Art Market
The New York Artist-Run Galleries You Need to Know, Part II
Left to right: The artists who run Underdonk; Bodega; and Pierogi.

Left to right: The artists who run Underdonk; Bodega; and Pierogi.

Do artists make better gallerists? Over the course of this series, we go to the source for answers—posing the question to artists who’ve been inspired to open galleries around the world. In Part II of our New York focus, we speak with the impresarios behind artist-run spaces across the city, from a Bushwick gallery known for an irreverent program and a sexually suggestive name and a Williamsburg mainstay that was cool decades before the neighborhood was to one artist’s closet in Greenpoint. These artists aren’t just moonlighting as gallerists, but rather fusing the two pursuits—and effectively recasting traditional artist-dealer divides in reimagining what a gallery can be.


Greenpoint Terminal Gallery

Brian Willmont

67 West Street, #320, Greenpoint, Brooklyn

Brian Willmont at Greenpoint Terminal Gallery. Courtesy Greenpoint Terminal Gallery.

Brian Willmont at Greenpoint Terminal Gallery. Courtesy Greenpoint Terminal Gallery.

Brian Willmont tempted fate when he opened Greenpoint Terminal Gallery on Friday the 13th in September 2013, with a show inspired by his building’s history of arson. Since then, he’s developed a program marked by dynamic, diverse exhibitions, filled with a variety of works and materials from hand-woven textiles to cartoonish graphite drawings to live performance. In his shows, Willmont engages his community and fellow artists who run their own spaces—in the past he’s featured artists such as Graham Hamilton of Violet’s Cafe, Leeza Meksin of Ortega y Gasset, Max Warsh of Regina Rex, and Jesse Greenberg of 247365.


Artsy: What inspired you to open a gallery?

Brian Willmont: It was kind of the perfect storm. I had a friend moving out of the front space of my studio and having a history of curatorial projects, I decided I’d put on a few shows before renting it out again. It was exciting, casually putting shows together in this hidden space in Brooklyn. I was surprised by how quickly the gallery gained support and momentum. The community felt ready for it and it was energizing.

Artsy: How do you balance your own art practice with running the gallery?

BW: Having my studio and the gallery in the same place lets me go back and forth between projects and divide my time more easily. I’m definitely still figuring it out, but mostly it just takes a lot of old-fashioned hard work.

Artsy: Can you tell us a bit about your exhibition program?

BW: I have a long list of artists that I’m always adding to, which I arrange into little clusters that make sense to me. I love to support my community, but I try to show whoever feels right, regardless of whether I know them personally, where they are located, etc.

Artsy: What makes a gallery successful?

BW: When it fully has a life outside of you.

Artsy: Do artists make better gallerists?

BW: Not better, but we don’t have to play by the same rules and are on the ground floor. We have different perspectives and access than professional galleries and that’s where our advantage is.


Kimberly-Klark

Robert Alan Grand, Emma Hazen, Sydney Smith, Dennis Witkin

788 Woodward Avenue, Ridgewood, Queens

Emma Hazen, Dennis Witkin, Sydney Smith, Robert Alan Grand at Kimberly-Klark. Courtesy Kimberly-Klark. 

Emma Hazen, Dennis Witkin, Sydney Smith, Robert Alan Grand at Kimberly-Klark. Courtesy Kimberly-Klark. 

Recent graduates Grand, Hazen, Smith, and Witkin formed Kimberly-Klark in late 2014 in Ridgewood, Queens—an area quickly attracting artists and their studios into its spacious, industrial vibe. With each member of the team taking on one specific gallery duty, a rich and respected program has developed. Their supremely successful September show, “Umpawaug’s Bloom,” featured contemporary artists Ashley Carter, Phil Cote, Erin Jane Nelson, and the late Neo-dada master Ray Johnson. In the coming months, the gallery will be busy with an exciting December exhibition—with artists such as Ryan Travis Christian, Débora Delmar, Ann Hirsch, and Alison Veit (sister of Bodega’s Eric Veit)—and a presentation at Material Art Fair in Mexico City.


Artsy: How do you balance your own art practice with running the gallery?

Kimberly-Klark: We all have specific roles to keep the division of labor manageable so that we can pursue our own individual practices alongside running the space. That being said, we can feel frustrated at times—it’s New York and your time, money, and energy are all precious resources—but it’s a special kind of frustration. Kimberly-Klark is entrenched in whatever we do, and while that’s complicated, we all feel that it’s incredibly worth it.

