Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Cultural Landscape Architects: Scott Zieher of ZieherSmith

(An abbreviated version of this interview appeared in the Huffington Post in February of 2012). 

"Liz Markus: The Look of Love," February 16 – March 17, 2012, at ZieherSmith

As New York began to rebuild from September 11, 2001 and move into the 21st century, a new wave of younger people became successful art dealers. Scott Zieher and Andrea Smith (now, Andrea Zieher) opened ZieherSmith in 2003 and helped lead the way, with Andrea serving as President of the influential New Art Dealers Alliance (“NADA”) from 2005 to 2009. In addition to his “day job” as a prominent gallerist, Scott is an accomplished poet with three brand new books that just released this month.

All Photos Courtesy of ZieherSmith.

Scott Zieher (Photo: Andre Pretorius)

Julie Chae: Scott, how did you and Andrea decide to start your own gallery?

Scott Zieher: I had been working in midtown selling contemporary art for 2 years, in the spring of 2002, and my (now) wife Andrea was working as a director of exhibitions uptown for an American paintings dealer, Vance Jordan. We were living in Spanish Harlem and seeing shows constantly, writing $25 online reviews for AOL’s Digital City. We were both more interested in emerging, younger artists, and I knew a lot of great, unrepresented people that we felt would continue making strong work and likely sell. I started doing shows in my apartment and this unrepresented work was selling, so we felt confident we’d garner broader appeal with a storefront space.

September 11th happened and really changed everything; we decided to go after our own vision. We started looking for ground floor, store front space and after a few, excruciating months of hunting landed on a ground floor spot on West 25th Street. We were in business pretty quickly thereafter, opening on the Ides of March 2003. America went to war that day, so it seemed an auspicious start.

My memories of the beginning are very fond. My mother had passed away a couple of years earlier and I knew that she was proud of what we’d done.

JC: Were there any art world role models to guide or inspire you?

SC: My models are vast and various, but I can’t say anyone has influenced my eye, that’s far too personal. My mother gave me the freedom to be creative, and then encouraged it greatly when I seemed to gravitate toward the arts; I’m blessed for having her.

When it really comes down to it my influential precursors are specific to poets who’ve gravitated to the plastic arts and artists who’ve orbited poetry: principal, though are poets who championed art. I’ve most admired Frank O’Hara and Ezra Pound. O’Hara is well documented as a hero in the art world. His poetry has been invaluable: optimistic, urban, sophisticated and breezy, he danced with relative ease between the best of his contemporaries as a poet. Without caring much about academic aplomb, he forged careers for multiple canonical visual artists by way of a sociable, ambitious understanding of his American moment. Pound, despite his embarrassing political derivations, worked most of his life in the service of other poets and artists, this ceaseless approach is a model I strive for, and his output is unrivalled, multifarious and influential beyond comparison or recognition. His letters alone would dwarf the output of any artist you can name.

JC: ZieherSmith will be celebrating its ninth anniversary next month. Do you have any particularly special memories involving your shows or artists?

SC: Every show has a good story, if it matters in any way. I try not to dwell too much on shows past. I’m fond of our recent (December 2011) Allison Schulnik show “Mound.” We got great press and sold the work well and Allison is a complete joy to work with, across the board. After the opening we had dinner and she managed to get me to sing karaoke in Chinatown, a duet of Peaches and Herb’s “Reunited,” no less, and she’s a real pro!

Allison Schulnik, Standing Gin #3, 2011, glazed porcelain ceramic, 19”x12”x9”

SZ: I’m also proud to have shown an extensive selection of works by Joseph Cornell for his 100th birthday in December 2004, grouped with a great crop of young artists. Cornell is another model for me, both in his singularity and his broad knowledge.

Chuck Webster, Untitled, 2012, oil on panel, 48”x60”

SZ: I’ll always cherish the first studio visit with Chuck Webster: 2003, North Adams, Massachusetts, cold as hell, the best first meeting ever, warmed by Chuck’s huge blanket of drawings. Chuck is both utterly contemporary and steeped in a past that is riveting and relevant; he’s a great inheritor and rejuvenator of the constantly moribund tradition of abstract painting. 

