male counterparts in the galleries.  And that I think is at the very core of the problem.  Most galleries—and the sad part is the larger a gallery very often gets, the more the percentage of female artists that they represent shrinks.

Most galleries have a huge disparity between the female and male artists in their program.  And I think the average—the artist Micol Hebron did the Gallery Tally project.  I think the average is now around percent of female versus male artists that are being represented by galleries.

What that means is—what people I think don’t understand enough is that this has a direct influence and consequence to the art that we see later on in museums.  I mean the representation of female artists in museums is not equal.  I mean it’s far from equal.

And with the current situation of underrepresentation in the market, I’m afraid that this will translate into years and years to come in the museums.  Galleries and museums are connected.  And what I think is very important to understand is that in the United States I feel the government or the society doesn’t have written in their tax code that culture is—culture is being supported by the taxpayer.  The cultural production in this country is I would say to 90 percent supported through the market.  That’s why what galleries do is extremely important.  It is much more important than what galleries do in Europe, because in Europe an artist can exist and can have a studio practice and—supported by government grants.  That’s not the case here.  If an artist wants to be successful, and if they want to support a full-time studio practice, they need to be active in the market.  And galleries are the gate to the market.  So once they show in galleries and once the work enters the market, it is then being perceived by museums.

And so the galleries and the museums in the market, they’re all connected with each other.  So if female galleries [sic] aren’t represented equally in the galleries, they will most likely not be represented equally in the museums.  And I have this conversation a lot.  I have it particularly with my collectors.  And it doesn’t always put me in the easiest position, as you can imagine.

Very often what I hear back from collectors is, well, we are only interested in the quality of the work.  We don’t care whether it’s being made by a man or by a woman artist.  Very often when you address the issue of male versus female artists in the galleries program, the next thing you hear is the quality argument.  And that in itself is of course a huge problem, because inadvertently—inadvertently the sub-message that’s being delivered here is that somehow female artists aren’t as good as the male artists.  And that is something that’s almost impossible—I find it very difficult to root out.  Then, you know, you get:  Why should we care about these issues; shouldn’t we just look at the work?  And this is something that I mentioned earlier.  The longer I have been involved in the art world, the less it’s possible for me to just look at the work.  It’s an old-fashioned and outdated way of looking at aesthetic things.  A work doesn’t just exist in a bubble.

>> AF:  Right.

>> SV:  There’s always a social context around it.  I’m not judgmental.  You know, if somebody wants to ignore the social context and simply enjoy the work, I’m fine with that; that’s cool.  It’s just that doesn’t reflect reality.  And I strongly encourage collectors that come to this gallery to actually pay attention to the social context.  And if you do that, then you—cannot ignore that the art that you see in the museum, that our kids see, that everybody sees at the museum, is the expression of a tiny subgroup of our culture.  Why—I think the question has to stop being—I get a lot of questions in that regard.

Well, you know, you show this, you know, politically diverse program, or racially diverse, or female artists, and I—you know, I don’t mind talking about it.  But I think where we need to graduate to is that the question is actually being posed, why would you show 80 percent works by white male artists?  Or why you would show—why is 90 percent of your stable from one cultural subgroup?  Is there any personal—you know, why do you do that?

That again leads to the even deeper lying question.  There is of course a reason for that.  And the reason is that 90 -- I would say 90 percent of all collectors who can afford to collect art are from a subgroup.  It’s not a diverse group.  The collector community is not a diverse group.  And the percentage of independently wealthy female collectors, or even better, female collectors that are professionally so successful that they have enough disposable income to become a really serious collector, that percentage is still minute.

>> AF:  Okay.  So in your opinion is that where a huge shift could take place?

>> SV:  Yes

>> AF:  If the collector base expanded to include a more diverse group of people?

>> SV:  Yes.  That’s actually the only way I think it can happen.

If—you need—of course, you know, you need a diverse group amongst the critics, amongst the galleries, very important amongst the selection committees for art fairs.  I cannot tell you how many screaming fits I’ve had about that.  Curators, museum directors, we have already I think most museum—the percentage of female museum curators I think is pretty enormous.  The percentage of female museum directors is not so enormous.  Things are changing in that realm.  Until the collector base is truly 50/50 percent male/female, I 17 think we’re going to have to wait for a while for that to happen.  And so, you know, very often that leads to all kinds of problematic questions that, you know, I don’t want to imply that the cultural background or the gender of a collector naturally means that that collector then, you know—you know.

>> AF:  Right, yeah.

>> SV:  But as human beings, we have this tendency that we relate emotionally fastest and best—if we don’t reflect about it actively, we relate to what we know or where we come from.  So my approach on this is there’s nothing wrong with that.  It’s a pleasurable relating to.  This is the basis of my business.  You know, I don’t want to judge about it or, you know, I don’t have a problem with it.  But sometimes I try to explain to a collector, once you raise this kind of emotional relating business that’s going on when you look at this work, once you raise that to a conscious level, you can start reflecting about it, and you can actually start wondering why am I relating to this, but not to this?  And once you’re ready to do that, then you can maybe sometimes also influence this relating, this emotional relating to a visual something that you see.

And I think that’s where people can make more like political decisions, or more kind of thought-through decisions when they collect.

>> AF:  I guess that brings me to the question of pricing work too, that seems like that could be some tricky territory, and what you think creates value in an artwork.  I mean, how do you go about assigning value to something that you might have a value here, the market has had a different one?  Or, you know, the art world has been described—or the art market I should say has been described as the wild west in a lot of ways.  It’s unregulated, the government is not involved, there’s no regulation in terms of equanimity, et cetera, et cetera.  So how do you as a business person in this wild west field, how to you determine that value?

>> SV:  I think what people need to understand about value is other than probably the value of food if you’re on an island and you’re starving, there is no objective—objectiveness to value.  Value is something that we make up.

>> AF:  Right.

>> SV:  As an agreement in a social situation.  There is no inherent value in gold.

>> AF:  Right.

>> SV:  Nor in money, nor in any artwork. It’s usually something that a group—you would hope experts—agree on in a kind of mutual discussion and in the market.

So if you—and the tricky thing about selling art is you have a set of market rules that the art world doesn’t invent, and I think that are just inherent in the market.  And I think it’s naive to think that you could easily change them.  They cannot be changed.  So, for instance, a very simple market rule is if something is very sparse and a lot of people want it, the price goes up.  I have this basic market 101 discussion with all my artists at some point, because sometimes artists are of the opinion if it doesn’t sell, maybe we need to raise the price.  But that would go against this rule that if nobody wants it, then that’s not a good idea to then raise the prices, in most market scenarios.  You raise the prices when the demand goes up, not the other way around. 