Artsy: Can you tell us a bit about your exhibition program?

Kimberly-Klark: We don’t have a strict guide to how we construct our programming. Ideas are formed together and apart. There is a lot of generative feedback exchanged between the four of us. As of late, we’ve been more inclined to think less about curating and more about what it means to get the chance to work closely with artists we appreciate who are making work that has an urgency to it, and giving them the resources to produce something special.

Artsy: In your opinion, what makes a gallery successful? 

Kimberly-Klark: For us it means creating meaningful, considered, and exciting exchanges. Making sure the artists or curators we work with feel fulfilled by their experience, and having programming that’s inclusive and expansive. Getting to work closely with artists and forming a network is important to us, so if we’re doing that, then we’re successful.

Artsy: Do artists make better gallerists?

Kimberly-Klark: If the goal is to be an artist-run space supported by sales, then there’s a benefit to having experience in the way that the industry works from both sides. That being said, a lot of our favorite spaces are run by artists who have jobs and practices that support their space and the ability to have interesting programming not driven by outside forces. There’s the opportunity for good programming at any level. 


SARDINE

Lacey Fekishazy, Jon Lutz

286 Stanhope St, Bushwick, Brooklyn

Jon Lutz and Lacey Fekishazy with Spanish Dance by Matthew F Fisher at SARDINE Gallery. Courtesy SARDINE Gallery. Photography by Amy Frances Fraher.

Jon Lutz and Lacey Fekishazy with Spanish Dance by Matthew F Fisher at SARDINE Gallery. Courtesy SARDINE Gallery. Photography by Amy Frances Fraher.

SARDINE began as a solo venture by artist Lacey Fekishazy in October 2011, inspired by the space itself. It wasn’t until 2013 that Jon Lutz came on as a director (previously he ran an independent curatorial project called Daily Operation) and the program shifted to focus on solo presentations. With distinct-yet-complementary tastes, Fekishazy and Lutz engage a broad swathe of artists, mostly drawn from their community in New York, where both have lived for many years.

 

Artsy: What inspired you to open a gallery?

Lacey Fekishazy: SARDINE is my first space. I didn’t really set out to open a gallery, I was looking for a new studio space to work in and found a listing for a small ground floor space near the Dekalb L. When I went to see it, I kept thinking it would make a good gallery. So it is really a result of responding to a space and wanting to promote my peers.

Artsy: How do you balance your own art practice with running the gallery?

LF: My art practice dried up due partly to the gallery, but also traveling for work, becoming too self-critical, getting married, and having a baby. All of these things contributed to a lapse of a studio practice. The gallery is now four years old and my child is two. I am just starting to work again and am making some smaller paintings and watercolors that I am excited about. It feels amazing to use that part of my brain again.

Artsy: Do artists make better gallerists?

LF: Of course! Artists can use their creative edge and eye as an advantage. They can appreciate the time and effort it takes to make work in a way that people who don’t create cannot. They may be more likely to take risks that really business-minded people wouldn’t. I also think that some gallerists are artists and don’t realize it, like my partner Jon Lutz.


Underdonk

Chris Bertholf, Tryn Collins, Nicholas Cueva, Laura Frantz, Ashley Garrett, Essye Klempner, Aleta Lanier, Jaeeun Lee, JJ Manford, Danielle Orchard, Elisa Soliven

1329 Willoughby Avenue, #211, Bushwick, Brooklyn

Front row: Aleta Lanier, Tryn Collins, Ashley Garrett, Chris Bertholf. Back row: Jaeeun Lee, Nicholas Cueva, JJ Manford, Essye Klempner, Laura Frantz and Elisa Soliven at Underdonk. Courtesy Underdonk. 

Front row: Aleta Lanier, Tryn Collins, Ashley Garrett, Chris Bertholf. Back row: Jaeeun Lee, Nicholas Cueva, JJ Manford, Essye Klempner, Laura Frantz and Elisa Soliven at Underdonk. Courtesy Underdonk. 

Originating in the vibrant artist community of Bushwick’s 1717 Troutman Street, Underdonk moved in July into a new home in the neighborhood. In some four months since moving, the 11 artists at the space’s helm have already churned out a slew of exciting exhibitions. Perhaps most notable among them was their October show “Paul Klee,” referencing the 20th-century Swiss-German modernist master, which featured works by 20 contemporary artists—including Amy Feldman and Jonathan Lasker—who embrace sensory processes in their work, be they linguistic, semiotic, musical, or mathematical. Another exhibition this fall, “Underdonk @ ESX LA,” brought their program across the country to Los Angeles art space Eastside International.


