Sunday, October 17, 2010
Last weekend, I ventured out to Bedford Stuy with artist and friend Sarah G. Sharp to attend the one year birthday celebration for Homestead Gallery, a new gallery in town, well sort of. You see, Homestead travels around to different apartments around the New York City area and presents one night shows of emerging artists, many who have recently graduated from top MFA programs. The brainchild of Leah Tacha, Andrea Henry, and Nathon Margoni, Homestead has quickly gained momentum, visibility, and, respect by presenting a number of shows this past year, actually selling some art, and making many new friends along the way.
Sarah and I were welcomed at the door and made to feel right at home. The couple who loaned their apartment were having a great time and the art work looked great in the space. The backyard became a ready made sculpture garden, and the whole event had a relaxed and engaging vibe.
I sat down with Leah Tacha at the General Store in DUMBO last week to ask her about Homestead, the vision for the gallery, and what lies ahead in the future. Andrea Henry and Nathon Margoni also contributed via google docs.
AL: Leah thanks for taking the time to meet with me today, can you briefly describe Homestead Gallery, the individuals involved, and how your “nomadic” art gallery came about?
LT: Al thanks so much for meeting with me as well! Homestead gallery is a small nomadic art gallery that is based in the homes/apartments of fellow city dwellers within the boroughs of New York City. We take apartments, rooftops, gardens, and transform these “unused” and atypical art spaces into a place where art and people can gather in a relaxed and comfortable environment to discuss the work being shown as well as create connections within an artistic community. The founders of Homestead are Andrea Henry, Nathan Margoni, and myself (Leah Tacha). We developed this idea for Homestead out of a desire to make something happen right now for us.
Also, please explain further what a “nomadic gallery is”?
LT: To Homestead, a nomadic gallery means a gallery that roams from home to home. It is a gallery that does not exist in a fixed place or space. We are constantly changing spaces, having openings at different locations, and then moving on.
AL: How many events have you done so far and how have they been received?
LT: We have had five openings to date, all held in Brooklyn, NY. Three openings in Bed-Stuy, one in Bushwick, and the other in Williamsburg. I have been amazed at the response that we have gotten so far from each opening. Each person that comes to one of our events has been incredibly supportive, interested in our cause, and excited about our future. We have developed a small fan base, a group of people that show up to each event, and continue to help us find that next location to hold an event. We must be on to something, because people are getting excited about us, and they’re willing to help us. In a city where time is extremely precious, if you have people out there giving you their time, you know you must be doing something right.
AL: How have you developed your audience, what kind of audience do you have, and do they buy the art shown?
LT: At each Homestead opening, we make an effort to go around and introduce ourselves to each person that walks through the door. It is important to know who it is that made the trip to this opening, why they came, how they found out about us, and especially to thank them for coming. We really do want everyone who comes to an opening to feel at home and comfortable to look at the art, ask questions, and get involved with Homestead’s cause. At the beginning of Homestead a large portion of our audience was simply friends, and friends of friends. The further we progress, however, the more expanded our audience becomes and the more art we sell. To date, we’ve sold 4 pieces. Also, we are receiving a more broad audience at each opening. It is always a good sign if I do not know a lot of the people in the room, which indicates they learned about the event through someone or word of mouth, which is an incredibly powerful tool.
AL: Where do you find your artists and what kind of program are you looking to develop? ie. Emphasis on a certain style of painting, sculpture etc.
LT: The artists at our first Homestead opening were fellow classmates from undergraduate and graduate school. We asked people to participate whom we felt were extremely talented and had not yet received the exposure we felt their work deserved. As gallery owners it is important for us to have a strong relationship with the artists we choose to represent. After our first show we expanded to include people who were friends of Homestead artists and began looking at portfolios on-line to find artists as well.
As far as promoting a certain “type” of art, I can’t say for sure if we have a certain “program” in mind for our gallery. For us, it seems like when we go look at work or we’re looking at work online, it has a lot to do with developing a relationship with the artist, getting to know them, and also simply falling in love with their work. Homestead is about more than just the work on the wall, but also about the artist behind each piece, their story, and what they’d like to put out there.
