The Gallery Life for Me by Matt Wagner (curator, author and owner of Hellion Gallery)
Hello everyone, my name is Matt Wagner and I am a curator. Step one is to admit you have a problem. It started a long time ago amongst the cornfields of Indiana. First you learn to play drums, then you start a band, then you meet seedy artistic folks and then you decide to get an art degree forsaking all chances of ever making a decent living. Next thing you know, you are in Portland, Oregon where great art and music hangs like ripe fruit from every towering Doug fir. Everyone should see this stuff. Someone’s got to do it, so it might as well be me. That’s how my addiction started.
Lately I have heard a lot other gallery owners lamenting about the difficulties of running a gallery. I can relate but I don’t want to add to the chorus. I love being a curator and I love the artists I work with. I would rather focus on problem solving and some basic information. Just like with any other business you are going to run into difficulties. Unlike a “normal” business, the business of art sinks its claws into the owner in a different fashion. It’s that connection between the artist and curator that makes the difference. I will freely admit that I get emotionally involved with my artists and this in most cases leads to a close friendship. In any relationship things can get rocky. I love artists even when I hate them and I hope they hate/love me too.
Money, Money, Money, it’s on everyone’s mind! Yes, in a perfect world talented artists would command great respect and big bucks. In that world I would make so much dough that I would have a swimming pool sized high ball glass filled with bourbon, Campari and Carpano Antica in the middle of my private 20,000 square foot gallery. Sadly, nothing is perfect about the art world. There are no guarantees. All galleries wish they could guarantee hits and some galleries seem to deliver, at least if you believe their social media. My gallery is a bit more working class. Not everyone can be famous; it’s OK to make a reasonable living. I know, I know, that’s not very glamorous or cool. The art show is just one minute in the long game. It’s a way for people to get to know the artist, get comfortable and appreciate the work. The show is the best way for an artist to hone their skills. From there I try to help artists get commercial work. Yep, I don’t think commercial work is evil as long as it doesn’t include working with assholes or companies that make shitty products. I also help set up shows for artists with other galleries or in other countries. I do a ton of shows in Tokyo. These shows knock the artists out of their comfort zones and expose them to another culture. Hopefully this pushes experimentation or a change in the way the artist makes art. Fostering new things from an artist is a big part of the long game. A long consistent career for an artist is my goal.
I feel like I sell the artist and not specifically the art. I could be fooling myself. Then again, a painting of a big eyed girl with antlers riding on the back of an octopus created by a Republican who also happens to be a serial killer would probably be quite successful. Back to the point. I want my client to know the artist, know why they create, understand their life and value it. Hopefully they invest in the artist and not just the art.
These are some basic and brief thoughts. I could go on and maybe I will. This is my first time being asked to do a blog post for an art site. Might be the last time. Either way it’s the gallery life for me and I wouldn’t have it any other way.