JC: During Andrea’s Presidency, NADA became a powerful presence in emerging art and most agree that under her leadership, the NADA Fair became second only to the main fair in prestige and importance at Miami Art Basel. Could you or Andrea share a couple of her proudest achievements while she was heading up NADA?

Andrea Zieher:  NADA was a very grassroots thing that took off incredibly fast with the great vision of its founders. I was proud to take the helm and turn it into a fully-functioning, stable organization with a large annual budget. My changes included expanding to a full-time staff with medical benefits, an independent office, and obtaining federal legal status as a non-profit 501c6. In addition, my board members and I strived to maintain a focus beyond the popular satellite fair during Miami Basel and kept an emphasis throughout the year on the membership and public service. The international membership expanded greatly during my tenure and I made sure that membership dues were used solely for membership activities that enhanced business practices, ethics, and relationships.

SZ: Andrea worked really, really hard as president, and cared very deeply about the organization.

JC: Can you describe your program of artists or describe specific, special qualities about the art your gallery exhibits?  Would you articulate why it is important to exhibit the artists you do? 

SZ: We like to think our program consists of artists making technically sound and conceptually grounded work. I’m drawn to the narrative possibilities, and the human, hand-made.  Both Andrea and I, and most of our artists, are concerned with the past, and often this borders on a healthy obsession for me.

We also both really like old paper. I’m a sucker for the disembodied head and any smart re-interpretation of the human figure. I’m pretty visceral. That said, we try really hard to balance juicy, colorful oil painting with something that looks askance at the capabilities of a pristine white box.

I try really hard not to get caught up in what’s important about the things I do as a dealer, or discussing the idea of importance regarding art. I truly care about the people we represent and the work they make, and that’s what’s important to me. I’m trying everything I can to make sure their work lives on forever in as many capacities as possible.

JC: On a related note, I'd like to follow up on your comment in a May 2005 interview, where you say, “(A)s an art dealer, I like to think the ‘product’ we sell is pretty poetic.” 
When I read that, I completely connected with what you are saying, and it made perfect sense to me as I visualized the artists’ works that I know in the ZieherSmith program. Would you articulate what you mean by calling an artwork “poetic?”  

SZ: As a poet, I suppose I should be careful.  I mean that literally, in a kind of dictionary definition: I care about art that is emotionally charged and aesthetically relevant, but still challenging. Something poetic to me is a thing that has sensitivity above and beyond its bare facts. And to sell this type of “product” well, something which is a true luxury good as well as being widely misunderstood or ignored when it comes right down to it, takes the same resolve it takes to care deeply for poetry!

JC: Liz Markus and Eddie Martinez are acclaimed artists, good friends and popular among artists I know in New York. Liz just opened her 4th solo show at ZieherSmith!

How did you start working with them?

Eddie Martinez, Snake Eye, 2005, acrylic, pencil on paper, 11.5”x9”

SZ: We first showed Eddie in late 2005, at the NADA fair in Miami. He was introduced to me by Wes Lang at a party in Miami the year before (Eddie was making great, super-fast, little drawings on the beer splattered table, Wes was the DJ; that night will always remain as a swansong of December in Miami). Back in New York Eddie came to visit the gallery and we saw a lot of each other that Spring of 2005. His incredible energy and imagination were infectious. We had our first solo with him shortly thereafter and the rest is very successful history.

Eddie, in a generous turn, introduced us to Liz, including her in one of his many curatorial efforts.
Liz Markus, I Say a Little Prayer for You, 2012, acrylic on unprimed canvas, 54”x60”

JC: I remember that group show that Eddie curated; it included Katherine Bernhardt (KB), Jose Lerma and Andrew Guenther, as well as Liz. That was 2007 and the afterparty was at a dive bar in Chelsea and you’d ordered like a hundred pizzas to be delivered. KB introduced me to Andrew, who was painting those "dark" paintings back then, but I found him to be totally nice and not at all scary. And then there was a second afterparty in Eddie’s studio building in Bushwick, which back then was considered a really dangerous neighborhood. I'd never been there before so I didn't know. But Brian Belott got Eddie to call a car service for me when I was leaving. That cracks me up because you can still find multiple videos on the internet of Brian setting a huge fire to the hair on his head but that night he was concerned for my safety as I was leaving Eddie's studio building.