Artsy: How do you balance your own art practice with running the gallery?

Underdonk: Because there are 11 of us, there’s an opportunity to share responsibility. Every member gets a month to organize a show with complete creative freedom, while the rest of the group provides support in other responsibilities such as gallery-sitting and PR. We find that it’s a good model to have time to focus on our own work, while supporting the gallery at the same time. We meet as a group monthly and trust each other in asking for input when needed. We also invite outside curators to organize shows at our space.

Artsy: Can you tell us a bit about your exhibition program?

Underdonk: Giving each member his or her own unique show allows for a diverse program showcasing many different perspectives and a variety of interests in artists working today, which allows the program to evolve organically over time. It involves a lot of trust to hand over the programming to an individual each time, but we feel confident about this and respect each other’s perspectives and ideas. Advocating for lesser-known artists who may not be from or based in New York, and who do other kinds of work as their primary practice is a kind of risk. It’s a risk putting money and time towards something that’s not about a return on an investment; it’s entirely a labor of love.

Artsy: Do artists make better gallerists?

Underdonk: Many people in various positions at all kinds of galleries are also artists, so we find the separation hard to define. Curating and the business side of galleries are quite different. Artists might be more willing to take risks in curating and selecting work because we don’t have the same kind of bottom line as a commercial gallery. We try to keep costs low, so that it’s solely an innovative endeavor and not a commercial one. We like to put together work in shows that we might not be seeing around us in the art world. Having an idea about certain artworks or artists together and then actually making it happen is really empowering, really engaging, and really fun.

Artsy: What’s next?

Underdonk: We plan to do editions with artists in collaboration with Robert Blackburn Printmaking Workshop, participate in art fairs, and continue the exchange shows we started this fall with Los Angeles in areas outside of New York. We also are starting to curate together instead of only individually, and seeing what comes out of this dialogue as on-going collaborators.


EDDYSROOM

Austin Eddy

Greenpoint, Brooklyn

Austin Eddy in EDDYSROOM. Courtesy EDDYSROOM.

Austin Eddy in EDDYSROOM. Courtesy EDDYSROOM.

One month ago, Brooklyn-based artist Austin Eddy decided to open a gallery in a 8-by-4-by-2-foot closet on the second floor of his Greenpoint apartment. With his second show on view now and plans for a third slated for January 2016, Eddy displays miniature exhibitions of his personal collection, which includes works by the likes of Katherine Bernhardt, Joshua Abelow, and Howard Finster. EDDYSROOM’s program is likely to blossom as the artist continues to sift through incoming artist submissions.


Artsy: What inspired you to open a gallery?

Austin Eddy: Why not right? I had some extra space and it just seemed like something to do. I opened the gallery last month. This second show is the first show where the closet was fixed up. The other show was in a much more raw and unfinished space.

Artsy: Can you tell us a bit about your exhibition program?

AE: The program thus far has been from my personal collection. Moving forward into the next year the program will grow to be something else. I am still accepting submissions.

Artsy: What’s next for you?

AE: Onwards and upwards. I am excited about the upcoming year. There will be a handful of solo shows, but we are mostly going to focus on group shows here at EDDYSROOM. 


Orgy Park

Steve Mykietyn

237 Jefferson Street 1B, Bushwick, Brooklyn

Steve Mykietyn at Orgy Park. Courtesy Orgy Park. 

Steve Mykietyn at Orgy Park. Courtesy Orgy Park. 

From the round canvases of Zach Bruder and Amy Brener’s massive hanging sheaths of neon green silicone to R. Blair Sullivan’s sprawling carbon deposits covering the ceiling of the gallery, there’s never a dull moment at Bushwick’s Orgy Park. Steve Mykietyn, who established the alternative space in 2012, created it initially to satiate his artist friends who were hungry for a place to show their work—one that deviated from white-cube models typical of commercial galleries. Mykietyn went on to create a hub for a unique contemporary artistic community with a commitment to creative collaboration.



Artsy: What was your first show?

Steve Mykietyn: We opened our first show in September of 2012 with “Kelly’s Eye Club,” a wacky group show with around 30 artists. It made sense to kick it off with a larger show to build community and make it more fun.

Artsy: How do you balance your own art practice with running the gallery?

