Collector’s Conversation

Trailblazing Los Angeles gallerist Thomas Solomon, the progeny of the legendary dealers and collectors Holly and Horace Solomon, takes questions from Dallas-based arts advisor Cindy Schwartz, founder of Cynthia C. Schwartz Fine Art.

What made you decide to come to the 2011 Dallas Art Fair?
I%26rsquo;m coming to the Fair to present new Los Angeles artists with older/established artists. When I participate in any art fair, I handle it like an exhibition %26mdash; I pick a subject matter or medium. For this new Dallas Art Fair, I will present the theme of geometry in art that%26nbsp;discusses notions of time, space and cutting forms in diverse mediums. I%26rsquo;ll present a group show of established artists such as Larry Bell, Sol LeWitt, Gordon Matta-Clark Lynda Benglis and Douglas Huebler alongside Krysten Cunningham, Bart Exposito, Brad Eberhard, Brett Lund, Analia Saban from a younger generation in Los Angeles that I represent, in an interesting dialogue between mediums and generations.

Not every contemporary gallerist has Holly Solomon as a mom. Tell us about your childhood. What lessons did you learn?
My mother Holly and father Horace were forward-thinking for their time. They responded to art by buying what they loved intellectually and emotionally %26mdash; not what was established and of the mainstream of the time. My parents are the ones who helped me see and gave me the opportunity and courage to learn what art and life could be.

Art was not in the background, only to be seen in museums or public spaces ... I remember the way art really [first] effected my life ... I ate very little as a young boy, growing up surrounded walls-to-corners by art in our four-bedroom apartment on 57th Street. When I turned five, my parents asked Robert Indiana to make a painting for my birthday; he titled it %26ldquo;USA EAT,%26rdquo; the forms and letters in American-flag colors of red, white and blue.

I think of my sleeping on Claes Oldenburg%26rsquo;s sculpture of soft tires in the dining room when I was young, playing with a Charles Simmons clay castle-and-stick sculpture he made under the piano and really just meeting artists, writers, curators and actually giving art tours of the house and the family collection to strangers from museum groups from around the world %26mdash; [all of which] made it familiar and exciting for me to live with art. I feel it is a part of me and who I am.

I was blessed with such a diverse environment of the art of the time %26mdash; pop art, conceptual art, earth art, body art, minimal art and installation art. All in their infancy. My parents decided to keep evolving as collectors as prices even in the 1960s and early 1970s started to rise, and a market was born for much that, to that point, had no auctions really or resale value. It was not till the Ethel and Robert Scull Collection auction (from a divorce) that contemporary art had a good market.

Christo and Jeanne-Claude were my godparents. Christo made paintings, portraits of my mother in jeans %26mdash; no uptown woman wore jeans %26mdash; and father in his tuxedo suit. He would wrap them in twine and plastic, bringing them to life but also giving them an odd, deathly aura. My parents gave their devoted support and love to his vision of larger projects %26mdash; buying in-depth his diverse two-dimensional and three-dimensional sculptures. They made that a priority, giving birth to the new.

They just did not buy one [sculpture]. As my mother said, %26ldquo;If one is good, 10 is better.%26rdquo; As forward thinkers, [my parents] gave me the lead to do the same in my life with artists and collecting, as well as showing new work I love in my gallery.

My mother was very avant-garde, being an actress in the 1950s and then deciding to support new ideas after learning about art through an art writer named Linda Nochlin at Vassar College. [My mother] visited MoMA on many occasions to see Brancusi sculpture and develop her eye and mind though the MoMA%26rsquo;s and Whitney Museum%26rsquo;s permanent collections and temporary exhibitions. She made the rounds every week in galleries in New York, and wherever she traveled, she talked with people about her passion %26mdash; art.

Their interest in new post-pop generation and second-generation New York poets they met and support %26mdash; like Peter Schjeldahl, Ted Berrigan, Ron Padgett, Ted Greenwald, Anne Waldman, Joe Brainard, as well as new visual artists who did not have gallery representation %26mdash; led to her and my father starting the nonprofit space called 98 Greene Street Loft in 1970. [This was] the second alternative art space (after 112 Greene Street, next door) that gave voice to a new generation of artists and art-making ... This spirit and freedom on many levels has affected me all throughout my personal and professional life.