AL: How have artists responded to being involved with Homestead? Can you share an experience or two?
LT: All of the artists we have asked to be a part of Homestead have been extremely excited to participate. Our artists go to great lengths to make sure we have the necessary resources (artist bios, cv’s, their work) to expedite our process in putting up a show. Out of the five venues we have used for openings, four of those apartments have been at the homes of our artists. Not only are they willing to exhibit their work, but they are extremely generous with their time and personal space.
At the location of our fourth opening, Three Rooms, we used an entire brownstone in Bed-Stuy to show the work of six artists, a two person show in each apartment. One of the residents, and Homestead artist, Jillian Rose, coordinated with other tenants to make sure we could use the entire building. Coordinating an entire building of tenants is no easy task, and she made it happen in a relaxed and simple way. She was very helpful in terms of letting us view the apartments ahead of time, and installing a good majority of the show Friday night (as opposed to completing the entire process on Saturday, which we had done twice before). Homestead really does rely heavily on everyone involved, and I am always so humbled by just how much people, and especially our artists, are willing to help make each event amazing.
Another example of a time where I knew that Homestead was doing something good was this past weekend when one of our participating artists, Laura Marsh, had some issues with subways, bad run-ins with the MTA, just basic stuff that can go wrong on any given night in NYC. All in all she was having a really crappy night. When she finally made it to the opening she sought me out, gave me a giant hug and said, “I just wanted to get here so bad, and now that I’m here I feel SO much better.” It made me realize that these events are offering up something more than just an art opening, but a place where people can come to be a part of something that feels closer to what they want to be talking about, looking at, and participating in.
AL: We have discussed briefly the interactive nature of Homestead, going out and finding spaces to show the work, and embedding the gallery into everyday living situations. Do you see Homestead as an alternative to the existing gallery format/structure and how important is placing the work in everyday living situations in regard to Homestead’s overall mission?
LT: Homestead is an alternative to the existing gallery structure, but it also borrows a lot of the same elements that a typical gallery offers: labels next to each piece, artist statements, artist bios, wine, beer--all the standard gallery opening necessities. What I like about showing the work in an informal setting such as the home is that it puts the work on your level so you can relate to it directly. In a typical gallery setting, isolated on white walls, the work is elevated to a special status that is above everyday life. Sometimes walking around gallery after gallery all you start noticing is the white walls, which can feel sort of sterile at times. At Homestead events people are invited into someone’s personal space and then the work is installed within that space. Some of our best installations have been on the rooftops, gardens, and kitchens of other people’s homes. It brings these pieces to a new level that white walls simply can’t do. Showing in a more familiar and casual space can help to put the work in your world.
AL: Have there been other artists and artists groups/movements who have influenced your ideas for Homestead?
NM: We came up with the idea for Homestead when we were all hanging out on Andrea’s rooftop in Brooklyn. Leah was getting on my case about applying for residencies and shows, like a good friend should. I knew she was right but at that particular moment I was pretty frustrated with the application process, and I said something to the effect of “I don’t believe that’s how real art is made. I don’t think you ask for permission, or get approval, or send anyone an application fee. You just do it because you have to and you find some way to show it because people have to see it. And if we want to have a show we should have a show.” I don’t know if I was serious about that but Leah and Andrea took the idea and just ran with it. We weren’t thinking of any particular artists or movements at the time. I had been reading Woody Guthrie’s autobiography, and that was what got me thinking about doing something straightaway with whatever resources are immediately available, as opposed to working your way up the official ladder rung by rung. Other than that I think our ideas are mainly influenced by our experiences walking through other galleries and museums. We learn what to do and what not to do based on those experiences.
AL: Do you consider Homestead a conceptual art project in an of itself? And if you do, what makes it so and what other artists/movements do you associate Homestead to?