>> AF:  Is that then independent of things like having a museum exhibition, or this award, or that fellowship?  Do see those things as separate or do you see them factoring in as well?

>> SV:  Yeah.  No, of course, all of these things factor in.  So what—when you start building the career for an artist, you first want to—you know, you put the show out there, and you see what the response is.  And then you want to increase the prices as the demand increases.  And every time a museum comes in, or you get a good review, or the artist gets a museum show, all of these things will of course accelerate this process and the prices go up.

Very often the way things work now is there is excitement about a lot of artists that are fresh out of school, and the work is still very inexpensive.  There’s a lot of collectors out there who look at it from an investment point of view.  And I think that’s completely legitimate.

And very often things can then happen very fast.  The prices go up very fast, until the next young hot artist comes along. So what I feel artists—is helpful for artists to understand is it hardly ever happens that an artist’s career or the price structure of their work goes up in this very smooth and steady curve, up and up and up.  Most—for most careers, you have maybe a somewhat steep beginning, then it levels out a bit.  Then it goes maybe up.  Maybe, you know, you get another show, you get a great review, it goes up. It may level out.  Maybe you will have a dip for a while.  Then it might go up.  So it’s this kind of curvy thing.  And hopefully in the long run, you would think that this curvy thing has an upward momentum.  But that’s not always happening.

What is changing in comparison to the ‘80s, in the ‘80s all of this was going very slow.  Or even before the ‘80s, all of this was happening relatively slow.  Now because the information is exchanged so fast, people can see an image on Twitter and make the decision to buy it in a fraction of a second.  All of this kind of waviness is like a frantic Twitter, very often.

So in the bigger picture, I think the biggest problem, to tie into your previous question, is that the works by female artists are usually in a lower— on a lower price level than the works by male artists in the biggest picture.

>> AF:  And you’re going back to that saying because there’s less demand?

>> SV:  There’s less demand, and then there’s more often the perception that somehow they’re not as good, or that the career—or that the investment is kind of not as worthy.

And I have to say, you know, sometimes the—particularly artists from the older generation, sometimes they—they have this deep distrust of the whole system, of the market.  They don’t like to kind of see themselves in a position where they want to kind of work with the market.  Sometimes they have a kind of deep resentment against it.  Very often they’ve had years and years where nothing sold, so they’ve come to completely distrust the market.  So of course my goal is to—you know, I want—I want my female artists to be as expensive as, you know, the male artists.  And that’s what I’m pushing for.  And it’s more challenging.

On the other hand, I also feel it’s probably the most under-recognized market yet.  I think there’s a huge potential there.

>> AF:  Opportunity.

>> SV:  And there are people out there who see this and agree with me.

>> AF:  How do you—how do you improve the career for your artists?  How do you best support them?  So obviously you believe in them entirely.

>> SV:  Yes.

>> AF:  And you’re supporting them and wanting them to make the best work they can make, and you’re also trying to get their work, I assume, into museum exhibitions, into the right collections, not just to any collector.

>> SV:  Um-hmm.

>> AF:  What’s your strategy for improving the career arc of these really strong, powerful female artists?  Or all of your artists?  I shouldn’t just single them out.

>> SV:  Yeah.  Well, I have about 50/50 between male and female artists.  I think if I wanted to say like one strategy, then it’s probably the strategy of flexibility and figuring out—because the career is a dynamic thing.  As I pointed out, it’s this kind of wavy, curvy thing.  What would like to do is in the long run provide a financially stable situation for them so that they can focus on their work, and so that the work is really the center of their focus, and they don’t have to constantly worry about the sales and will I be able to pay my studio rent and all of those things; and then beyond that, of course, when they get older, to have wealth, to build wealth.  And that could mean very different things for different artists at different times.  Sometimes when the career hits a plateau, selling to anybody might be the right strategy, because you just need to get sales going.  Sometimes selling might be not the strategy at all.  If we have the feeling that the market has overheated, and there’s too much work out there, maybe now is the time to actually go back and not schedule any shows, go back in the studio and really look and think about what strategic move to do next.

In the bigger picture, you know, we are always interested in having the dialogue with the museums and with the critics.  Sales are important to keep the whole thing going.  But if I can choose, you know, I’m always on the side of the museums and the critics, if it’s possible for the artist to have a sustainable career. Collectors, you know, there are some very, very powerful and very knowledgeable collectors.  And so of course it’s important to place artists with those collections.  But I’m of the opinion like in—the gallery is a business.  What I want my artists to understand is that running their studio is also a business.  And I know, and this is a fact, it would be interesting to do a study about that, to see how the most successful artists today run their gallery. I’d say almost all of them know how to run a small business, especially when you get to the point that you have some sort of production.  You need to have—you need to know how to manage people, you need to be organized, you need to have—know where your money is.  You have to have good basic business skills.  So that’s an important part.

The other important part is to look at everything that happens in your career as an opportunity.  A sold-out show obviously is an opportunity.  Now you have cash.  You can invest into your practice.  You can maybe get a bigger studio, get more help, increase your production.

A show where nothing sells can also be an opportunity.  It just depends on how you look at it.

It can be that opportunity to actually put that body of work aside and wait until that amazing museum show comes along where you can show it and you don’t have to worry, oh, my god, do I have to call twenty collectors and worry about getting my work back.

Or it maybe your retirement insurance.  It may be that body of work that once, you know, you do have the retrospective that is then available, and instead of selling it now for ten thousand dollars each painting, you can sell it then for a million for each painting.

Or a show where you received a harsh review, it might be this opportunity to kind of—for introspection, for reevaluation of what you’re doing.

Usually when artists are very successful, there’s a lot of pressure to continue exactly what you’re doing to get there.  There’s a lot pressure to produce your brand.

I feel with—and this is the advice that I give to all of my artists that I’m showing.  I don’t think anything of brands.  I think a career can only make it in the long run if you are constantly questioning your practice and if you’re open to change and to reinventing yourself and to keep your practice meaningful and interesting.  So if you have a slow point in your career, that’s the time where you actually can take risks and do experiments, and maybe do something that nobody likes but it’s not that big of a deal.  If you do that when you are at the top of your game and you have a waiting list of 200 collectors who all want the same thing, try taking a risk then and deal with the fall-out of that.  If you then decide, oh, I’m going to do something completely different.  I used to be a painter, now I do ceramics.  And all of a sudden you don’t sell anything.  You go from there to 27 there.  It can have the most devastating emotional effects.  So not that I am, you know, dispensing advice all that much.  I mean I talk to my artists if they want.  If they have questions, and they come to me, then I try to have these conversations where we, you know, we look at the career as this dynamic thing and to find strategy how to deal with each situation and see the best in it and kind of use that as an opportunity.