What are your ties to Texas? Who are your pals here in the museum and collecting firmament?
[I love] the vast sense of space in a landscape that has color and light (New York is dark and vertical) %26hellip; I remember Texas with many great new artists showing and making innovative art throughout the 1970s and into today; museums and unique collections developed by people who have intelligence and great vision. The Nasher family%26rsquo;s collection of sculpture provides a special place in art history ... I follow their public exhibitions with the expanded language of what can be shown, like Rachel Whiteread%26rsquo;s drawings exhibition that the Los Angeles Hammer Museum originated last year. Jeremy Strick, the new [Nasher] director, has vision, taste and brilliance in bringing a very high level of art for the museum and city%26rsquo;s cultural imprint.

The Dallas Art Museum has been important in presenting first-rate major exhibitions, from Sigmar Polke to future exhibitions like Mark Bradford%26rsquo;s work from Los Angeles. Their collection in all areas of contemporary art is staggering. Charles Wylie I have known since he worked in Los Angeles at the Lannan Museum and Foundation in the 1980s ... Dallas, with the cultural commitments of families and collections donating art and the museum%26rsquo;s quality and connoisseurship, is unparalleled today. There is a great lesson in cultural philanthropy.

The Menil Collection in Houston [inspires] with its superb permanent collection, the Rothko Chapel and exhibitions such as Robert Gober%26rsquo;s interpretation and re-installation of some of the art collection. Let%26rsquo;s not forget Walter Hopps, who gave his vision of art and love of art to everyone in Houston for so many years. I was deeply influenced as a boy with the Los Angeles gallery called Ferus that he started with Irving Blum and [by] his curatorial work at the Pasadena Museum of Art with Warhol, Duchamp and other exhibitions ... as well as the shows and work at The Menil Collection.

Contemporary Arts Museum Houston has always been important in my life since the 1970s ... Marti Mayo and Linda [Cathcart] made tremendous exhibitions for many years at CAMH. I always learned from their shows. Bill Arning, its new director, and the great curatorial staff [are] dynamic and [bring] a very high level of contemporary art not only for Houston but for the entire international art community. [Bill] worked with me at White Columns in the early 1980s in New York, and then directed and curated the space for many amazing years ... The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, was always important ... for people to educate themselves in art history and with such an important relationship to South American art now. I am looking forward to seeing the Carlos Cruz-Diez exhibition [when I travel to Houston this month].

New collectors such as Kenny Goss and George Michael [The Goss-Michael Foundation] mount exhibitions [that are] challenging and important to experience in person. The history of galleries, too, has been great, with Texas Gallery presenting younger artists such as Bill Wegman and Joe Zucker (who both showed with my mother%26rsquo;s gallery in New York), as well as championing the new work of Lynda Benglis, Chuck Close, Joel Shapiro, Cindy Sherman and Robert Longo.

I think that the Texas museums and collections make art a big part of one%26rsquo;s life %26mdash; not [just] for the privileged or very rich ...

Of all the dealers at the Fair, your trajectory is probably the most unique. Please trace the road from White Columns to your space today in Chinatown. Your L.A. gallery in a garage still stands out as an idiosyncratic but extraordinary undertaking. In retrospect, do you see this now as the original pop-up gallery? Any thoughts of reviving it?
My professional art life started with the artist Gordon Matta-Clark. My mother met him as he worked with Robert Smithson and the sculptor Nancy Holt at Cornell University (where he went to school) on an earth-art exhibition. Gordon moved to New York City, and my mother loved his art and his joyful spirit ... He helped her build her nonprofit space in 1970 called 98 Greene Street in SoHo. I always loved how he took the impossible and made it real like the artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude. Gordon was a leader, and his unique vision helped shape my life and gave it special meaning. I started to see how materials like garbage could be made into life ...

