Collector’s Conversation Brought to You by Dallas Art Fair


Dallas-based patron, collector, educator and president of Henry S. Miller Interests, Inc., Jackie Stewart poses questions to exhibiting gallerist Rachel Churner, owner, Churner and Churner, New York.

Tell us about growing up in%26nbsp;Dallas and how it impacted your entry into the art world.%26nbsp; I%26rsquo;ll never forget the first time I stood under Oldenburg%26rsquo;s Stake Hitch at the DMA, or saw Borofsky%26rsquo;s huge Hammering Man at NorthPark Mall. Those works stayed with me because they seemed to engage the legacy of Texas %26mdash; its cowboy and oil rig days %26mdash; without having been built specifically for a Texas space. I grew up in McKinney, and back then it was still a small town. I spent a lot of time at the Heard Natural Science Museum as a kid: They had one of those glow-in-the-dark rock displays and old dusty rooms with vitrines of shells. The intimacy of the museum stuck with me and is something that I still think about. You really felt that you were part of the place instead of a mere visitor.

Why are you exhibiting at the 2014 Dallas Art Fair? The Dallas Art Fair has a great reputation, and my colleagues who%26rsquo;ve done it in the past speak incredibly highly of it. Plus, the energy in the Dallas art world is so strong right now %26mdash; from the DMA to the Kimbell to the amazing private collections. We wanted to be a part of that. And, of course, I%26rsquo;m excited to be back in my hometown, even if only for a few days.

How will your booth be curated? Which artists are you bringing? New works by three incredible up-and-coming artists: Nick Hornby, Elise Adibi and Scott Nedrelow.%26nbsp; Nick%26rsquo;s marble resin sculpture is both an homage to and a subversion of classical sculpture. It is also a beautiful object in its own right. The piece, 6 Degrees Takes One Minute, is based on the profile of Michelangelo%26rsquo;s David mirrored upon itself at an acute angle to make a new compound face, which is then extruded to a point. Elise, who was just featured in Artforum (January 2014), is showing new paintings made from essential plant oils and oil paint that engage the grid and simultaneously explode it. And Scott will exhibit a group of new paintings that look like photographs of shadows. Made by air-brushing printer ink onto photo paper, they are subtle challenges to the viewer.

%26nbsp;How and when did your get to New York? What propelled you to open your own gallery? Can you share the trajectory of Churner and Churner and your own background in the arts? I moved to New York in 2002 for graduate school. I went to Stanford as an undergrad, planning to major in chemistry. But I had some outstanding professors in the art department and quickly switched my major to art history, interning in museums and nonprofit art spaces throughout college. My passion was for individual artworks, and at the time, I thought that meant I wanted to write about them.

I went on to Columbia as a PhD candidate in Art History. While working on my dissertation, I wrote for Artforum and edited art-history journals, which allowed for more direct interaction with artists. It wasn%26rsquo;t until I worked for a gallery that I realized what a privilege it was as a dealer to spend time with the artwork itself as well as the artist. Once there was an early Richter painting %26mdash; 1962, gray monochrome with a tinge of red on the edge of the canvas, absolutely gorgeous %26mdash; in my office for six months. It was exhilarating to live with that work as a physical object, not just an idea, for such a sustained amount of time. After that, I started dreaming of opening my own space.

Are you yourself an artist? If so, did you go through the AP art program at Hockaday while a student there? I was a teacher at the Arts Magnet high school in Dallas for almost 20 years, so I am always interesting in mentoring. What advice would you give to young artists or to those who are interested in being in the art business? I%26rsquo;m not an artist. I%26rsquo;ve done my share of studio classes, but only so that I could understand the materials artists work with. For all those young artists out there, I would say, find a way to make work for yourself. Don%26rsquo;t work for a show or a mentor or a sale: Work because you can%26rsquo;t stop wanting to explore. Art-making is a solitary business %26ndash;%26mdash; you are going to be staring at walls for hours a day, and you need to be in it for the long-term. The same goes for curators and writers and aspiring dealers: You have to have stamina.