>> AF:  I think you kind of answered it, but that was going to be my next question.  Your most successful artists, what are they doing besides making amazing work?  What are they doing that’s really helping be a business partner to you in some respects, beyond managing their own studio or their own people, the people that are helping them out in the studio?

>> SV:  Yeah.

>> AF:  What are they doing?  Does it have to do with social kind of networking?

>> SV:  Yes.  Yes.  I would say the most crucial, absolutely essential thing is they put their work at the center of their being.  The most successful artists are the ones that are fully invested in their work.  The work is not a means to kind of be popular in the art world or to make money or to feel good about yourself.  The work is the center of your life.  And that’s the most important thing.  And I think that’s—that’s for me the one distinguishing element between somebody who is really—is going to go places with what they do and somebody who might not.

Beyond that, it is good to have social skills and to be out there and networking.  It’s great if you know how to run your best business.  It will have an effect on the degree of your success.  Will it make you a good artist?  No.  And I think an artist who is relevant for our time, it’s wonderful if they have these skills, but it does not—it doesn’t have anything to do with the quality of what they’re having to say.

>> AF:  Or whether they rise to the top?

>> SV:  Whether they rise to the top, it could very much have something to do with it.  Well, that’s me, you know.  I don’t think that all artists who rise to the top are the best artists.

>> AF:  Right.  Of course.

>> SV:  But in—you know, the artists that are the most known and the most successful in this— in this art—in this thing that we call art world, I would say in order to make it to the very top, yeah, you should have good small business skills and you should have—you should be able to build a social network.  It’s very, very helpful.

>> AF:  Yeah.  I wanted to ask you one more question, and then ask you if you have any things that you want to talk about.  But I guess I wanted to briefly talk about the economic downturn in 2008 and how—I don’t really have a sense of the LA, the west coast, gallery situation.  I know that a number of really wonderful galleries in New York had to close up shop as a result.

>> SV:  Yeah.

>> AF:  And even today, hearing some of the costs associated with running a gallery, I spoke with one gallerist who has to sell two hundred thousand dollars worth of art every month just to kind of stay

afloat, which maybe that isn’t phenomenal outrageous numbers to someone who’s been in business, but to me that seems like a lot of pressure.  And I guess I’m curious, how did you survive that kind of bubble burst?  Some people say we’re in a new bubble, and that one is going to burst too.  So what are some strategies, and or how did you kind of maneuver 30 through that?

>> SV:  I can very much relate to that.  I have to sell about $300,000 a month to make it.  And that’s pre my salary. I have almost ten people now full-time.  You know, I pay benefits to them.  And I have, you know, thirty artists, so it becomes a big ship, so to speak.  And for me the only way—I’m not—I don’t have any backing or any other resources that I could fall back on if this doesn’t work.  So, yeah, it’s—yeah, if it goes well, it’s the best thing in your life.  If it doesn’t go well, it turns into—I don’t know if somebody from outside of the business can understand what you go through if it doesn’t go well.  Because it’s not just—I wish it was just me.

>> AF:  Right.

>> SV:  It’s basically this—it’s this, you know, you’re responsible for your employees, you’re responsible for those artists.  And then, you know, they have families.  There’s whole lives that are attached to it.  And so if you have the feeling that you can’t make your monthly sales quota, it’s—I think only probably other gallerists can understand, you know.  But it’s—it’s a lot of stress.

>> AF:  Yeah.

>> SV:  It’s emotional, and it’s—it’s very, very stressful.  So in 2008 -- I have always been—erred on the conservative side, especially since I started the gallery without backers.  I built it from very, very modest, very small beginnings.  So in the beginning I couldn’t afford an employee, so I did everything, you know.  I’m pretty good with a hammer.  I answered the phone and the e-mails.  I went to the copy store every morning to make my copies because I couldn’t afford a copier.  And then the good thing about that is just that you grow it kind of organically, you know.  So it has—my business has a pretty solid foundation.  But, I mean, if I didn’t sell for probably—if I didn’t have sales for six months, that would be it.  So it is kind of a balancing act.  And in 2008, the recession hit LA later than it did in New York.  I remember, we were all—I was like in excellent spirits.  I was like, oh, yeah, that’s all going to happen in New York, and New York galleries with their outsized spaces, kind serves them right.  I was not that worried.  And then it hit LA in the fall of 2008.

And what I did is in early 2009, at the time I was in a space that was about a quarter of the size of this one, and I had six more years on that lease, locked in, with another option, so there was no need for me to do anything, especially no need to expand.  But in early 2009, opportunities, real estate opportunities, were coming up.  So I—you know, I had a little bit of savings.  So I thought if I ever want to have the space that I really want, that I always wanted, and would have—in 2008 I wouldn’t have had a bloody chance to get a lease like this.  So in early 2009 I signed the lease for this space.  And I like crazily expanded.  And the thing is when you don’t have to do anything, you know, you become a good negotiator, because, you know, I could—every sane person told me, you should not expand, you should keep what you have, be a reasonable girl, and stay where you are.  But then I looked at the space.  This was a—

>> AF:  And you just knew you had to do this?

>> SV:  I thought once the economy recovers, it will be impossible for me to compete with the next tier of galleries.  I looked around and, boy, it was like how am I going to even be visible in the shadow of this?

You know, so, yeah, so that’s what I did.  But it comes at a price.  You know, I don’t think I had a really good night’s sleep for a year after I did that.  But then, you know, it always in the end—

>> AF:  With greater risks come greater rewards.

>> SV:  Yes.  I can say in retrospect it was the absolute right thing to do.  It worked out.  Of course, if I had failed I would say in retrospect it was the absolute wrong thing to do.  But it worked out in this case.

>> AF:  Well, thank you so much.  It’s been so wonderful speaking with you.

>> SV:  All right.  You’re welcome.

>> BC:  You’re listening to Yale radio, WYBC.

This is Brainard Carey for The Art World Demystified

To hear more great interviews on Yale University Radio click here:

5 questions (and then some) with Carla Camacho for Yale University Radio

I recently sat down with Carla Camacho, partner at Lehman Maupin,  to discuss her path through the art market, as well as some hot topics like art flipping and art fairs. 

Listen Here:

Interview with Carla Camacho


Carla Camacho is a Partner at Lehmann Maupin Gallery, where she has worked for nine years of her now almost twenty-year gallery career. Prior to making Partner, Camacho acted as director of sales at the gallery for seven years. Since her arrival, she has helped guide the team through the gallery’s expansion to the Lower East Side in 2007 and in Hong Kong in 2013. She began her career at the landmark Leo Castelli Graphics, a gallery devoted to prints and photographs, before moving on to work for New York-based dealers, Cheim & Read. A required visual arts class during her undergraduate degree at Marymount Manhattan College sparked her initial interest in contemporary art. Carla Camacho graduated from the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York, with a Masters degree in art history and a focus in conservation.

