Saturday, November 21, 2020

Steven Rand of apexart

Steven Rand is the executive director of apexart, a non-profit arts organization in Manhattan, New York City.

When did you first realize your passion for the arts?

I remember feeling like an artist early on. Always doing self-initiated creative stuff and even as a toddler, I “fought the power” by not listening or following directions. In retrospect I was embarrassingly self – involved so it was clear I was artist material.

Directing a non-profit arts organization requires a lot of time and dedication. Were there any specific events that led to your decision to support artists by opening apexart? 

I wish it was that altruistic. As a mid-career artist I started to feel that the luxury consumption model of contrived antagonism between artists, galleries and collectors put artists at a disadvantage, and wasn’t so interesting. It wasn’t about the things I found interesting. So I stopped making “gallery art” and working with galleries and found I enjoyed developing the alternative programs that constitute apexart and mentoring the people and process. I had the physical space available and wanted to see some interesting shows. This was in 1994 before all the independent curator programs opened except the Whiney. We’re really an educational organization and only incidentally a promotional one. Enough people seem to appreciate the values we emphasize that our reputation has grown in a good way.

Your exhibits seem to have a political focus. How do you wish to influence the art world with such works and what has the public response been so far?

We don’t select our exhibitions or influence their content. A large international jury of more than 400 people from more than 70 countries do this. It’s more fun and educational for everyone involved to displace the selection process to connect it to real life. Galleries and collectors aren’t exactly real life. It’s what many people want their art to be. Outside of the commercial gallery structure, we’re pretty confused about the role of art as well as it’s efficacy. Artists and curators are trying to be relevant, interesting and viable.

How do you find the time to oversee all of this?

I love what I do and the people I work with at apexart. The atmosphere is always collegial and about trying to do what we do better.

Do you ever personally get to curate these exhibits or are works only decided through guest jurors?

I curated our second exhibition in 1994 and included all my friends so I could get that over with. The way apexart is structured, making friends with staff to get opportunities doesn’t work, so while we get a lot of respect from the international community we’re lonely, but happy.

What are some of the challenges that you face running this organization?

Mainly doing things for the right reasons. For example, often a small org will enlist 5 people to be the jury for a prize or an exhibition. An artist or two, a curator, museum staff person, maybe a foundation person that supports the org. Everyone has the best of intentions but in the end, selections are often based on people they know, that they feel work hard and whose work they like. So, all the people from “other” places that don’t “know people” are at a disadvantage. Consider a curator or artist from Uganda that submits. The NYC jury, even if it appears to be diverse probably won’t relate to African work the way people familiar with it would and the artist/curator is at a double disadvantage. Our jury is composed of people from more than 70 countries, with the diversity that that brings. Some well-known, and others not at all. Each season with the two open calls, we have about 1000 people submitting and almost the same amount jurying. So that means nearly 2000 people involved in writing or evaluating ideas. As an educationally oriented organization that is being effective. Then the exhibitions are located all over the world, on every continent, in villages as well as large cities, that the jurors can follow.

What are some specific qualities of artists that deem them pleasurable to work with? 

We prefer well adjusted, smart, educated, self-funded attractive artists and curators with no attitude, but we’ll work with everyone. People who have worked with us would do so again.

How do you feel about social media and its impact on the way people experience art and life at large?

The ability to target users with specific information creates isolation within society. We are all siloed with a lack of common communication. Social media has created a sense of displaced reality. If we’re not getting the same information we can’t even have a discussion. If I live with you why is my Facebook so different? Do I even know you anymore?

What a weird substitution of an appearance of happiness and success for the real thing. IG locations set up for pictures to show what a good time you’re having in an effort to convince yourself and others what a good time is and that you are having one. Its projected vision and isn’t about the old being here now ethic. My happiness is based on creating an idealized visual image that you find attractive. External validation is the slippery slope of never feeling resolved. Lowering the happiness level in society by removing social mobility, hope and individualism while monetizing everything by subscription and relinquishing initiative. The new subscription model is even removing a sense of ownership in a subtle way. Turns out it’s not so hard to manipulate people and redirect their values. And that’s what social media does so well.