Gordon really taught me about art in non-art spaces and giving new art a platform and space to shine. My father had a property, a condemned house about to be torn down. Gordon one day asked my parents if they knew of a house he could split and make a sculpture out of. My Dad said he actually did have a small one at 392 Humphrey Street in Englewood, New Jersey. It was perfect for Gordon, as it fit into his art of making temporary artworks with and within abandoned buildings %26mdash; he worked on it for months, and I saw his vision and loved the sculpture. My parents rented a yellow schoolbus for an opening from SoHo, [filled] with many friends ... I asked the artist Dennis Oppeneheim to make a garden-earth piece around and with the house and Christo to wrap a part of it. I devised a plan where all the children of the artists and my brother John and I would be the beneficiaries if it were ever sold and had a market. (Who knew?) All the artists agreed, but it was too expensive to save the sculpture/house and store it at the time (1975). I still wish it were saved for people to see %26mdash; the four corners of the sculpture Splitting [are] in the SFMOMA collection, and photos exist of the project.

All of Gordon%26rsquo;s large projects were destroyed; like Christo and Jeanne-Claude, the artworks were social artworks and conceptual pieces that lived in one%26rsquo;s memory, and your participation ... [made them] important and lasting.

I moved to Los Angeles because of the artists that I saw and had worked with in New York as a boy. I started a commercial gallery space in a two-car garage called simply the Garage in Los Angeles in 1988. Simple domestic garage spaces were where new ideas happened in California %26mdash;%26nbsp;Apple Computers, Mattel Toys and many inventions. And when [I visited] artists%26rsquo; studios, their garages were used as space.

I decided to follow Gordon and do something in a non-art space that was unique and gave artists a voice for experimentation ... From White Columns, I knew many artists who [had] moved to New York after graduating from art school in California, Los Angeles, specifically ... But I knew many artists who stayed in Los Angeles and taught at the California Institute for the Arts (Cal Arts) and at UCLA, the two main art schools that were, in my mind, the most influential for new art in the 1970s and 1980s (they continue to this day). Chris Burden, Nancy Rubens, Lari Pittman, Alexis Smith, Mary Kelly and others at UCLA and Michael Asher, John Baldessari,%26nbsp;Douglas Huebler and others at Cal Arts ... all stayed and worked in Los Angeles and gave back to the younger artists by teaching them at schools.

I made a point to go to these art schools when I arrived in Los Angeles %26mdash; still do %26mdash; and see graduate shows and open studios, and that is when I decided that a garage was a space that could be %26hellip; as they say, %26ldquo;a clean well lighted place,%26rdquo; [which is also the name of] a great gallery in Austin by writer and curator Dave Hickey. Gordon Matta-Clark gave me the spirit to show the new under-recognized artists from Los Angeles, New York and internationally. Jorge Pardo%26rsquo;s work I saw at the Art Center in Pasadena, and I gave him his first solo show at the Garage.

I thought that the art schools in Los Angeles were the most important in the world %26mdash; I still believe this, and it keeps me here in Los Angeles, working with great new artists. I opened a new gallery in Chinatown four years ago (closed the Garage in 1996). The Chinatown area of Los Angeles has soul, and that part of old Los Angeles %26mdash; walking around the small storefront spaces mixed with shops, restaurants and galleries %26mdash; now is again like the Garage days in the 1980s.

In your gallery at Cottage Home, you collaborated with two other gallerists, sharing an exhibition schedule. Do you see this as a model for the future?
I know things are changing and that as a gallery, my program is growing. I helped start a space called Cottage Home in Chinatown with two other galleries, China Art Objects and Sister Gallery, two and half years ago. It has been a rotating gallery that we split, doing our own shows, but the collaboration actually is a model for a new type of gallery. We all have our separate gallery spaces and programs, but now this past summer, Sister closed in Chinatown and moved to New York, and China Art Objects moved after 10 years to Culver City. The project is coming to an end; I guess, as in life, things begin and then end, and then begin again%26nbsp;the new cycle.

What are you looking for when you decide to represent a particular artist?
My art program is challenging and diverse. I show seven Los Angeles emerging artists, and their quality and high level of ideas are the test for me.

The sculpture of Krysten Cunningham, a UCLA graduate, uses minimal hyper-cube forms in the third dimension. She takes wool and dyes it in natural dyes and forms minimal geometrical structures that have incredible beauty and forms that are poetic and continue ideas of merging the high and low in art.