>> AF:  This is Angela Fraleigh for The Art World Demystified.  Today we're talking with Carla Camacho about her role as partner and director of sales at Lehmann Maupin Gallery.  Thank you for being with us today.

>> CC:  Thank you, Angie.  It's my pleasure.

>> AF:  I guess what I'd like to do is begin with your beginnings.  So what was it that first interested you in working in the arts?  How did you first become interested in this field?

>> CC:  For me it started in undergraduate school.  I went to school here in the city, Marymount Manhattan College.  And I had really no previous exposure to contemporary art.  But as part of a requirement, I took a visual arts class, and we went around to the galleries.  And I was just really blown away by what I saw, in particular installation art I remember.  And one of the ‑‑ the artists that I really remembered that struck me was xxx Ahmet Mesajay who had a show at the xxx Caposium Gallery, and I just thought that this was a world that I wanted to be a part of.  So I started interning.  And I interned at Leo Costelli Graphics, and at White Columns.  And from there I started working in galleries.  I worked at Cheim and Read, Paul Morris Gallery, and ultimately was here at Lehmann Maupin Gallery.

>> AF:  Wow, great.  And so how many years between that time ‑‑ or like working in all those galleries, if you don't mind me asking?

>>  CC:  Well, I started as an intern in 1996. So you do the math.

>> AF:  Great.

>> CC:  Aging myself here.

>> AF:  And so where did you say you went to undergrad?

>> CC:  Marymount Manhattan College.

>> AF:  Okay.  And was your art major in art? art history?

>> CC:  So I switched.  It was International Relations to begin with, and then I switched to Art History.  And then I took a year‑and‑a‑half off before I went to grad school at Pratt and got a Master of Science in Art History there.

>> AF:  Okay.  And what was your focus in art history?

>> CC:  Well, at that point I really focused on the contemporary art, and I wrote my thesis on Ed Ruscha.

>> AF:  Oh, interesting.  So what was it about his work that drew you?

>> CC:  I was really interested in his artist books.

>> AF:  Okay.

>> CC:  And, you know, for me the thing that I've always found most interesting in art are, you know, work that is beyond the canvas and beyond, you know, a sculpture that goes on the table, because that's what I grew up thinking what art was.  So I was, really early on, fascinated by work that just went beyond those borders.

>> AF:  Um‑hmm.  Have you spent any time in LA?

>> CC:  I have.  I have ‑‑ I love Los Angeles.  And if I wasn't tied to New York, I would love to live there.

>> AF:  Yeah.  Where did you grow up? 

>> CC:  I grew up on Long Island.  So I've always been a New Yorker.

>> AF:  Um‑hmm.  And, let's see, so you began working at Lehmann Maupin when?

>> CC:  In 2006.

>> AF:  What was your role when you first started working here?

>> CC:  So my role was a sales associate.  And at that time the gallery was a much smaller operation.  We had one location on West 26th Street.  And the team was definitely growing.  The gallery was growing.  So I came in as a sales associate.  And from there the sales teams ‑‑ the sales team started to grow.  After a couple of years I became a director, and then a partner in 2013.  Now the sales team is eleven people.

>> AF:  Oh, my goodness.  So I guess I am wondering if you can kind of break down all that you do in your multiple roles now, as both director of sales and a partner in the gallery.

In terms of sales, what's a normal day look like for you?  I guess we can start there.

>> CC:  It's hard to say that any day is normal.  There are a lot of plans that I make in the beginning of the day in terms of people that I'm going to call, collectors, or artists.  And then a lot just kind of happens, especially because we are a public space, and people come in throughout the day.  So, you know, I might have a meeting with a collector that was planned, or somebody might just show up and, you know.  So there are always things that are planned, like a viewing that you have a week or two in advance knowing that somebody is going to come in to look at a particular work, or somebody who will just drop in and ask to see something.  So there's a lot of, you know, thinking on your toes and improvising.

>> AF:  Right.  Is there a lot of outreach in your part of the work?  I mean are you going out and finding people who might be a good match for your particular artists? How does that happen?  Or being so established, are people mainly kind of just coming to you?

>> CC:  Well, there's a lot of both that happens.  The gallery is now 19 years old.  So as you can imagine, we have a huge database of collectors that we are constantly reaching out to thinking about who would be the right match for a particular artwork.  And then we are constantly meeting new people, mainly at art fairs.  So that Rolodex is constantly growing.  So there's that ‑‑ there's definitely the day where somebody calls us and is very specific in what they're looking for.  But on our end, we're always trying to do a better job in placing work with collectors that we know whether they might have expressed interest, you know, last week, a month ago, or two years ago, and having that information stored so that we know the right people to [inaudible].

>> AF:  Right.  Right.  And I imagine there's waiting lists for a number of your artists' work, and so kind of figuring out where that work would best be suited is always an issue as well, right?

>> CC:  It is.  I mean it's a great problem to have.  And, you know, we always want to do a good job for the artist and make sure that the work is going to the right place.  And that ‑‑ that ‑‑ the definition of what the right place is is constantly changing as well.  There are more and more museums, more and more collectors who are affiliated with the museums.  And even just, you know, the typical person who maybe doesn't have an affiliation, but is really acquiring an interesting collection.

>> AF:  As you know, there's a lot of conversation around the collector who isn't necessarily attached intellectually or emotionally or psychologically to the work but is using it just as an investment or kind of expanding a portfolio of financial investments, and how damaging that might be for artists in the long run.  And I wonder how ‑‑ how galleries kind of maneuver or navigate those waters?

>> CC:  Well, it can be tricky.  And the part that can be tricky about it is that there are even within that realm of let's say buying for investment, there are people who are maybe buying for short term investment, and that's really what's been very dangerous in the art market these days.  But ultimately we have to accept that art has become somewhat of a commodity.  And if, you know, somebody is buying and they hold it for several years and then they eventually sell it in the right way, I really can't condone that type of behavior, because it is part of what the art world is today.  And it's so big, and so global, that that is really something that is more difficult to control, and not necessarily a bad thing, in my opinion.  But what is really dangerous are the people who are buying works and then flipping them kind of the next day.

>> AF:  Right.  Yeah.

>> CC:  That is ‑‑ it's really difficult to navigate.  I think most galleries, ours included, try to keep lists of these people who are kind of known to do things like that.  And I often share them with colleagues from other galleries, you know, just be careful about so‑and‑so.

>> AF:  Oh, that's great.