And what has it been like, working with Liz and Eddie?

SZ: Both relationships are nothing but fruitful, ambitious and reciprocal. We really try to embrace as much as we can of each artist’s approach to their practice, hopefully giving space when it’s needed and offering whatever we can when it’s asked for. We knew almost instantly with both artists that we’ve come upon something special. That’s all you can ask for, really; to recognize the ones with great focus coupled with ambition, and to recognize staying power combined hopefully with loyalty.

JC: I was visiting Liz’ studio back in 2007 and she showed me the press release to her first ZieherSmith solo show. I was very impressed with how you'd captured the essence of her work in a really nice way, and I asked her how it had been written. According to Liz, you two just sat down and talked about her work, and then you seemed to put it all together. Can you talk about how you approach discussing or writing about an artist's body of work (for an exhibition, let's say) and framing the way people look at that art?

Liz Markus, "All of These Things Were Way Beyond My Mind,” 2007, acrylic on unprimed canvas, 54”x72” 

SZ: I’m always delighted and shocked when people pay attention to our press releases, they can be the only public chance we have of “framing” the works we’re showing, and we try to take them seriously. Andrea is a very good, accomplished writer and a really keen editor and I guess it’s second nature to me to write about art, as I’ve actually been doing it for 30 years! I was really lucky to have art history classes in my high school in Waukesha, Wisconsin, so my ekphrastic impulse is long practiced.

Andrea typically lets me start and I improvise and gesticulate wildly for 3 paragraphs which she in turn carves into little ribbons of butter. It means a lot to me that people read our little 350 word expository exercises, so thank you.

JC: I so wanted to drive to Nashville for the opening of your pop-up space during the summer! I’d gone so far as to look up the driving route from NYC and asked Liz if she could go, in the hopes we might roadtrip. Since I saw it was a fifteen-hour drive, I’d emailed you to say that while 2 guys transporting art typically will drive non-stop for 20 hours, I suggested an overnight stop so you guys wouldn’t arrive exhausted -– maybe a stop in Charlottesville, VA, as the “grounds” (campus) are nice to walk around. You immediately emailed me back a detailed, 5-day itinerary that included a minor league baseball game! It sounded so great! 

So how much fun did you have driving down, with the excellent itinerary you’d planned? And why did you decide to exhibit in Nashville, when you could have been vacationing?

ZS: I was lucky to be driven to Nashville, with our dog, Robert, by a great ally and friend, Brad Hajzak. He’s a collector, advisor and great friend who wanted to be a part of the behind the scenes set-up for a travelling exhibition, so we made a road trip out of it. We mapped the route through Pennsylvania to stop at Falling Water and then Pittsburgh for the Warhol Museum. I managed to find us the worst hotel in Columbus, Ohio; even the dog was skittish. The next morning we proceeded to a marvelous chili dog lunch at Skyline in Louisville. We made good time and had a great trip.

We decided to do the pop-up because my wife’s family is primarily in the vicinity and we visit there often. There’s a lively scene in Nashville, and we hadn’t really tapped into it, so this seemed like a very thorough way to get to know some of the people making things happen. We were hoping to think apart from the art fair model, which has become really tiresome. It worked, as the local press all wrote at length about the show. We had a great turnout and hosted several events, we sold a good amount of work to local collectors who were new to us, and met a ton of artists, musicians and writers, including Dan Auerbach of the Black Key, who stopped by more than once.

JC: Have you decided yet whether you’ll do another pop-up show in Nashville this summer?

SZ: Yes we are! We have boots on the ground there, people looking at spaces for us all the time, but we can’t act on that until late Spring early summer.

JC: You’re a practicing poet. How do you find the dual energy to handle the needs and considerations and sensitivities of visual artists as a vocation while working toward furthering your own creative practice?

