Dallas Art Fair
- November 07, 2012
Andrea Zieher, co-founder and co-owner of New York–based ZieherSmith and past president of NADA, takes questions from NYC-based painter and Huffington Post contributor Liz Markus.
What was your big break to date as a dealer? It’s more like lots of little breaks along the way. Each first time we got a review in a publication was a victory, most especially our first big review in The New York Times, which now covers us regularly. Or the first time we sold something to a museum — I think it was the Whitney. We are thrilled that our 2011 group show “Sculpture in So Many Words” has traveled to the Nasher Sculpture Center, where it is on view through January. It is rare that a museum will exhibit a gallery show, so this is a huge compliment. We are big believers in the idea that you create your own luck.
Why are you exhibiting at the Dallas Art Fair 2013? Do you do other fairs as an exhibitor? What makes the
Fair in Dallas stand out? We are exhibiting at the Dallas Art Fair next year because of our fabulous experience in 2012 (we originally tried it out on another dealer’s recommendation). The Dallas community has a clear love of contemporary art. The collectors were friendly and engaged — and prepared to commit to new artists. We sold work by every artist that we brought, but more importantly, we have been able to maintain ongoing relationships with these collectors. Often fairs are either chaotic or depressingly slow. The Dallas Art Fair is unique in that it is intimate and relaxed, and yet lots of good business occurs — and by that, I mean actual sales. We have slowed down on art fair participation as we transition from a “young” gallery into our mid-career. Therefore, we have stopped participating in young fairs and have started looking to the bigger fairs, such as Art Basel Miami Beach and Art Hong Kong, though this year we are going to take a break from the craziness of the Miami scene.
What made you want to open up a gallery? Can you give us a brief history? I was working at an American paintings gallery (late 19th/early 20th century) and doing quite well when September 11 happened. Like many people, it made me really examine my life and what I was doing. I realized that my true love was contemporary art and that I wanted to dedicate my life to working with it. Artists made up the bulk of my social circle (we spent Saturday nights drinking beer on the rooftops of studio buildings in Brooklyn), and most were unrepresented. Scott and I realized that we had a stable of artists right in front of our eyes, and they were the inspiration to go for it.
What were your experiences with art growing up? My parents and grandparents encouraged me — and provided the resources — to travel a lot, and this was very influential. A high school trip to Italy was mind-blowing and the catalyst to my studying art history at Duke University. In terms of contemporary art, my first exposure was actually high school parties in Kansas City at a friend’s house — her parents were and are great collectors. I was amazed and inspired to see people actually lived with these seemingly wild things. At Duke, Kristine Stiles teaches an excellent course in contemporary art. She got us access to things like a Matthew Barney Cremaster film at a time when they just weren’t lent out. Before I went to visit New York in the spring of 1998, she had me bring her a copy of The New Yorker and she circled all the galleries I had to visit — hence, my first visit to Chelsea when it was still quite raw.
How would you describe ZieherSmith’s aesthetic? There are threads that connect the aesthetics of the artists in our program, but we also try to mix it up to keep it interesting, for us as much as anyone. We like work that speaks aesthetically but has an interesting story or concept behind it as well. We think great art is able to be appreciated on different levels. As history buffs, it’s no surprise that many of our artists directly reference their influences and inspirations, such as you, Liz, and your series of Kenneth Noland–inspired “Failed Targets” or Jason Brinkerhoff’s women, some of which are direct plays off Picasso. However, this historical interest is manifested quite differently by Mike Womack, who makes incredible kinetic installations that relate to vintage technologies as a way to talk about how we see. We also have a soft spot for old paper; several of our artists work on old paper, and, on a related note, we’ve had several shows of vintage, vernacular photography. This thread also relates to the aforementioned “Sculpture in So Many Words” exhibition. This sculpture show actually features documentation of conceptual sculpture from the 1960 – 1970s and, as a result, is made up of lots of fascinating and often beautiful old paper.
What are you personally most excited about in the contemporary art world upcoming this spring? Blockbuster shows you’ll be seeing? Travel plans for art jaunts? Now that we have a two-year-old at home, we really have to be efficient and meaningful about our travel. We’re hoping to take him to Europe this summer to see his second Venice Biennale. Two artists that we debuted in New York will be representing their countries (for Scotland, Corin Sworn, who has had two exhibitions at the gallery, and for Canada, Shary Boyle, who was in a group show back in 2004). Otherwise, we’ll catch shows in cities where our artists have projects, so we’ll go to the L.A. area in February for Allison Schulnik’s show at the Laguna Art Museum; in March to my family’s home base of Nashville, where Rachel Owens is installing a major sculpture at the Frist Center; and in May to Denver, where Tucker Nichols will have completed a commission for the Denver Art Museum.