>> CC:  Yes, well, because a lot of ‑‑ it's tricky.  Some of these people seem like they could be great collectors, and then you find out later that they're not.  Even ‑‑ even actually people who are museum trustees are engaging in this type of behavior.  So not even that kind of affiliation means what it used to.

>> AF:  Oh, wow. So, that's a really great strategy.  And one way to protect artists is kind of sharing that information.  Are there any other ways that you've already ‑‑ that the gallery has in place that ‑‑ to help kind of ‑‑ like if something does come up for auction, does the gallery have a strategy in place for how they monitor or help collectors ‑‑ I guess you probably point them towards particular ‑‑ 

>> CC:  We do.  We do.  We are watching the auctions very closely.  And we do a lot of outreach to our collectors, because not all collectors watch the auctions.  So sometimes it's a great opportunity for someone who maybe was looking for an artist's work that we don't have, and so we always try to alert them to those opportunities.

>> AF:  That's great.  That's wonderful.  You mentioned art fairs a little while ago.  And I think a lot of artists have a love/hate relationship with the idea of art fairs.  And I know a lot of galleries do too, because it's really changed the landscape entirely for ‑‑ obviously there are some real benefits.  You can see a lot of art in one place.  But it almost takes ‑‑ it's almost like the equivalent of the ‑‑ you know, lost album syndrome in music, where you can kind of just handpick sables.  It's similar in ‑‑ with art where you don't see the exhibition necessarily anymore, you just see individual pieces at these art fairs.

What's your relationship with art galleries, and what are your feelings on ‑‑ I'm sorry, on art fairs?

>> CC:  Well, I agree.  It is a love/hate relationship.  I tend to love them more.  And I think on the gallery side, you know, it's unfortunate but true that viewership of exhibitions has gone down.  And the reality is that you see a lot of collectors and a lot of people that you know that you don't get to see on a regular basis at an art fair.  So for me that's always a great, you know, reason to be there.  And, you know, not just the business side of it, but just really connecting with a lot of people that you don't see, and showing them the new art from your artists is always a great thing, you know, for me.

The downside, and I think something that we really need to work on I think as a community is getting people to galleries more.  And you're right, it's ‑‑ it's ‑‑ a gallery, you know, to see a solo show of an artist is where you really see the context of that artist's work.  And galleries are still working as hard as ever to make good gallery shows.  And the artists obviously are making the work for these shows.  So, you know, I really wish that there was something that we could do to change that.  But I'm hearing more and more from collectors that they just don't go around to see shows as much.

>> AF:  Right.

>> CC:  So that's really what's changed.  But I think that in a way it's kind of not just about the art world.  It's really about our society in general.  Even, you know, if you can relate it to shopping and how much, you know, shopping is done online now.  And, you know, people don't go to stores and just find things.  It's really just about art ‑‑ consumer habits now.

>> AF:  Yeah, right.  So in some ways the brick and mortar isn't necessarily as ‑‑ well, vital, I guess, a player in that.

But ‑‑ but your gallery is expanding into several different versions of its brick and mortar.  Could you talk a little bit about that?

>> CC:  Sure.  So we have three spaces, two in New York, one here in Chelsea and one on the Lower East Side.  And in 2013 we opened a space in Hong Kong.  And for us it's really about the artist, because the artists are really at the core of everything that we do at the gallery.  And the artists are still making shows, still making works that deserve to have the proper space to be exhibited.  And each of our spaces has something unique about it.  Our Chelsea space is a very typical white box space, and our Lower East Side gallery has a much warmer feeling and a double height exhibition space with skylights.  And that offers a different challenge to artists that they really enjoy working with.  And then our Hong Kong space is really about bringing our program to Asia. 

>> AF:  And so with this many spaces now to exhibit in, are you adding a number of artists to your roster?  How are you filling those spaces?

>> CC:  Great question.  Yes, we are adding artists to our roster.  In the last year we've added a couple of artists that we're, you know, very excited about.  Some have had exhibitions already and some have not.  Last year we showed Kader Attia, who is a French Algerian artist.  And this year we'll have a show with Patrick Van Caeckenbergh, who is a Belgian artist.  And we just added Nicholas Hlobo, who is a South African artist.  And he'll have his first show next year.

>> AF:  Great.  How do these artists get on your radar?  Where do you find them?

>> CC:  Really, just by seeing art in ‑‑ all around the world.  We're constantly traveling.  The owners of the gallery, David Maupin and Rochelle Lehmann, are constantly going to biennials, and visiting studios, you know, really ears to the ground, getting referrals and recommendations of interesting artists, often from other artists.  And, you know, it's really, you know, when you're on these trips and seeing as much as you can where you identify someone who you really feel like has a connection to the program.

>> AF:  Um‑hmm.  So these are already established artists.  It's rare that you would take in someone who is an emerging artist; is that correct?

>> CC:  Generally, yes.  But we do look at emerging artists as well.  And sometimes that ‑‑ that happens very, very easily, where, you know, you see someone who is young and doing something that we feel like it's ‑‑ is really interesting and fresh.

>> AF:  Um‑hmm.  What's coming up this summer, exhibition‑wise?

>> CC:  Well, our next shows are Tony Oursler in our Lower East Side gallery, and Mary Corse in the Chelsea gallery.  And Tony is an artist that we've had a long relationship with.  And his multimedia work is constantly evolving and changing with ‑‑ with media itself.

>> AF:  Um‑hmm.

>> CC:  And Mary Corse is an artist based in Southern California dealing with light and space.  And she's an older generation artist that we have come to love and was highlighted in the Pacific Standard Exhibitions, and we feel like she's having a really great moment.

>> AF:  Great.  Just a couple more questions.  I know that Lower East Side space, what ‑‑ what's its history?  It was something else.  It has like a real beautiful detail ‑‑

>> CC:  Yeah.  Well, previously it was a glass factory.

>> AF:  Oh, okay.

>> CC:  So there are even these old kind of tracks that run along the ceiling that used to transport large panes of glass out the door.  And it really then was kind of an empty space for a while.  And I think there were some pop‑up exhibitions that happened there.  Like I think FAIL! had an exhibition there.  And then we took it over in 2007.

>> AF:  Oh, wow, okay.  [Inaudible].

>> CC:  Um‑hmm.

>> AF:  Can you talk a little bit about the vision or mission of Lehmann Maupin?  You know, like what are some of the underlying values that kind of drive the program?

>> CC:  Um‑hmm.  So Lehmann Maupin I think is really attracted to artists who are using a universal language to discuss topics like gender, politics, identity, religion, class.  And a lot of our artists come from all over the world, really every ‑‑ I think every region of the world is represented in the gallery.  But what we find very interesting about these artists is that they are making work that is really universal, that doesn't necessarily tie them to being South African, or Brazilian, but bringing a language together that really everybody can ‑‑ can identify with.