SM: My favorite thing is when I get to sit in my studio and think. It’s really important to plan ahead as much as possible—several times I’ve suggested doing a show a year in advance with the artists. When I work on Orgy Park I like to bounce ideas with my colleagues; however, when I’m in the studio it’s a bit more of a solitary time.

Artsy: Do artists make better gallerists?

SM: It seems that that is true in several cases, however it isn’t necessary. What I hope to have is a better understanding of artist’s needs. We get chances to put on exciting shows as they are not driven by paying super-high rent and can respond with more independence. I often use the word “We” when talking about Orgy Park with the idea that the artists in the show have full say on what they want to do, as temporary agents of the gallery.

Artsy: What’s next for you?

SM: We are working on a big show for the holidays where the artists exchange work based on the Befana and the Epiphany. Curating shows outside of the Jefferson Street space has been a compelling step and one which we will have a few opportunities in the coming year. We are also looking into expanding to a second location. There is an idea to have a second space that is totally a park, based more on sculpture and performance. Also, we are looking for a great intern to help us think of more answers to the question “Why is it called Orgy Park?”


Essex Flowers

Tisch Abelow, Justin Berry, Patrick Brennan, Melissa Brown, Tatiana Kronberg, Sara Murphy, Kendra Jayne Patrick, Joshua Smith, Ryan Blair Sullivan, Jeffrey Tranchell, Lizzie Wright

54.5 Ludlow Street, Lower East Side, Manhattan

Installation View “I Would Prefer Not to Include My Name” at Essex Flowers, 2015, Curated by Kendra Jayne Patrick. Courtesy Essex Flowers. Photography by Kyle Knodell. 

Installation View “I Would Prefer Not to Include My Name” at Essex Flowers, 2015, Curated by Kendra Jayne Patrick. Courtesy Essex Flowers. Photography by Kyle Knodell. 

It all began for Essex Flowers in 2013, in the basement of the eponymous flower shop located at 365 Grand Street on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Bill Frazer, the flower shop’s owner, sought the artists out, looking for individuals to show art in his space. Nine artists began the endeavor, adopting a flexible gallery model—part-artist co-op, part kunsthalle. They’ve since moved and grown in members. And while still in search of a permanent space, the founders maintain their pursuit to show the artists they want to see.  


Artsy: What inspired you to open a gallery?

Essex Flowers: The idea of collectively opening a gallery was an idea many of us had been kicking around for a while, with a number of other artists. Several of us had already run similar spaces at different times and places. As many galleries as there were operating in the city, there were still more artists and exhibitions we wanted to see.

Artsy: How do you balance your own art practices with running the gallery?

EF: It’s different for everyone. We all have different practices and we all offer different skills to the space. We all work together to make things happen but “balance” might not be the right word for it.

Artsy: Can you tell us a bit about your exhibition program?

EF: We don’t have a strict schedule. People just speak up when they have an idea and we make sure everyone’s wishes are considered. Most of the artists we exhibit are people someone in the group has a personal connection with, but that’s not a rule. We can’t really take outside proposals because there’re already about a dozen people waiting their turn.

Artsy: What makes a gallery successful?

EF: Definitions of success can be far reaching, but in a traditional sense, an entity that is self-sustaining and contributes new and thought-provoking artwork to the public, as well as presents the historically underrated or overlooked.

Artsy: Do artists make better gallerists?

EF: Probably not. I think we’re generally more likely to take chances and give unlikely people opportunities. But after that we can be pretty conflicted about most any aspect. Artists have to wear a lot of hats to get by in this town but I think we’re always worried about one of those roles overshadowing our artistic identity. In fact, “gallerist” is maybe the last title any of us would like to claim.   

Artsy: What’s next for you?

EF: There are about 12 of us now, so that means there are about as many ideas of how the space will continue to evolve. 


Bodega

Elyse Derosia, Eric Veit

167 Rivington Street, Lower East Side, Manhattan

Elyse Derosia and Eric Veit. Courtesy Bodega. Photography by Oto Gillen.

Elyse Derosia and Eric Veit. Courtesy Bodega. Photography by Oto Gillen.