Do you have any specific do’s and don’ts for artists looking to submit their work to you? 

We don’t really look at artist’s work since we don’t do one person shows or artist projects. To submit to an Open Call you need a three artist minimum and the exhibition idea of no more than 500 words which you need to submit on time or close to it.

Do you have future plans for apexart beyond what it is today?

We’ve initiated some new student programs that include university and high school student jurying for our Open Calls accompanied by class syllabus guides, especially timely during COVID. Our current NYC Open Call includes some 22 university classes from around the world. Another new program sends educators into high schools for short sessions to speak with students about the real art world, realistic projections and expectations and unexplored related opportunities in the arts.

Friday, October 16, 2020

Beatriz Esguerra of Beatriz Esguerra Art

Beatriz Esguerra is the director of Beatriz Esguerra Art, a contemporary gallery based in Bogota, Colombia. Hear her speak about her motivation, philosophy and business model behind running a gallery.

Video credit: Juan Diego Santos and Beatriz Esguerra

Monday, October 5, 2020

Marina Eliasi of Stone Sparrow NYC

Marina Eliasi is the owner and curator of Stone Sparrow Gallery in New York City, focusing on contemporary art.

When did you first realize your passion for the arts? 
My mother was an aspiring artist and I grew up with access to art books, antiques and other inspiring objects as well as frequent access to museums. Art was always a place to escape to - either by making it myself or daydreaming my way through the work of others. When I was in 5th grade I painted a landscape that won first place in the town art fair and really loved the attention. I have never thought I’d end up immersed in anything but some kind of art ever since. 

Were there any pivotal moments in life that made you decide to become a gallery director? 
Not a pivotal moment really. I think I have been on a winding path here my entire life. 

Where did the name Stone Sparrow come from? 
Stone Sparrow is the name I made my wearable art jewelry brand under and it became something synonymous with my name through it’s use on social media. When I was initially launching my jewelry company, I wanted my name to align with me and my brand - something that spoke to my personality as well as the jewelry I was making. My sister and I laughed our way through dozens of names before we came up with the one that fit. Because I had built a strong brand name and following on social media, when I opened the gallery I wanted to be recognizable as the same person in my new role, so I carried it with me here.

What are some of the themes that Stone Sparrow tends to focus on and what reactions do you hope to evoke in your audience? 
The artist roster at Stone Sparrow includes a mix of emerging and established artists working in realism and surrealism. I am strongly attracted to figurative work, so much of what I show is just that. For each group show, I try to fit the work / artists together under themed show prompts. Something catchy that can be openly interpreted by the artists participating. Our next show to open will be titled “Superhero” and it includes everything from a stunning portrait of an older woman who against all odds, still stands to more literal pop interpretations of costumed heroes. With each show I’m hoping for different kinds of feedback, but mostly, I want the shows to elicit emotional reactions from the viewer.

Can you recall any specific experiences you’ve had with an exhibit and/or artist that were especially fulfilling to you? 
Every day in the gallery is fulfilling to me. Being able to watch a visitor fall in love with a piece or have an emotional reaction to something is particularly fulfilling. Being the one who gets to distribute the good news of a sale to an artist is amazingly fulfilling. I love being able to be the catalyst for people to get visibility and watching them blossom with positive feedback from visitors and collectors. 

What do you find most rewarding about gallery directing and curating? 
There are a lot of things that are rewarding about my job. Every new show that goes up is fulfilling to pull off and to step back and admire. Finding someone extremely talented who has been consistently overlooked is rewarding. Receiving thank you notes from my artists for their inclusions in beautiful shows is rewarding. And obviously, helping a collector bring home a piece that they love is rewarding.

What are some of the challenges that you face? 
Well…right now is specifically challenging for a variety of reasons, but I suppose it’s challenging to every single person. Aside from the current, the most challenging thing for me is having to say no to artist’s submissions. I’d love to give everyone a stage, but it’s not possible. The face to face submissions that I have to reject are the hardest. 