>> AF:  Um‑hmm.  And I know that we're meandering here a little bit through a labyrinth of questions here, but what are some of the best ways you've seen artists promoting themselves?  So I know that you're finding artists through all of your travels and through, you know, these art fairs and biennials, et cetera, but, you know, we're speaking to an audience of makers for the most part.  What do you think are some successful models for artists to follow?

>> CC:  Well, it's hard to identify a single model that works for everyone, but what I find that ‑‑ that I ‑‑ that I connect with in terms of looking at new art is really artists who have a community, artists who are part of some kind of a community that really support each other and, you know, in some way by word of mouth you get a studio visit, because you're ‑‑ you're artist friend had a studio visit and then recommends you also to see this artist.  So a lot of times I go on studio visits like that where people say, oh, you should look at this artist, or you should look at that artist.  And it's really about this network of connections.  And I think that that's kind of crucial, particularly in today's world where there is so much competition.  And I think that, you know, starting at a place like Yale, where you have this community of your fellow students, and then once you graduate from there kind of keeping some kind of a network together, I think is really important.

>> AF:  That's great.  I mean, it's the old cliché, but it's absolutely true, [inaudible].  Not only does it further your career, but just in terms of making the work better and ‑‑

>> CC:  Getting feedback.  I would just imagine it would be really hard to have that kind of lonely artist making work somewhere in the middle of nowhere.  Or not even that they are in the middle of nowhere, but with no connection I think that you really need to ‑‑ to work hard at keeping those connections.

>> AF:  Yeah, absolutely.  I wonder if you could offer any advice as to how those artists might make connections with curators or gallerists in a way that seems less ‑‑ I don't know, that seems in keeping with the professional approach for you?

>> CC:  Um‑hmm.

>> AF:  I mean other than the word of mouth through that community, is there anything that you could recommend for our listeners?

>> CC:  Well, that is a little bit more difficult for me to answer, because I ‑‑ you know, I'm not a curator, so I don't know what methods curators use to go on studio visits.  But I ‑‑ I find that, you know, just asking for studio visits, you get.  It's like if you don't ask, you don't get.  So even if you don't have a connection, you know, I'm sure there are places even like, you know, the typical nonprofits, like a White Columns, where, you know, you make submissions, and you get them to come to your studio, or things like that.  I hope that helps.  But, like I said, I don't have a lot of expertise in the area.

>> AF:  No, I agree.  And I think a lot of artists have actually gotten their start at White Columns.  So it's a perfect example of a nonprofit that helps forward the work of young artists.

Well, thank you so much, Caral Camacho, for talking with me today.  I really appreciate it.

>> CC:  My pleasure.  Thank you. 

5 questions with Ridley Howard

I've been following Ridley Howard's work for a while now and was fortunate enough to meet him in person during his exhibition at Koenig and Clinton, where he generously shared his thoughts  and processes, about his gorgeous paintings, with my Moravian students. You may remember a post about Ridley's  other half, Holly Coulis, a few months back?The  adorable dynamic duo share a studio where all the painting magic happens and how lucky that we get to peek through the window into that world this week. Enjoy!

Where do you live, where is your studio?

I live in Bushwick now, close to Ridgewood. We lived in 'East Williamsburg' at the Montrose stop for over 15 years, but were pushed out of our apartment in October. It's such a common story these days. My studio is in Williamsburg over by the water. Somehow I have managed to hang-on. I've had the space, an old hardware store, since 2001. There are only a few artists left over there, now it's mostly luxury living. My landlord is just a really nice guy, and an artist himself. I think he likes having an artist in the space. The rent has gone up some, but it's still manageable by Brooklyn standards. 


Who makes up your day to day world? friends? partners? pets?kids? 

Well for a long time it was just me and Holly, my wife, who is also a painter. In our old apartment, sadly we weren't allowed pets.. so with the recent move came a kitten at Christmas. Now there are 3 of us, and the cat has quickly become the center of our universe. It's ridiculous. I do see friends pretty often. Usually for a beer, or a game of some sort on tv. But that isn't a daily thing. And I typically go to openings one night a week.. can't handle much more than that. Holly and I also run a small gallery space, 106 Green, with our friend Mitchell Wright. So I see him pretty often, sometimes for gallery things, sometimes for drinks. 


What’s an average studio day like? 

It depends on where I am with my work. When I am really busy or into the paintings, I get in before 9 and stay until late. Now it's a bit more relaxed.. so I arrive before 10 and stay until dinner time. I like to keep office hours, even if I'm not painting constantly. Maybe it's my dad's work ethic... I like to go to the office and put in a solid day's work. Most of the time it's 7 days a week, but I am learning to chill out on the weekends.

In the mornings I listen to talk radio of some kind. Could be NPR, or podcasts, or maybe Howard Stern interviews. I usually do a music break for a few hours mid-day. I typically start with slow and melodic, and then go up-tempo after lunch. Sometimes sports radio, if it isn't too meat-headed. I like Jim Rome depending on my mood.. sort of a cross between Letterman and ESPN.

What are you working on now?

Well, I just finished a couple of shows. One in NY this fall, and I have a small work show up now in Miami at Fredric Snitzer Gallery. I am sort of picking myself up now, and thinking about what is next. With every body of work, or group of paintings, it seems like new problems are presented, new issues to resolve or explore. So that's kind of where I am.. reflecting on those shows. Recently I have been making small gouaches, which is really enjoyable. There is something about the medium that suits my work.. it is so flat and matte. It's both graphic and soft, and I love the range of color. I have a few more extensive 'work on paper' projects that I'm thinking about. 

What do you do when things aren’t going “right” or you’re having a fallow period in making/ thinking?

I do a lot of drawing. Bad drawing. I make drawings all of the time anyway.. but if I am struggling with ideas or hesitating for some reason, I get a roll of cheap paper and do large charcoal drawings. Most of the time they are just cartoons.. very simple, like enlarged sketchbook thumbnails. Just to get something down and to consider images in space. I either come to terms with bad ideas.. or something new will present itself. And most of them get thrown away. I do go through periods of looking.. at films, or paintings, or just mining tumblr for random images. It feels like research, and sometimes leads to a spark of some kind.


How do you sustain your creative life? (how do you pay the bills or what kinds of jobs have you had in the past?)

We've been pretty fortunate to keep a low overhead for years. We were always serious about keeping expenses down, and didn't accumulate extra stuff in our lives. So I've managed to just paint recently, and take some teaching work here and there. Holly teaches part-time in the city. In the early days, I worked for a few artists.. and did typical odd jobs. But it's an interesting question now, as rents and living expenses in Brooklyn continue to skyrocket. I've always thought that the key to being an artist long-term was eliminating unnecessary costs.. but that is becoming impossible to do. 