Scott’s latest books: THE PORNOGRAPHERS and PORNOGRAPHIES, with novelist Christopher Grimes (both: Jaded Ibis Press 2012); and GENTRY, featuring cover art by Stan Vanderbeek (Emergency Press 2012)

SZ: I love artists and the processes and practices of making art, I love art materials, in all their infinite capabilities. It seems perfectly logical to me to spend a life working in the service of people making art. Separating my own endeavors with the artists I represent has been crucial and very natural. As the age-old adage asks the poet: “what do you do with the other 23 hours in the day?” In addition to selling art, I write every day, and I have a desk at home where I work on collages. I’ll be in a group exhibition this summer at Charles Bank Gallery on the Bowery and I’m honored to be publishing three books this year, two are collaborations with Christopher Grimes: THE PORNOGRAPHERS and PORNOGRAPHIES (both: Jaded Ibis, 2012) featuring 195 collages I made in the last year. The other is my third book-length poem GENTRY (Emergency Press, 2012).

It’s my firm opinion that a poet who isn’t constantly writing poems, whole books of poems, or a poet who needs a pristine cabin in the woods with no distractions to create is a lazy poser. Quit sniveling, get to work. No excuses. If you truly care you will fail until you succeed.

Elbert Hubbard is one of my models. He wrote “Get your happiness out of your work or you will never know what happiness is.” Stellar advice; the world would be better off it was followed to the letter.
Scott Zieher, (Untitled), 2011, collage, from THE PORNOGRAPHERS, with Christopher Grimes (Jaded Ibis 2012)

Scott Zieher is co-owner of the contemporary art gallery ZieherSmith. In 2004 he won Emergency Press’ international book contest for his book-length poem, VIRGA. He has since published the following books: IMPATIENCE (Emergency Press 2009); BAND OF BIKERS (powerHouse Books 2010), his collection of found photographs from 1972; GENTRY (Emergency Press 2012), his third book-length poem; and THE PORNOGRAPHERS and PORNOGRAPHIES (both: Jaded Ibis Press 2012), collaborations with novelist Christopher Grimes featuring Zieher’s collages. Recent poetry has appeared in The Believer, Jubilat, KNOCK and The Iowa Review. Zieher was born in Waukesha, Wisconsin and received his MFA in poetry from Columbia University in 1996. He lives in Manhattan with his wife (and co-owner of the gallery) Andrea, their son, Tennessee and dog, Robert.
516 West 20th Street
Currently on view: "Liz Markus: The Look of Love," February 16 - March 17
Upcoming:" Paul Housley: Mudpusher Blues," March 22 - April 21

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Conversation with Lisa Gold of Washington Project for the Arts

(An abbreviated version of this interview appeared in the Huffington Post in February of 2012).  
We Are Science perform at the WPA SynchroSwim 2009. Photo: Max Cook

I met Lisa Gold, the Executive Director of Washington Project for the Arts (WPA), during the (e)merge Art Fair in Washington, DC last year and was instantly struck by her enthusiasm and dedication to the arts. Bright, saavy and energetic, she is an innovative arts administrator with great ideas for helping artists succeed and a knack for making things happen. Having worked at Socrates Sculpture Park, apexart, The Drawing Center and now WPA, Lisa has over twenty years of experience in arts management, development, programming, outreach and public relations. One of her first WPA projects upon arriving in 2009 was to produce an art event at the Capitol Skyline Hotel which became, under her direction, a day of performance art utilizing the pool for a synchronized swimming competition. She followed the smash success of this event by implementing new programs at WPA such as the Public Art Residency at Socrates and InfoEx (events with visiting international curators from ISCP).

Lisa somehow found time to chat with me during a recent frenzied week as WPA prepared for its upcoming annual gala/silent auction, which included installing and opening “SELECT,” an exhibition of over 140 artworks selected by distinguished DC-area curators. 

Cynthia Connolly, Ryan Holladay, Lisa Gold at the SELECT opening reception on 2/11, 2012. Photo: Vincent Gallegos.

JC:  Hi Lisa! You’ve been working in the arts for twenty years now. How did it all begin?

