Collector’s Conversation

Why are you exhibiting at the Dallas Art Fair 2012?

So that I have an excuse to eat at La Calle Doce in Oak Cliff, of course! I%26rsquo;m excited to introduce several new artists in Dallas. I hope to offer a sense of discovery for collectors and curators %26mdash; the Texas art community has always been very supportive of my various endeavors, and I appreciate the opportunity to have a dialogue within the context of an intimate fair like the Dallas Art Fair. The group of galleries that has been assembled this year rivals the major fairs in other cities; it%26rsquo;s impressive to see the Dallas art community foster this kind of high-quality event.

How will you be curating your booth at the Fair? Will we be seeing some of your star painters such as the always amazing Keltie Ferris?
All of my artists are stars, Bill! I%26rsquo;ll be debuting two new works by Texas-born, New York%26ndash;based Daniel Rios Rodriguez. His work, which was recently featured in a solo show at White Columns [New York, New York], tends to begin as depictions of everyday, vernacular scenes from his and his family%26rsquo;s life in a style that marries the mannerisms of Forrest Bess with the figurative lines of Picasso.%26nbsp;A new carved wood bas-relief sculpture by Minnesota-based Aaron Spangler %26mdash; who, as you know, was seen late last year at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston in the traveling exhibition %26ldquo;The Spectacular of Vernacular%26rdquo; %26mdash; will be featured. Also on view will be Tisch Abelow%26rsquo;s new paintings, which address some of the formal issues introduced by color theorists and early abstract artists such as Josef Albers and Hilma af Klint but with a solipsistic sort of humor.

I met you first as a very talented sculptor, then as a curator, then as a dealer. What were the motivations behind those self-transformations, and what are the common threads between all of your roles? Are the satisfactions the same?
That%26rsquo;s very kind of you, Bill. I%26rsquo;ve enjoyed our dialogue over the years. I think I%26rsquo;ve told you this before, but your exhibition %26ldquo;Influence, Anxiety, and Gratitude%26rdquo; at MIT%26rsquo;s List Visual Art Center in 2003 is still one of my all-time favorites.

I probably have one of the most unlikely trajectories in the art world. I was raised in Fannin County in North Texas, where there was absolutely no contemporary art. I discovered my interest in art by accident while taking an elective painting class simultaneously with an aesthetics class as a Christian theology major in college. After bouncing around a few Dallas-area colleges, the indie music scene led me to Denton. Around this time, at the age of 20, I went into the Dallas Museum of Art for the first time and discovered a whole new world. I landed in the drawing and painting department at the University of North Texas, where I spent my time reading back issues of art magazines to catch up with my peers and seeing a lot of amazing concerts. When I finished college, I took a job as a security guard at the DMA. My favorite days were those when I was stationed with the expansive collection of Mondrian paintings.

It was a gradual transition, and I followed the opportunities as they arose. After attending graduate school in Boston, I realized that I was better at organizing and promoting exhibitions than making art. The goals have always been about the same: to be engaged in conversations about art and somehow try to find ways to make the projects successful. In 2006, I was inspired by the entrepreneurial spirit of a lot of young start-up businesses in the Lower East Side of New York City, so I rented a small storefront and opened with a solo show of Bible paintings by Fort Worth artist Ed Blackburn. In the year following, the New Museum opened, and other young galleries began migrating to the neighborhood, positioning the gallery as a pioneer to the new scene emerging there. In 2009, I expanded to open a second location in the Chelsea neighborhood of New York, and in 2010, I launched a space in the Kreuzberg neighborhood of Berlin, Germany. Dealing contemporary art isn%26rsquo;t a bad job, and after all %26hellip; Someone has to do it.

You were always a big champion of artists working in Texas. What do you think of the scene today?%26nbsp;Has being in Berlin changed your perspective?
I learned a lot about contemporary art from seeing shows at David Quadrini%26rsquo;s Angstrom Gallery; he was always ahead of the curve and had the ability to help Texas-based artists grow while importing those who were emerging on the international scene. There are these great fixtures, like Bill Davenport in Houston, Hills Snyder in San Antonio, and Bruce and Julie Webb in Waxahachie that help retain a sense of vernacular. The last time I was in Houston, I picked up a sculpture called Monument to Masculinity at Bill%26rsquo;s Junk, which was a bargain (after some tough negotiation) for $60. Texas museums are obviously world-class resources and are supported by some of the most loyal patrons in the country. Berlin probably has the highest concentration of international artists outside of New York, but it is still provincial, just like Texas is provincial. Jerry Saltz once called New York City%26rsquo;s provincialism its %26ldquo;dirty little secret.%26rdquo; I think we all take a sense of pride in our respective art communities as a way to identify ourselves.

How do you balance running galleries in Chelsea and Berlin?
I%26rsquo;m not sure that there is much balance in operating any commercial art gallery %26mdash; it%26rsquo;s a profession for those who are imbalanced, actually! I am based in New York and travel to Europe a few times a year. Berlin is truly a magical place in the summer. Colin Huerter is my full-time director in Berlin, and we are in constant contact to determine the programming in both locations as they become more interdependent.