What advice would you give a young artist just starting out? 

Well, advice.. this changes weekly, but I think now it seems really important to have a position. With your work. And I don't mean a brand, or creative inflexibility. There is just so much art being made and being seen.. Instagram, tumblr, facebook.. it's endless. I think in the blizzard of art, it is important to feel like you are arguing for something, to find a real connection to what you're doing. Even if nobody else recognizes it or cares. Otherwise you just get sucked into the tides of trend chasing. A lot of young artists struggle with that now, I think.

Also be loyal and good to your friends. I think because of corporate and academic models, young artists think they are climbing a career ladder. It's more like being on a raft at sea. Sometimes you're up, sometimes you're down. The same is true for everyone around you. 


website/ gallery where can we see your work next? 

You can see my last new york show on the Koenig and Clinton site, and other recent work on the Andrehn-Schiptjenko website. I did a show with them in Stockholm last year.  I have work up at Frederic Snitzer right now and I am going to be part of a small group show at Alon Segev in Tel Aviv this September.. other than that I am on studio lock-down for a bit. Once again, I feel like I'm at the bottom of the hill looking up. Gotta work through it.


5 questions with Ann Toebbe


One of the best things about this blog, for me, is learning new things about friends I've known for years. Ann and I met in grad school and I've loved her playful narrative abstractions ever since. Looking at her paintings makes me feel like I'm eavesdropping, or reading someone else's mail, while reveling in the quirky, delicious color arrangements. Ann has recently received some well-deserved love from some of our favorite arts writers for her exhibition at Monya Rowe (please see end of post.)  Congrats to Ann and many thanks for sharing with us. 

Where do you live, where is your studio? Who makes up your day-to-day world? friends? partners? pets? kids?

 I live in Hyde Park, a neighborhood on the Southside of Chicago. My studio is in a one-bedroom garden apartment. It’s just two minutes from our home in our condo complex. My day-to-day world is centered on my family. My daughters are 4 and 6 and my stepson is 16. The kids have school and various activities. My husband, Eric, is a lawyer so I do most of the heavy lifting for the household. I’m very involved in my daughters’ schools as a volunteer and a public school activist. We live right on Lake Michigan so we spend our summers swimming. No pets. We had a fish, Heart, for two years but she died. Occasionally I go out with a friend and, as often as possible, to an art event.


What’s an average studio day like? 

My studio workweek and day is very regimented. During the girls’ school year I work Monday -Thursday. Weekdays I wake up at 5:30/45am to run or swim. Between 6:30 and 8:10 I get my daughters ready for school and straighten up the house. I drop them off, pick up my coffee, and arrive in my studio at 9am. I come to the studio very prepared with a packed lunch and I have tea and a dessert on hand so I won’t need to leave during the workday or procrastinate. I listen to University of Chicago’s djs until noon then switch to NPR. I work until 3:10pm then pick up the girls from school. If I’m on a tight deadline I go back to the studio and work when Eric arrives home around 7:30/8pm and stay no later than 11:30. More often I eat a late dinner with Eric, burn out watching a tv series, or catch up on household stuff and emails. I work weekends when necessary and sometimes have to juggle part-time teaching. Eric and I are always negotiating our weekends to make sure I have enough time in the studio.


What are you working on now? (What are you most excited about/ confounded by/ obsessed with?)

Last year I worked on back-to-back solo shows in May ‘14 and January ‘15. So I’m not working much right now. A friend and curator/consultant is starting an online gallery and asked me to make prints from original work. I’m working on finishing several preliminary drawings for paintings to be scanned for prints. I often finish drawings after an exhibition while I decide what’s next. I’m scheduling a show with fort gondo in St. Louis. It isn’t a commercial space so it’s an opportunity to experiment and take some risks. Work larger? Make drawings? Large drawings?

Art-wise I’m confounded about how I want to approach my next few paintings. I always want to be more expressive, looser, faster but I’m not at my best this way. I’ve found ways to work process painting and looser painting into my work with collage and in window scenes. I love Soutine and Bonnard. How could I be little more like Amy Sillman or Dana Schutz?

I’m obsessed with order. I’m always organizing my house, my life, and my paintings. Only my paintings seem to reflect this, the rest is chaos.

What do you do when things aren’t going “right” or you’re having a fallow period in making/ thinking?

Since I have a family there’s less time for things to not go right in my studio. Once I commit to a painting I rarely set it aside. Instead I fight it, coax it, curse it until it’s good. I have so much time outside the studio I tend to work out bad ideas before I have a chance to act on them. All the stress happens when I’m trying to go to sleep, cook dinner, grocery shop. This will change as my life dynamic changes. I look forward to mucking stuff up and having ideas worked out in the studio again.


How do you sustain your creative life? (How do you pay the bills or what kinds of jobs have you had in the past?)

 In my twenties I was a server, art mover, and art preparator. I was always with artists and dated an artist for many years. During this time I didn’t have much money, job security, or health care. Grad school took me out of NYC and I never returned. During grad school I applied for grants and a residency in Berlin. I met my husband at Yale. I moved to Chicago after a year in Berlin and have been here since 2005. I haven’t had a full time job since I lived in New York. I’ve received grants, part-time teach, and sell work. I don’t make a lot of money, but if I was only supporting myself, I would be able to sustain my art career. I would have to live on a tight budget, no frills - yet.  

My husband is a lawyer at a small firm. It was total luck or fate that I met someone who loves art and kids and is willing to be married to an artist and is not an artist! Being an artist is lonely and I only like to mix in any art scene in small doses. My daughters keep me company and give me a purpose. They keep me from myself and in the world. My role as a mother has been integral in sustaining my art career. 

What advice would you give a young artist just starting out?

There’s no recipe for success. If you want to exhibit and be in the art world, pursue every opportunity. Don’t be afraid to ask, to fail or be shot down. Expect it and move on to the next thing. In the beginning make your own opportunities. Write for small publications, curate, and apply to everything. Get up early, exercise, and don’t drink too much! If any of my answers seem easy going or I have it figured out, I don’t. I’m as anxious as ever and that’s what drives me to keep making work.


Monya Rowe Gallery, New York

Steven Zevitas Gallery, Boston

Check out all the amazing press Ann received for her exhibition "Remarried" at Monya Rowe below. The show is up until February 22, 2015. Don't miss it! Ann will have an exhibition in 2015 Miami – not sure which fair yet, stay tuned and in 2016  at fort gondo, in St. Louis.