LG: I was always involved in the arts. My mother was a painter and I was born with a love of the visual arts. I was voted "Most Artistic" in high school, but I thought I would die starving on the street if I tried to make a living as an artist. So I went to business school and into the advertising field -- a left brain/right brain compromise that paid the bills and allowed me to be in a creative environment.
I did all sorts of art-related volunteer projects on the side and continued to take studio classes. It never occurred to me to go into arts administration!

Lisa Gold introduces Alice Denney Award recipient Molly Ruppert at the “SELECT” opening reception, 2012. Photo: Vincent Gallegos.

JC: When did you start working at arts organizations? 

LG: I am trying to remember the first thing I did. It might have been volunteering at Exit Art in 1996. I did all sorts of things -- I was pretty organized so I was really helpful with a huge show Melissa Rachleff and Brian Wallis were curating about alternative media and counterculture publications. I think it was called “Counterculture!” 

Installation view of “COUNTERCULTURE: Alternative Information from the Underground Press to the Internet,” 1996. Courtesy of Exit Art.

JC: You must have enjoyed your volunteering, as soon you were starting your first full-time job at a major arts organization.

LG: I started officially at apexart. Steven Rand took a chance on me. I will always be incredibly grateful to him. I was mostly writing grants, trying to identify individual funders. It was so hard -- my first day of work was supposed to be 9/11/01. Obviously, I didn't make it into work that day. You couldn't get below Canal Street and then just trying to raise money from individuals to support a visual arts organization when everyone was just in shock. No one was thinking about the arts.

When people say it's hard now to raise money because of the economic climate, I totally agree. But it doesn't compare to being in New York at that time.

JC: Obviously you were successful, since you followed up apexart with work at several other highly-regarded contemporary arts organizations. Do you have any special memories from some of these other jobs? 

 LG: I loved all of them! Yes, when you're working with artists, you are always surprised, amazed and challenged. 

Working at Socrates was an extraordinary experience.

JC: What was it like, working at Socrates Sculpture Park? 

LG: The office was located in the truck repair building across the street. Some days the fumes were unbearable. But it was better than when Kathleen Gilrain started in 1995 and they’d worked out of a trailer.

JC: (laughing)
LG: Yeah -- we at least had real toilets instead of having to use a port-a-potty!

JC: Well, working out of a trailer, you could pretend you're in a movie shoot…

LG: If only it was that glamorous!

JC: Glamour is in the eye of the beholder...

LG: But it was exciting. Being in a very industrial, urban area while being confronted with nature on a daily basis was incredible. The daffodils blooming or trees beginning to bear fruit are some of the small changes that you usually don't notice in an urban environment. And I was constantly aware of how much it rains in July -- especially on Wednesday nights when we did our film series. (laughing)

We worked with a lot of emerging artists so you saw a lot of people facing enormous challenges. Sometimes there were incidents that appeared at the time to be epic failures, but people always managed to pull it together.

I saw sculpture implode, dogs steal people's breakfasts, children and dogs interacting with work in ways artists had never imagined....

JC: C’mon, you wouldn’t want it any other way. Plus, artists LOVE those unexpected, unintended encounters with their art.

LG: But it’s not cool when you've been up all night working and you're starving and you can't wait to eat that bacon egg and cheese sandwich and some dog comes along and steals it!

JC: (more laughter) Hey, everyone’s gotta eat somehow! New York can be rough!

LG: Really, it was quite inspiring to see artists taking on great challenges, often times creating their first outdoor work or work on such a large scale. I think Socrates gave me a new respect for the fearlessness of artists and helped form my ideas about the need to support artists today.

JC: When did you start working at WPA? 

LG: I started in 2009. At the time, I was really excited about coming to Washington. Things were really depressing in New York. Bear Stearns had collapsed. Lehman Brothers was about to tank. The climate was terrible. 

JC: That time is still fresh in my mind. I remember people riding subway trains with these haunted looks on their faces –- they looked like they were going home after just being notified that they’d been laid off. So many New Yorkers were losing their jobs and everybody knew someone close to them who’d been laid off. 