Are there certain qualities that you look for in artists in deciding whether they will be pleasurable to work with? And on the contrary, any areas for improvement artists should be aware of? 
Yes, definitely. When deciding if an artist is a good fit for my roster, I’m not only looking at the quality and style of their work, but I’m also looking to see if the artist is someone I can work with long term. Things like manners, personability with their fans on social media (if they’re active on social media), the kind of cv they have, etc are great things to watch to find out what kind of person they are. If we can meet in person or talk rather than only email, it's ideal. I’m fortunate to have been able to meet all but a small minority of my artists in person and can say honestly that they are all wonderful people. 

Do you have any specific do’s and don’ts for artists looking to submit their work to you? 
We officially don’t accept submissions, so I think the biggest piece of advice I can give to an artist looking to submit their work to any gallery is to find out what their submission policies are rather than just blindly emailing, calling or mailing. Researching the kind of work a gallery shows is another big thing a lot of the submission inquiries I get have overlooked as well.

Do you have any plans for Stone Sparrow NYC beyond what it is today? 
We are still in our infancy and are really just hoping to be able to remain in place beyond this time of Covid, but I always have dreams of expanding to other locations. Right now, though, I’m thrilled to be able to open my little gallery in the Village everyday.

Monday, August 24, 2020

Om Navon Bleicher of bG Gallery

Om Navon Bleicher is the owner and director of bG Gallery in Santa Monica, CA, focusing on expressive-conceptual, insider-outsider, high-low and figurative-abstract

When did you first fall in love with the arts?

Art has always been something that is a part of me. I think it was seeing a poster of Salvador Dali’s Sleep in junior high, and art classes in high school, where it became a significant ‘other’ external objective for me, towards the end of a lifelong pursuit. 

Running a gallery takes a lot of commitment. How did you come to the decision to open one? 

I was managing a group of artists and dealing with the various ins and outs of showing them in other galleries. It was becoming clear that there was a distinct aspect to their work that would be suited to all being housed under one venue. 

Are there any specific ways in which you hope to influence the art scene?

Less focus on the institution, elitism, esoterism, and in-groupings, and more focus on the art. I’m constantly trying to bridge and dialogue previously disparate elements of the art world, to meld new forms and collaborations. 

Does bG Gallery align with, or differ from, what you originally envisioned it to be?

It’s different. At the start, I focused on my own art preferences, towards highly psychological expressionist work. I was very concerned about how the gallery would be seen as respectable by both critics and art world peers. I didn’t even consider business aspects, think of it in business terms, or more importantly the benefits to the community and the receivers of the art. It took experience and being exposed to other perspectives to switch focus and take into consideration what the vision provides to others. When I took on a new business partner with a keen interest in New Contemporary, they started to change the type of work we focused, and opened my mind to very unique crossovers. Engaging viewers is now a strong goal of the gallery, as well as opening them to work they might not have been open to, by providing an accessible bridge in. 

Can you tell me a little about your intentions with “Gestalt Projects”?

While bG’s represented artists tend to bridge domains within their practice, “Gestalt Projects” give us the opportunity to branch out to more varieties of work. We create an installation or a highly specific theme that allows us to present vastly different fields of art together in a unified show. For example, in our “Endless Horizon” show this August, we will be showing works of all styles that have a strong horizontal line (a horizon line in landscape works or just a line in abstract works). We are lining all these up, and hanging the works close to each other, so that there is a continuous horizon line through the gallery. A photo realistic picture might be hung next to an abstract work hung next to a photograph, for example. 

What do you find most rewarding about gallery directing and curating?

Bringing about a vision of your own art world, infiltrated into the others. 

What are some of the challenges that you face?

A constantly evolving market raising costs of doing business. Finding the right people to fit the artists you serve and vice-versa. COVID-19. 

Are there certain qualities that you look for in artists in deciding whether they will be pleasurable to work with? And on the contrary, any areas for improvement artists should be aware of?

Quality of work. Ease to work with. Potential for sales. These are possibly a triangle, where strength on one side can make up for weakness on the other. Conversely, if one side is missing it will not stand. 

Do you have any specific do’s and don’ts for artists looking to submit their work to you?