How will you be curating your booth for the Dallas Art Fair 2013? Which artists will you show? How do you curate for the Texas audience versus other fairs you may exhibit in? Now that we know how ambitious Dallas collectors can be, we can continue to convince our top-selling artists to make work directly for the fair. Paintings by artists like Allison Schulnik are very hard to get. She made us two great works last year, an obviously gorgeous flowers and a very challenging nude piece. The latter is not the most decorative, but it is very important, and the fact that both types of works found homes means she’ll be willing to make more work for next year’s fair. We’ll bring a piece from Chuck Webster’s new series of paintings that got incredible reviews last May and have been totally sold out. His work recently entered the Dallas Museum [of Art] collection as well. Actually, the one thing we won’t bring is art with a Western flavor. Last year, we brought an excellent steer sculpture for the fair — the last piece from Rachel Owens’ popular series of cow skulls covered in broken glass. These works are the very first to go at European art fairs, but I think for the Texan crowd, the imagery was just too familiar.
Where and how do you discover new talent? Any cool stories to share? We have found great artists in different ways, though probably most often it is a recommendation from another artist we love — which is, of course, how we met you, Liz. However, recently we have had some unusual situations. This summer, we showed an artist named Sasha Sokolov from Liverpool, who emailed us out of the blue. It is very rare for an unsolicited submission to work, and even more so because he had never shown anywhere. In fact, we still have yet to meet him! But most importantly, we were utterly compelled by his drawings, which are alternately sweet, emotionally evocative and even perverse. Our current show is by Jason Brinkerhoff, who is another amazing untrained artist and atypical story. We met him in Miami several years when he was admiring our booth as a collector. He also had no exhibition history when we put him in a group show a year ago, and he was immediately a huge hit. In addition, Brinkerhoff won the Vogel Award at the Dallas Art Fair, and the Dallas Museum acquired three drawings. Our next debut will be Paul Anthony Smith, a Jamaican-American artist who lives in Kansas City. I saw his work in several places on a recent visit there and made contact upon my return. In another unusual case, we offered the show after a “studio visit” over the phone, while looking at images online.
Hero or heroine in the art world? Who or what inspires you? As a dealer, I am inspired by outstanding ethical dealers, like the partners at Luhring Augstine, but, of course, I look to female inspirations like the incomparable Paula Cooper. I am inspired by artists who stay with the dealers who discovered them, like Cindy Sherman and Metro Pictures. Some exhibitions that I loved over the years include the late Picasso show at Gagosian, Louise Bourgeois at the Tate Modern in 2007, Société Anonyme at the Hammer Museum in 2006. And a couple shows at the Met really stand out including “Glitter and Doom,” a 2008 exhibition of Weimer Republic-era painting and their 2005 presentation of work by Fra Angelico. I am inevitably influenced by my time spent in the American paintings field, and some favorites are Marsden Hartley, Charles Burchfield, Joseph Cornell and the wonderfully weird paintings by Grant Wood.
You and your husband, Scott Zieher, have been cited as a power couple in the contemporary arena. How did you meet? What are the rewards and challenges of owning a gallery together? How do you make it work? Scott and I met doing a nine-month-long course in American Art at Sotheby’s Institute. We were both looking for ways to access the art world as outsiders with little business knowledge and no contacts, and the course exceeded our expectations. We became a couple shortly after the course ended, and we worked at different uptown galleries. For a while, we often joked about the gallery we would have one day. Scott is more of the dreamer and so when in March 2002, I said let’s go for it, he knew I was serious. We opened exactly a year later. We wanted to take the risk while we had little to lose (before kids, etc.). The situation works really well for us. We are able to sneak little vacations into business travels together, especially when we go to Europe. We do make sure we have our alone time — we sit on opposite sides of the gallery, and we do not walk to work together — but we love that we are able to truly share in all the triumphs and the disappointments. And, frankly, it’s often a relief to come home and not to feel obligated to ask, “How was your day, honey?”