Is your program divided between American and European artists? Does the commercial sphere give you the freedom you desire to follow your passions? Having known your gallery since %26ldquo;day one%26rdquo; I think I know your vision, but could you, if pressed, define your aesthetic in words?
I initially thought of the Berlin gallery as a European venue for the artists whom I represent, but in the past year, our goal has been to discover new Berlin-based artists through a series of group exhibitions. From that, we have mounted New York solo debuts for two Berlin-based artists, including the embroidered still lifes of Natasza Niedsiolka and the slow, thick figurative paintings of Guy Rusha. It has become a great way to establish a dialogue between Berlin and New York, and that%26rsquo;s what I hope to develop more in the future.

In some ways, Roberta Smith of The New York Times was correct: The gallery%26rsquo;s aesthetic is one that exhibits %26ldquo;quirky paintings by unknown artists.%26rdquo; Obviously the artists are becoming more known with time. I favor painting that has some sort of conviction behind it, and I like materiality and formally striking objects. I also like the story behind what%26rsquo;s being made, so I think that I%26rsquo;m drawn to artists who have interesting personal stories. It helps me understand the work in terms of sincerity, and that%26rsquo;s important. I have tried to establish a niche by exhibiting work that deals with subjects like religion, sexuality, regionalism and semiotics. Over the five years, the roster has changed, and as I learned how to operate the gallery, my criteria has matured.

There was an anti-heroic, DIY aesthetic in your earlier shows, like %26ldquo;Twang: Contemporary Sculpture from Texas%26rdquo; (2004, Art Museum of Southeast Texas, Beaumont). Do you think that is a result of your time here in Texas?
When I was invited to curate a survey of Texas sculpture, I was interested in the use of colorful everyday materials as well a desire to both embrace and distance oneself from the idea of down-home Texas-ness, both of which seemed to be prevalent at that time. It somehow seemed akin to the indie music scenes of Denton and Austin. There was a simplicity and humble nature to the objects. Austin-based Brad Tucker%26rsquo;s Drum Solos and assemblages epitomize that moment in Texas art.

You have always taken risks and are clearly not driven by the marketability of an artist. Is there something you look for when you add an artist to your roster? Is it in the work alone or in the person you meet at the studio?
It%26rsquo;s important that I think the work is relevant to contemporary culture and has the potential to become historically significant, that I can have a good working relationship with the artist and that I can sell the work or that it helps form a critical context for the other artists whom I represent. Operating a gallery involves balancing a lot of different kinds of relationships, and in my experience, some of the best artists are the most difficult to represent. The reality is that I almost always go into a studio visit wanting to offer an exhibition %26mdash; I enjoy being surprised and impressed by what I see in studios. But I%26rsquo;m often dissuaded during the visits by a lack of originality, seriousness or commitment. It%26rsquo;s not easy to make great art, but a lot of young artists are under the impression that it is. 

What are you most excited about for 2012 in the international art world? What shows are down as your must sees? Inspirations?
In New York, some of my recent favorites have been George Ortman%26rsquo;s geometric constructions at Algus Greenspon, Matthew Brannon%26rsquo;s sculpture and prints at Casey Kaplan and %26ldquo;Other Bodies: A Collection of Vernacular Photography%26rdquo; amassed by artist Jason Brinkerhoff%26nbsp;at Zieher-Smith. In Berlin, I always enjoy the shows at Contemporary Fine Arts, Peres Projects and Reception. I%26rsquo;ll be teaching in Venice for a week this summer, and it%26rsquo;s my first time to Italy, so I hope to see a lot of Renaissance masters and hopefully some works by Morandi %26mdash; I%26rsquo;ve been obsessed with Luigi Ghirri%26rsquo;s photos of Morandi%26rsquo;s studio lately. Bruce Hartman, the director of the Nerman Museum [of Contemporary Art, Overland Park, Kansas], recently gave me a tour of the newly installed American Indian collection at the Nelson-Atkins [Museum of Art] in Kansas City, [Missouri] where I briefly met [curator] Gaylord Torrence; it sparked my interest in the abstract painting of American Indian parfleches and also in visiting the Santa Fe Indian Market this summer.

We note that you represent the DFW%26ndash;based painter Kirk Hayes. Which other Texas artists are you most excited about at the moment? Any plans to add more Texas talents to your lineup?
Kirk Hayes%26rsquo; next solo show in New York is scheduled for October, and his trompe-l%26rsquo;oeil technique continues to be over-the-top and his imagery even more visually complex. I have always been a huge fan of Dallas-based John Pomara%26rsquo;s scraped and stenciled color fields and Ludwig Schwarz%26rsquo;s multifaceted studio practice. They%26rsquo;re both overlooked outside of Texas and due New York solo shows. I don%26rsquo;t have any immediate plans to add more Texans, but somehow ex-Texans always find each other in New York City.

I miss the days when your last dog greeted folks in your Lower East side location. Is the any chance there will be another gallery dog in your future?
I miss those days, too, but sadly my retired greyhound Zeus is in the sky, playing chase with your late, great dog Hannah. I%26rsquo;m newly married, and we%26rsquo;re enjoying the luxuries of being pet-free at the moment. Sharing a New York studio apartment with an animal has its challenges.


C. Sean Horton. Photo courtesy Horton Gallery.

Bill Arning. Photo by Jenny Antill.



Dallas Art Fair: April 13 %26ndash; 15, 2012; Preview Gala April 12

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