Email, then remind me two times so it's fresh on the email chain. Don’t approach to show your work on your phone at receptions or at art fairs. 

Do you have any plans for bG Gallery beyond what it is today?

We are expanding our Modern Masters program, and we are moving more into online modalities to keep the art community alive online during these COVID times. Our goal is to get more exposure for our artists and serve more collectors no matter what shape the frontier takes. 

Monday, August 10, 2020

Anita Inverarity of Inverarity Gallery

Anita Inverarity is the owner of Inverarity Gallery in Alvah, Scotland, focusing on illustrative fine arts, fantasy and pop surreal genres.

What made you decide to decide to open up a gallery?

I had been putting on art events for several years previously in local venues. I was brought up with the punk DIY attitude of not waiting to be invited by the art establishment, but to just go and do things with friends and have fun. 

It started voluntarily but when we moved location I decided I enjoyed it too much to leave the exhibitions behind. We up-sized in order to have viewing rooms and a studio in a old farmhouse and took it from there. Apart from being an artist full time it's my dream job. I love being surrounded by art and creativity.  

You are also a full time visual artist. How do you find the time to create works while also running a busy gallery?

The gallery is hugely time consuming but rewarding. The first few years were pretty full on with monthly shows to attend to, I think this was nice to get us established. My partner Phil is the main Gallerist in a lot of ways, he handles the website, accounts, admin and packing (I am sure I have forgotten a list of little jobs there). This leaves me to curate the shows and look after the artists. Due to bigger personal projects this year we pulled it back to seasonal shows and have been really enjoying the space to promote the art more and enjoy the works for longer. This format will continue next year too.     

Your focus is on illustrative fine arts, fantasy and pop-surrealism. Is this what you initially envisioned your gallery to represent? What kind of effect do these themes have on your audience?

Yes I wanted to have a mix of genres that were less well exhibited here in Scotland together, as a more specialist outlet. My own art is illustrative and the artists I have met over the years online represented a broad range of art under these particular genres. We have a beautiful array of more traditional galleries in Scotland already and certainly our vision to create and develop a magical setting is in fitting with the work we represent.     

Do you find that working with other artists has opened up opportunities for your own creative expression?

I have been lucky to work with some amazing artists. I am part of an online collective who do monthly themed auctions on Facebook and this always inspires things I might not try otherwise. I have now done 2 duet shows with US based artist Tammy Wampler, one in Nashville and one at the Moray Art Centre in Scotland (both hosting in our respective countries, but our next one we plan to meet up somewhere cool). I also enjoy collaborating with a jeweller regularly (my friend Victoria at Silver Orb). I love connecting and collaborating with other creatives when I can. 

What do you find most rewarding about the gallery directing?

Installing the shows is a highlight and everything usually fits so perfectly which is hugely satisfying. Then of course uniting a piece of art with a new owner is very exciting and a very personal thing. I love hearing about why someone was drawn to a particular piece.   

What are some of the challenges that you face?

Balancing capacity and keeping things fresh probably, but we have been planning things which may help with this as we go forward.

Are there certain qualities that you look for in artists in deciding whether they will be pleasurable to work with? And on the contrary, any areas for improvement artists should be aware of?

At the moment we are invite only, but certainly it's art led and whether the artist meets the aesthetic of a theme with their work. Experience with a gallery is desirable, but we work with artists at all stages of their career. I love particularly when artists are confident about their pricing structure and know the "hidden" rule of thumb about not undercutting your gallery representation. We also appreciate hugely when artists take care with framing presentation. Generally if an artist works with us we are here to help. I like to think we are approachable and laid back.   

Do you have any specific do’s and don’ts for artists looking to submit their work to you? 

As we are not recruiting right now it's probably not applicable, but a few images with a cover note by email will still get a response. Occasionally we have done open calls, so just checking you meet what we are asking for is always good. Probably the big thing is don't feel bad if you don't get into your chosen gallery straight away or a particular show, there are many reasons why a submission might not hit the spot for a show or feature and it is rarely the art or quality. Just keep going and try more places until you get a fit.   