LG: And Washington seemed so hopeful. All of these people with new ideas about changing the world were coming to Washington; it was a fresh start. I was so inspired and with WPA, it was an INCREDIBLE opportunity to run such a storied and prestigious organization. I couldn't pass it up. I was just so honored to be considered for the job. I took it on full force. I see so many opportunities here and there are so many things artists need that aren't being done. I wish I had the funds and manpower and time to do them all!

WPA founder Alice Denney and Lisa Gold at the opening of “Catalyst, 35 years of Washington Project for the Arts,” 2010 at the American University Museum. Photo: Greg Staley.

JC: How does the WPA work? 

LG: WPA is both an artist service and a presenting organization. We have members (about 800 of them) and anyone can join. We offer a lot of professional development programs and services for artists in the form of workshops, the ArtFile Online (our online registry), curator meetings and talks. I think the ArtFile Online is a great benefit for artists anywhere. So many curators and art advisors and other people access it to find artists. It's a very cost-effective marketing tool for artists!

We also are a presenting organization and we organize group exhibitions a few times a year as well as smaller artist projects in our space. We aren't a pure artist service organization like NYFA or a pure presenting organization like Art in General. We're kind of a hybrid.

“Options 2011” installation view, 2011. Curated by Stefanie Fedor, Executive Director of Arlington Arts Center. (Works by: Artemis Herber, Stewart Watson, Amy Chan.) Photo: Alexandra Silverthorne.

LG: There are so many ways to support artists -- grants, studio space, programs, exhibitions, etc. We try to do a lot of things, but I like to help artists develop the skills they need to succeed and put them in contact with people who can help, advise, etc. For instance, we have the InfoEx (Information Exchange) program with ISCP (International Study and Curatorial Program) so that international curators in residency at the ISCP in New York come down for a day of meetings with artists in DC and a lecture presentation. 

JC: I think your focus on helping artists develop the skills & contacts they need for success makes WPA even more unique as an arts organization. You provide artists with curatorial lab-like opportunities to experiment with their work and present it to the public. 

LG: The Coup d'Espace program really is a laboratory. It was conceived when we left the Corcoran to bring artists into the space and give them free reign. There are so few venues for artists to present their work, but there are even fewer for them to experiment publicly, to take risks and have the support of an organization or institution behind them. I wanted to offer artists that opportunity to try out new ideas, to give them a little nudge, to allow them to experiment and even fail. Some of the projects have been incredible. All of them, I think, were learning experiences for the artists. And they will take that experience when they go on to present a project in a larger space or refine the idea for a new audience.

Adam Good's Lab for Remixed Knowledge, 2010. Courtesy of WPA.

JC: In addition to programs that allow artists to experiment and create, you bring in terrific, smart curators who contextualize art in terms of current, timely themes of artistic inquiry, and help frame how the public “sees” and thinks about art.

LG: Yes, I am not a curator. Let me say that clearly! I have GREAT respect for professional curators. Especially here in DC as there are fewer opportunities for independent curators than in NY. I can't imagine taking the role of curator on myself when I am not trained and there are perfectly talented people here who are. And there are so many smart and talented curators in other places who are willing to work with us. 

I think it helps our artists to work with them, to give them a new perspective.
For instance, we’ve brought in curators and speakers from New York who have something to offer the artists here, such as curators Regine Basha (recently appointed as Executive Director of Artpace San Antonio) and Sara Reisman (Director of NYC Cultural Affairs Department’s Percent for Art Program). We brought down Jonathan Melber and Heather Bhandari, authors of “Art/Work” to speak about their book which is a very practical guide/tool kit for artists. 

Installation view of “Contain, Maintain, Sustain” at Artisphere. Curated by Welmoed Laanstra, Sara Reisman and Ernesto Santalla. (Foreground work by Mary Mattingly.) Courtesy of WPA/Artistiphere.

JC: What about WPA’s Public Art Residency (PAR) Program at Socrates Sculpture Park? We’ve already talked about how special that place is to you.

LG: I think it's an incredible opportunity on so many levels. Public Art has traditionally been one of those Catch-22 experiences:  you can't get a commission unless you've had experience and you can't get experience without a commission.