You%26rsquo;re probably the only gallery that is a sister act. What is your sister %26mdash; who%26rsquo;s a film scholar, curator and writer %26mdash; Leah Churner%26rsquo;s contribution to the gallery? Is she still involved in exhibitions and curatorial endeavors at Churner and Churner? When I started the gallery, Leah was living in New York. She programmed some outstanding 16mm film screenings for us, and we worked together on a Fluxus exhibition. We still collaborate on certain shows (for example, the Jaime Davidovich exhibition last fall), but she's living in Austin and making her own career as a writer. Leah%26rsquo;s my moral support, but she isn%26rsquo;t involved in the gallery's day-to-day activities.

What was your biggest break to date as a gallerist? Was it getting into NADA, New Art Dealers Alliance, for example? Our first exhibition reviews in The New York Times and the New Yorker were really exciting, as was getting into out first NADA fair. Last year, we did the Armory Art Show, and our booth was next to Gagosian's. It's hard to feel like you haven't arrived when Gagosian%26rsquo;s Warhol wallpaper creeps into your booth! But, for me, it was probably our first museum acquisition that really made me the most proud.

How would you describe Churner and Churner%26rsquo;s diverse stable, from Karen Heagle%26rsquo;s painted neo-figuration to Warhol Factory member Taylor Mead%26rsquo;s storybook drawings and Nick Hornby%26rsquo;s take on the language of classical sculpture? Is there a certain aesthetic or stance your artists share? The gallery is made up of artists with a strong personal vision, critical attention to their materials and craft (be it marble or oil paint or construction paper) and an engagement with history. Sometimes an art-historical figure will permeate an exhibition, as in the case of Karen Heagle%26rsquo;s recent series of knights or in our upcoming exhibition by Jordan Kantor, which is permeated by the unseen backdrop of Manet. And sometimes we feature a historical figure whose work informs contemporary artists, even if they aren't familiar with much of it. Jaime Davidovich, for example, was a major figure in %26rsquo;70s TV art %26mdash; his cable access show was a precursor to the YouTube channels of today. I wanted more people to know about his work. The same is true for Taylor Mead. Taylor was an iconic figure and a well-known poet, but his paintings and drawings weren%26rsquo;t as well known %26mdash; and they are incredible. What%26rsquo;s important is not an aesthetic similarity %26mdash; I love that our artists create work that looks so different %26mdash; but that each of them has a solid vision for their own practice.

What is your current and future curatorial vision for Churner and Churner? What%26rsquo;s next? We currently have an exhibition of white monochrome paintings by Daniel Levine, and next up is Jordan Kantor. Jordan will exhibit collages for the first time alongside his paintings.

Where and how do you find new talent? Will you be doing any studio visits during your time at the Fair? I just heard a wonderful lecture by David Bates at the Nasher last Saturday as part of their 10-year celebration. I really learned a lot about his process. Then, I walked into the gallery space and saw two pieces by Picasso, one painting and one sculpture, that I thought were possibly David's. It must be difficult to be original! Any comments? Originality is tough. And what a compliment to David that you mistook a Picasso for his work! Artists have to tread over common ground all the time, and that%26rsquo;s to be expected: Think about how many ways they have used the grid. As far as looking for new talent, I do a lot of studio visits, sometimes as a result of other artist's own recommendations. I've definitely got some visits planned for my time in Dallas.

Finally, as a fellow alumna of Hockaday, I have to ask, who are a few of your favorite authors? Or, let me put it this way: What is on your nightstand? My nightstand always has a selection of past favorites that I love to reread (Everything Matters! by Ron Currie Jr. has a permanent spot, as does Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson and anything by Alice Munro); the novels I mean to read but haven%26rsquo;t yet (Colm Toibin%26rsquo;s The Testament of Mary); a pile of Artforums; and art-history standards (because I always need a fix). Right now, I%26rsquo;m rereading Carol Armstrong%26rsquo;s Manet Manette and enjoying Rachel Kushner%26rsquo;s The Flame Throwers for late nights.

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Dallas Art Fair: April 11%26ndash;13, 2014; Preview Gala April 10, 2014; dallasartfair.com

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