Do you have future plans for Inverarity Gallery beyond what you are doing today?

Yes we do have some quite exciting plans to develop more areas both physically and online. We started working on some new things with a young team during lockdown. I'm not sure I can say much just yet but we tend to just roll with chance and synchronicity a lot. It seems to have worked so far.

Friday, July 24, 2020

Melissa Walker of Distinction Gallery

Melissa Walker is the owner of Distinction Gallery in Escondido, CA, focusing on contemporary realism, surrealism and urban art.

(Melissa Inez Walker - left, Amber Lowe- center, Melissa Ralston - right - photo by Stephen Davis)

When did you first realize your passion for the arts?
I fell in love with art in high school. My sister was in a photography class and a few museum shows. It was a new experience for me and made quite an impact. When I was 15 I took the same class. Our teacher was fantastic and really pushed his students to be creative. He also took us on field trips to museums and showed us lots of art books. My love for art blossomed from then on.

Where there any pivotal moments in life that made you decide to become a gallery director?
After college from NM I moved to San Diego. I came here to work as an art installer for the Museum of Contemporary Art both in La Jolla and downtown. It was a satisfying job, including getting to handle and install artworks by one of my favorite artists, Frida Kahlo, among many others. Next, I worked with photographer Philipp Scholz Rittermann who taught me a great deal about the commercial side. Then, I lucked out and was hired as the assistant director of Joseph Bellows Gallery in La Jolla. I already had an extensive business education from my Dad, but I learned the business of selling art from Joseph.

At the time I was also an active artist working out of a studio downtown. It wasn’t ideal and the other tenants rarely used their studios. When a building came on the market in downtown Escondido I thought it was the perfect time to take a risk and purchase the building. My boyfriend Sam (who shortly after became my husband) and I transformed the dilapidated building into 14 very private studios and a gallery.

Are there any specific ways in which you hope to make an impression on the art scene?
I hope to have already made an impression. I try to treat both my clients and artists equally well. A huge amount of my business comes from referrals from my existing clients so I like to think it has been a successful collaboration.
I have done several large outside shows (all either commissions or pre-sold out shows) at a nightclub in Vegas, SDAI in San Diego, and CCAE in Escondido. These have been a few of the highlights of my career.

How is running the gallery different today from how it was back in 2004?
It is far more exhilarating today. When we opened in 2004 buying art online hadn’t become popular. Fast forward to 2011 and the gallery really started to take off. I remember selling many people’s first purchases to them in 2012 - 2014 and it was their first ever online art purchase. Now, it is very common and a good portion of our sales are national and international. Working with so many artists and clients around the world has been one of the most rewarding experiences.

What do you find most rewarding about gallery directing and curating?
The most satisfying part is working with people - both the artists and my clients. Artists, like art collectors, share the same passion in life and are always so gracious and down to earth. They are the ones who make it the best possible career choice.

What are some of the challenges that you face?
My husband Sam passed away from cancer in 2018 after a 14 year marriage. That has been my most difficult challenge. It was great to have a partner to share the responsibilities with, but more importantly to discuss the future with. He was the only other person who loved the business as much as I do. I have a great staff, but it doesn’t make up for the loss of both my life and business partner. It especially hurts to think that he doesn’t get to see or enjoy all of the new additions I have added since his passing.

Are there certain qualities that you look for in artists in deciding whether they will be pleasurable to work with? And on the contrary, any areas for improvement artists should be aware of?
There are so many fantastic visual artists, but as I am working closely with all of them our personalities need to be compatible. I love to work with artists who are savvy about the art market, but also respectful of my time. I pay artists quickly. If an artist misses deadlines or delivers short on the amount of works we agreed on I likely won’t work with them again. It is also always appreciated when an artist helps to market the show.

Do you have any specific do’s and don’ts for artists looking to submit their work to you? 
Never approach gallerists during receptions - that is when we make money. I am also never a fan of artists showing up unannounced. My time in the gallery is limited and well planned out. If an artist is interested in a gallery they should send high quality images via email along with info and prices about the pieces. Also, don’t be disappointed if you don’t hear back. I get lots of great submissions, but with a limited amount of time in each day I often don’t have a chance to respond.