JC: Unless you do something DIY, non-commissioned, and risk getting arrested. 

LG: Yes, it's so complicated in DC with the many levels of government agencies controlling public property...

Yes, I started the Public Art Residency Program to give artists the opportunity to break out of that Catch-22 cycle and participate in the public art process, to learn about some of the practical aspects of making work in and for the public realm. 

Dan Steinhilber was our first artist. Working in the public realm like that had a great impact on his practice. The next show he had at g fine art, he turned the gallery into his studio. 

JC: Can you discuss Patrick McDonough’s work, the current Public Art Residency artist?

Patrick McDonough, Awning Studies: SOCRATES, 2011. Courtesy of WPA.

LG: Awning Studies: SOCRATES is the latest iteration of McDonough’s Awning Studies project which investigates the tradition of domestic architectural adornment in the Northeastern United States. By removing the overt functionality of the awning form, the artist emphasizes the secondary use value of the awning: as descriptor of free time space, branding of individual residences, and markers of the interstitial space between in interior/exterior or private/public.

JC: Will WPA have a permanent exhibition space soon? 

LG: We are working on it! And we are looking to secure new space by the end of 2012. It's an exciting time.

JC: You know, with a permanent exhibition space, you and WPA can help curators better craft their skills -- which will only help the artists even more! 

LG: Yes, and artists need a space to meet, connect, gather. And writers need more to write about. I've got the idea for an art writing symposium/workshop series in development. But it's not our primary focus now so it's on the back burner. I also wish we could offer studio space for artists and have visiting artists in residency. Wish I could do it all!

JC: You're at every art event; you're so supportive of the DC arts community. DC is very lucky to have you! 

LG: You're very sweet to say that, but I think I'm really fortunate to have been given this opportunity. I try new things all the time and people don't want to stop me. It's amazing! 

JC: Is this how SynchroSwim, your first project at WPA, happened? 

LG: When I first got here, Mera Rubell offered to let WPA use the Capitol Skyline Hotel for programming. She didn't put any conditions on it. So I figured I'd do something unexpected and make use of one of the hotels best assets -- the pool. I had the idea to organize a synchronized swimming performance art competition. It was amazing. The place was packed and we had some interesting performances. It might have been a little silly, but art doesn't always have to be so SERIOUS! (Washingtonians are very serious.) Later, one of my board members told me he thought I was crazy, but they loved the event and couldn't have been happier with the way it turned out. 

Baltimore's Fluid Movement performs Jason and the Aquanauts, WPA SynchroSwim 2010. Photos: Max Cook.

JC: What is the DC arts community like, compared to New York?

LG: The community here is very welcoming. I love it. Again, I feel incredibly fortunate to have been taken in with open arms. I love the support here and the role that WPA plays as a connector.
Artomatic at the WPArade, 2010. Photo: Max Cook.

LG: Obviously, it's smaller here than in NY and there are fewer venues and a smaller art media presence -- people really wish there was more art coverage and criticism here. We tried to start an art journalism course with GWU in 2010. It only lasted a semester. I wish it had continued. We need more people talking and writing and thinking about art here. It helps the artists and the community. You take it for granted in NY that every day there's going to be a serious piece of writing about contemporary art in The NYTimes, New York magazine, New Yorker, Art Forum, or The Observer. And an extensive section of exhibition reviews. That just doesn't happen here to the same extent and the artists and arts venues need it.

JC: I totally agree people in DC tend to be very welcoming as well as more serious.

LG: DC is such an interesting place because of the confluence of the major national museums, the international influence of the embassies, the number of think tanks and universities. There are a lot of really super smart alpha types jogging on every street corner at 7am. It's an over-achiever kind of city.

Currently on view is "SELECT" (February 15 – March 3, 2012) at 1800 L St., NW, Washington, DC. See Also:  WPA Art Auction Gala, Saturday, March 3, 2012, 6pm - midnight. See for more information.
An abbreviated version of this interview appeared on the Huffington Post in February of 2012. This post is in a series by curator Julie Chae in which she provides commentary on the process of disseminating art to the people and profiles art world professionals involved in that process. You can find more at