Brad Eberhard is one of the most inventive young painters ... He bridges abstraction and representation in layered and historical ways. His use of geometry is superb, with California modern 1950s color and amazing layering of sanding and painting, revealing process and evolution in a painting.

Analia Saban, who went to UCLA, is from Argentina. She also merges abstraction and representation in subject matter with process and relationship, via printing and digital/photography that are extraordinary. Her work bridges drawing, sculpture and painting, again in unusual artworks.

Bart Exposito is a painter of worlds like Brad Eberhard, but he sometimes [blurs] abstraction with architectural forms, interior spaces and graphic Deco-like lettering that is applied with acrylic and pastel paint to create unusual scale ,and space turned inside out and upside down. He was born in Texas and went to the University of Texas at Austin before graduate school at Cal Arts.

I have shown Robert Barry, a first-generation conceptual artist from New York, for many years. He uses language and installation for his ideas on walls, floors and windows of spaces that float, dance and sing in your mind. He showed with my mother and with the legendary Leo Castelli gallery. I feel his work is underrated and under-priced and is very important to art history as it continues to make the invisible visible.

Then there is the work of Dennis Oppenheim, whom I have admired and known since I was a boy in New York. I did an early-works show of his sculpture, photo-based pieces from the 1960s and 1970s this past spring in the gallery.

I had the pleasure to work on a double solo exhibition of Alexis Smith with Margo Leavin Gallery at the Cottage Home space two years ago and recently showed a very influential photo-based sculptor, Jennifer Bolande, who teaches at UCLA [and with] whom I worked in the early 1980s ... Jennifer continues to make special pieces blurring photography and sculpture. I had two solo show both spaces, with the older works from the 1980s and 1990s at my Bernard Street space and her new photo-based works with a 17-foot-high, four-part movie marquee stacked sculpture in November/December at Cottage Home. It was the tower of power!

I look for strength of ideas and the artist%26rsquo;s long-term future ... I do need to sell their work, and they do need to support themselves, but long-term is the most important issue. Great ideas need time to evolve and take form in art.

Los Angeles gives artists space, which is so important ... Los Angeles has an advantage that allows work to grow without the pressures of ... [achieving] success and stardom so quickly that came from the 1980s thinking in New York and elsewhere. The art market is very different from the art %26mdash; an important concept to remember.

What are the similarities and differences between the L.A. and the Texas art scenes?
Yes, there are similarities %26mdash; in the history of art collecting in personal collections, museums with great historical vision ... spaces that artists have built like Donald Judd%26rsquo;s Marfa ... as well as spaces like Artpace that Linda Pace created ... Houston has a first-class art school called the Glassell School of Art and the Core Program that helps younger artists see their ideas in the public domain. Austin has a fantastic art school with the University of Texas at Austin, with great artists like Troy Brauntuch and Michael Smith teaching; it is so important for the city of Austin and for the community.

You%26rsquo;re known for discovering important young talent. What is your criteria, and where do you find the artists for your stable?
In discovering young talent, one has a belief in [one%26rsquo;s] own eye and mind. It is the same in collecting or curating: making choices that have a personal journey and lasting effects for you. It comes with reading, asking questions and learning everyday %26mdash; discussing art. And living with art in a human way in your own home. I am lucky enough to be able to pay for the privilege to take care of an artwork and be its owner for a while.

The ideas and art of Joseph Beuys in Germany and Andy Warhol in America both shaped my insights of life and great art that reflect human pathos and historical identity.

I am a child of Marcel Duchamp, Eve Hesse, Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Gordon Matta-Clark, William Wegman and Robert Smithson, to name a few artists.
What are you most looking forward to in 2011? What%26rsquo;s on the top of your list to do, see or make happen?
I am looking forward in 2011 to good health, inventive new ideas in art and a better understanding that people are different and need to express themselves in diverse manners. That is good not only in making art but in life %26mdash; to change thinking and lives. Difference is important and should be recognized and nourished. And artists do show me that unique vision.


Dallas Art Fair: April 8 %26ndash; 10, 2011, Preview Gala April 7



Thomas Solomon with Brad Eberhard%26rsquo;s Glass-Bottomed Boat (detail), 2010. Photo by Tim Christian.

Cindy Schwartz. Photo by Terri Glanger Photography.

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