Do you have any plans for Distinction Gallery beyond what it is today?
In the last 2 years I added 3 studios, an art bar, another restroom, as well as remodeled our kitchen and lounge spaces. I have promised myself that I will take a break on projects and just enjoy the space. After all, it’s my home away from home and as my husband said “Reminder to all... Life is short... Make the best of it”.

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Sergio Gomez of 33 Contemporary Gallery

Sergio Gomez is the director / curator of 33 Contemporary Gallery based in Chicago, focusing on premier contemporary realism and figurative art.

What are your first memories of feeling passionately towards the arts?
My earliest memories go back to my child hood sitting in a church pew. My mom used to give me pen and paper to stay quiet during sermons. That is where I started to draw what I saw and create visual stories. It was lots of fun actually.

What made you decide to dedicate your time to helping artists?
Since I opened my gallery and started curating in 2004, I realized the power of
community. I would sit with young aspiring artists who wanted to know how to be
professional artists and how to get in the art world. Later, I started to speak to art groups in the area about the business of art. Eventually, that lead to starting the Artist Next Level podcast and the Art NXT Level Academy to help artists around
the world with the their art business strategies. Those projects also made my
business partnership with Didi Menendez of PoetsArtists so much more meaningful.
Didi has been working with artists for a long time and helping them get published,
gain exposure, and get recognition in the art world. PoetsArtists has launched the
career of many successful figurative artists and continues to parter with galleries
and museums around the world. We both lead our communities and share a passion for seeing artists succeed in the world.

What are some of the reactions you receive from your curated events?
By now, I have curated over 150 exhibitions of all kinds and sizes in 5 different
countries. The reactions have been wide and varied over the years. Everyone
comes to a show with a different expectation. My most memorable reactions are
when one person finds himself/herself confronted by a work of art and looks at it
for a long time. It never gets old. Good or bad press reviews are just that, critics
doing their job. But a totally random person coming across a work of art that
touches them or makes them think and react in such a way that the person has no
option but to freeze in time, tops any good review for me. It is quite frankly what
excites me about curating. I have seen people cry, laugh, rejoice and experience
sadness in front of a work of art.

What do you find most rewarding about the curation process?
Seeing a physical work of art for the first time that you have been staring at in a
computer screen for long time is thrilling and exhilarating. It is so exciting to
experience the art work in person, smell the paint, feel its weight, and see how it
changes with light. That is the part of the process that unfortunately gets lost in
curating for print or digital media. The experiential proximity to the object gets
lost. I love when all my senses are involved in the process.

What are some of the challenges that you face?
The biggest challenge right now we all have in the art world is dealing with the
pandemic and the changes it will bring to the economy, curating, showing art and
the way we experience art. I think this is the top dilemma right now for all of us in the art world. It is uncharted territory. But at the same time, every challenge
brings new opportunities. I tend to focus on the new opportunity rather than in
the problem that got me there. We are putting a lot of effort into our digital
presence and online promotions to give our collectors a great experience when
working with us.

Are there certain qualities that you look for in artists in deciding whether they
will be pleasurable to work with? And on the contrary, any areas for improvement
artists should be aware of?

I always look for honesty and authenticity. Working with an artist is a relationship
that is built over time. Trust is developed overtime as well. You want the best for
your artists and the artists want the best for you in a healthy relationship. That is the goal, to grow and succeed together.

Do you have any specific do’s and don’ts for artists looking to submit their work
to you?

Always do your homework first and learn as much as you can about the galleries
you want to approach. Follow the gallery in social media and become part of their
community by commenting, sharing and getting noticed. Do not email 20 images
introducing yourself. Lol. Visit our website to learn how to join our community
and submit work to us at

Do you have future plans for curation beyond what you are doing today?
A curator’s mind is always cooking the next thing. Yes, I have so many ideas I want
to pursue still. I’m also carefully looking at how the world is changing and evolving from the pandemic. That will dictate a lot of how people experience art.
Follow me on Instagram @sergiogomezart
Follow my gallery on Instagram @33contemporary