Bodega’s roots lie in Philadelphia, where Derosia and Veit started the gallery with three friends in 2010. The early years were focused on performance; the first show was a series of performances including artists such as Stewart Uoo and Calla Henkel and Max Pitegoff (whose works are featured in the gallery’s current show). Today, Derosia and Veit maintain a calendar of thought-provoking shows (hints of which can also be glimpsed at art fairs such as Paris Internationale and NADA). Their February show with Hayley A. Silverman, for example, featured a wheelbarrow filled with resin sand dollars containing both coin (Chinese, Greek, Israeli, and more) and so-called “energy” currencies (bee pollen, metal, rice, and spices), an LED-lit floating carpet, and a mirrored box filled with cutouts and colored sand.


Artsy: What inspired you to open a gallery?

Bodega: When we started the gallery in Philadelphia in 2010, none of us had ever worked in a gallery before and I’m not sure if any of us even thought about the project in terms as concrete as “gallery.”

Artsy: Can you tell us a bit about your exhibition program?

Bodega: Our goal is to show art that articulates a complicated worldview with unique subject positions. Our decisions are complex and sometimes include logic we don’t fully understand ourselves, but at the core of our relationships with our artists is a belief in the artist herself, in her decisions and perspectives.

Artsy: In your opinion, what makes a gallery successful?

Bodega: The presentation of complicated and interesting ideas, subversive actions, and socio-political consciousness.

Artsy: What’s next for you?

Bodega: We’re going to be at NADA in Miami in two weeks. We’ll be bringing work by Jason Benson, Sam Lipp, Orion Martin, Andy Meerow, Elizabeth Orr, Hayley A. Silverman, and Dena Yago. And we’re looking forward to solo exhibitions with Em Rooney and Orion Martin in early 2016.


Pierogi

Joe Amrhein, Susan Swenson

177 North 9th Street, Williamsburg, Brooklyn

The Boiler: 191 North 14th Street, Williamsburg, Brooklyn

 Justin Amrhein, Joe Amrhein, Jen Hitchings, Audrey Irving, Susan Swenson at Pierogi. Courtesy Pierogi. 

 Justin Amrhein, Joe Amrhein, Jen Hitchings, Audrey Irving, Susan Swenson at Pierogi. Courtesy Pierogi. 

For Joe Amrhein, Williamsburg in the early ’90s was an affordable place to live, have a studio, and eat pierogies—a far cry from the increasingly crowded, trendy neighborhood we know today. Pierogi began in 1994 as a weekend gallery venture for Amrhein, but it now encompasses a formal gallery space, a second space nearby called The Boiler, and The Flat Files, a mobile portfolio of works by over 700 artists, which has traveled worldwide and is available online. (Another yet-to-be-disclosed location is also in the works.) Susan Swenson, Amrhein’s wife and business partner, serves as co-director, with both working to put on shows of artists from Jonathan Schipper to Dawn Clements.


Artsy: What inspired you to open a gallery?

Joe Amrhein: My idea wasn’t to open a gallery to sell artwork and represent artists, but to create a venue to meet other artists, a place to show work and discuss ideas. The name came after finding myself constantly eating at the same restaurant on the corner, Kasia’s, which was the only place to eat for miles around. After ordering pierogies on many of my visits it struck me that it would be a great name for a gallery—a metaphor for spaces filled with delicious things. I guess that was nuts but they did taste good. The first exhibition in 1994 was a curated group show and our first major review was written by Charles Hagen of the New York Times in 1995, for a show of work by David Scher, which really put us on the map.

Artsy: How do you balance your own art practice with running the gallery?

JA: Balancing my own art practice with running a gallery has always been a challenge. The main thing that keeps me going is that I try not to separate the two. I see them as the same thing or the same thought process. The conflict is always about time. I think it’s a common complaint today of everyone doing too much and not finding time to fit it all in.

Artsy: Can you tell us a bit about your exhibition program?

JA: Our exhibition program has developed over the years. In the beginning we never considered representing artists. We were presenting artwork to create a dialogue. It was a way to develop. As time went on and we found ourselves fully involved and forming great relationships with the artists we were showing and selling their work our commitment developed into representing them. This was a whole new situation that was demanding yet incredibly rewarding.

Artsy: What makes a gallery successful?

JA: To us, for a gallery to be successful, the most important points are who and what they show; what chances they take; how they interact with and respect their artists and collectors that patronize the gallery; and the collections the gallery can place work in. I guess the typical idea of success is how much money is made—which is an undeniable part, bills must be paid in order to keep the doors open—but this is where most compromises are made about what artwork might be shown, among other things. Sometimes the success of a gallery is determined by outside factors, as well, such as location or affiliation. All we know is that it’s a lot of work, but for us it all works when it’s a way of life and not a job.

—Emily Torrey