New York Magazine

New York Magazine

Print Magazine

The Huffington Post

The New York Times



5 questions with Dannielle Tegeder

I love this lady. Dannielle Tegeder is a good friend, and an artist at the Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts, where we both have a studio space. A day in the studio is always made better with a quick break to see what she's up to, sharing a joke or conversing about art over coffee. She is super smart and super fun and her interview is just delightful- just like her. Enjoy.

Who makes up your day to day world?

Other artists, my students, my husband Pablo Helguera, and our kid.

What’s an average studio day like? 

My day begins early at 6:30 getting my daughter ready for Kindergarten. I am usually e­mailing by 7:30 responding to things, and am in the studio by 8:30 or 9:00. I usually work with my studio assistant, and we begin with a list for her to work off of doing administrative tasks, including grants, e­mails, mailing our catalogs, sizing images, setting meeting, etc.

1. Instructions for Utopian Gray World Machine & Copper Inner Structure Ink, dye, pencil, marker, acrylic, gouache on Fabriano Murillo paper, 59 x 82 in. 2014-2011

1. Instructions for Utopian Gray World Machine & Copper Inner Structure Ink, dye, pencil, marker, acrylic, gouache on Fabriano Murillo paper, 59 x 82 in. 2014-2011

Depending on the day, I am either drawing or also working on other things. I finish around 6. I am usually listening to silence or NPR, and look at art books or readings for inspiration. Right now I have the Whitechapel: Documents for Contemporary Art on Networks, and Abstraction.

2. Monument to the Geo Chemistry After Structure with Yellow DISTURBANCE Code and Disaster Averter and Atomic Station, Gouache, ink, colored pencil, graphite, and pastel on Fabriano Murillo paper, 79 x 110 in. (200.7 x 279.4 cm), 2014-2011.

2. Monument to the Geo Chemistry After Structure with Yellow DISTURBANCE Code and Disaster Averter and Atomic Station, Gouache, ink, colored pencil, graphite, and pastel on Fabriano Murillo paper, 79 x 110 in. (200.7 x 279.4 cm), 2014-2011.

What are you working on now? what are you most excited/ confounded/ obsessed with?

At the moment I am working on a new series of large drawings on paper in the studio. These pieces become the framework or legend for all the installations, and on site pieces. I am also very excited to be doing my first public art piece with Percent for Art in NYC in 2015.

3.  Xanthicia, Solar System Drawing and Atomic Daylight, Installation View, Nature Interrupted, Chelsea Art Museum, New York, NY. ink, acrylic, house paint, and colored pencil on wall, 16 x 34 ft, 2012.

3.  Xanthicia, Solar System Drawing and Atomic Daylight, Installation View, Nature Interrupted, Chelsea Art Museum, New York, NY. ink, acrylic, house paint, and colored pencil on wall, 16 x 34 ft, 2012.

I am also quite excited about starting a new gallery in my faculty office at CUNY where I teach. It is called “Faculty Office.” The current show is entitled Soccer Mom” and has over 30 artists including: Jackie Saccoccio, Angelina GualdoniElana Herzog, and Alison Elizabeth Taylor among many great others. The show
was in response to Ken Johnson’s recent review of Michelle Grabner’s show where he called her a soccer mom. The show has over thirty successful women artists that are also mothers. The last show was called “Higher Learning” and had over 30 artists who also teach, it traveled to another faculty office at Hamilton College. The space is a boring no window office, but is located inside a historic Marcel Breuer building in the Bronx. The space is experimental, and is also used as a pedagogical tool­ where I bring students in to see the work. I also wanted to
see more contemporary art shown in the Bronx, and have it more accessible. It has been an exciting project.

What do you do when things aren’t going “right”? or if you’re having a fallow period in making/ thinking?

4. Death Rock City, Wooden platforms with mirror, structures created from glass, Swarovski crystal, cardboard, tile, rubber, and paper; large drawings, 4 x 27 ft., 2013-2010.

4. Death Rock City, Wooden platforms with mirror, structures created from glass, Swarovski crystal, cardboard, tile, rubber, and paper; large drawings, 4 x 27 ft., 2013-2010.

I usually sense things aren’t right if the work is becoming to much of a struggle to make, or I am distracted. I usually just stop for a while, go see shows at galleries or museums, or work on my side practice of writing conceptual poetry.


How have you gotten where you are? How do you sustain your creative life? How do you pay the bills or what kinds of jobs have you had in the past?

I have gotten to where I am by being persistent and patient. I sustain my creative life, by keeping an organized schedule and organizing a lot of support, studio assistant, baby sitter, back up babysitter, my mother, my husband etc. I am also a professor at CUNY, and teach throughout the year. I have also taught in a number of schools, and regularly do visiting artist visits. I live through a combination of my teaching salary, grants, and art sales. I have had every job under the sun, waitress, cocktail waitress, studio assistant, gallerina, Macy’s fragrance model (those are the people who spritz you)!

5. Death Rock City, detail, Wooden platforms with mirror, structures created from glass, Swarvski crystal, cardboard, tile, rubber, and paper; large drawings. 4 x 27 ft., 2013-2010

5. Death Rock City, detail, Wooden platforms with mirror, structures created from glass, Swarvski crystal, cardboard, tile, rubber, and paper; large drawings.
4 x 27 ft., 2013-2010

What advice would you give a young artist just starting out?

There are a number of things...remember you are in a community and to be generous and give out, artists that are alone stop making work 2. Get used to rejection for grants, residencies, etc. not once but most artists apply ­10 times. 3. Apply for lots of things on a regular basis, this is how you will meet people, and sustain your practice. 4. Think of a side skill, and get your job down to three days or less. 5. Learn to write well, and do good public speaking 6. Learn to manage your money, and budget 7. Keep up with your references 8. Curate a show or start a blog. 9. Get organized with your time, and work when you can 10. Get a studio with a group of serious artists.

6. Speed Secret Grain Crash, Triangle Line Manifesto, Silver Grass Alchemy, Group Acrylic and ink on canvas, 60 x 60 in. (152.4 x 152.4 cm), 2013-2010

6. Speed Secret Grain Crash, Triangle Line Manifesto, Silver Grass Alchemy, Group Acrylic and ink on canvas, 60 x 60 in. (152.4 x 152.4 cm), 2013-2010

Dannielle has upcoming museum shows in Germany at the Kunstalle Osnabruck, the large Percent for Art installation in NYC, Seed Space in Nashville, and Real Art Ways in Hartford.
Her drawing videos are up now at the Frist Museum for Visual Arts in Nashville at the end of the Kandinsky exhibition. 


7. Suspended Galaxy System, Wire mobile, Copper, stainless steel, stained glass and ceramic 32 x 22 x 17 in., 2013-2010

7. Suspended Galaxy System, Wire mobile, Copper, stainless steel, stained glass and ceramic 32 x 22 x 17 in., 2013-2010