LT: I really do consider Homestead its own art project in and of itself. I have never really considered myself a “curator” in my own right, I consider myself an artist that trusts her gut. That may sound rather simple, but when choosing the work it really comes down to a love of the work, a respect for the artists involved, and then figuring out how to display the work in people’s homes that highlights each piece perfectly. The other part of the Homestead piece begins with the opening: the crowd comes in, people start talking and that is when the performance plays out. Andrea, Nathan, and I almost become the performers of Homestead and so does everyone involved in the opening. They are part of the overall piece. And when it comes down to it, it’s really about getting to know other artists out there, developing a community for artists, art lovers, and curious people to be a part of these events and begin conversations and connections with each other around the art. I suppose this idea of community and connectivity could be corresponded to Relational Art or even the Fluxus movement, however it feels more like something you mentioned, almost a “traveling road show”.
AL: Taking the whole conceptual art project idea one step further, I find the aspect of showing the work in apartments and calling it a “gallery,” brings rise to the idea of cultural critique and subversiveness. Any validity to that?
LT: I’m not sure if Homestead is really a “critique” of the existing systems of showing art, or rather just an alternative or a sub-category. We are still a part of the system, we’re just doing it our own way rather than their way. We are simply another place trying to get the work out there and start new conversations.
AL: Do you find that artists in general are frustrated with the the overall heirarchy of the current art world system, especially in New York City, and if so, what are the factors that make it that way, and is Homestead a direct response to this frustration?
LT: Homestead is a direct response to the waiting game. We wanted something to happen right now rather than to keep waiting around for a response to our applications, our names to be called, and the economy to get better. Who knows when those things will happen? We had the opportunity to take things into our own hands and take advantage of the spaces that were available to us, so we did! I’m not sure if it’s frustration that drove us to do this, or just impatience.
NM: For me (Nathan), it was frustration. I felt like I had very little control over my future as an artist. My resume and connections weren’t going to get me anywhere, and I had no way of knowing if I was sending my applications (and checks) to jurors who already had their minds made up on someone else. Often I didn’t know who I was sending my work to or what they were really looking for. I felt helpless. Creating Homestead was empowering because we were finally doing something without getting anyone’s permission or approval in the art world.
AL: You have suggested that Homestead will establish a regional, national, and perhaps international audience. How does the development of this goal coincide with Homesteads penetration of the New York City art market. Do find these goals in conflict, are you setting priorities, and are can both strategies be achieved simultaneously?
LT: I think that both strategies will develop simultaneously. We have been in contact with institutions outside of NYC and I feel that its important to foster those connections, however, the more momentum we gain in New York, the more momentum we will gain nationally and internationally. They are in direct response to each other. Right now, I feel that it is very important to implement more of a New York presence and stance within the art community in this city. That is what we’re working on currently.
AL: How difficult is it for you to assume the roles of both artist and gallery owner? Do you find these roles to be conflicting and what are the challenges of doing both well?
LT: This is something that I personally (Leah) really struggle with and have had to really make the decision if Homestead was something I was going to put my time into rather than my art. However, once I realized that I didn’t have to choose one or the other, and they were in fact both a part of my artistic practice, it felt easier to move forward with Homestead and give it the kind of energy it deserves. Also, as I told you earlier, when I am hosting a Homestead event, and I feel that Andrea and Nathan would agree, it just feels right. I truly love doing these events, and I know that I’m good at it. Homestead developed at a time in my life where I had no idea where I was going professionally or even artistically, and it has completely renewed my faith in myself not only as an artist, but as a person who can be a catalyst for other artists to gain momentum with their own careers.
AH: I (Andrea) have found that working on Homestead provides me with something I cannot receive when making my own work. I am naturally a “people person” and thrive on being able to help others, speak with people, and be engaged in a dialogue with artists. It can be a challenge for me to create art in a solitary setting, whereas running a gallery enables me to fulfill the roles as an event coordinator and promoter for our artists, which I have come to love.
NM: I (Nathan) had some concerns going in that Homestead would steal too much of my time and energy, taking away from my studio work, but in fact it has had just the opposite effect. It’s inspiring to see other artists making work under the same pressures that I deal with, it reminds me that I’m not alone in my struggle. It provides me with a community and a support group that seemingly vanished the day after graduate school. This is why we’re all involved, it has nothing to do with promoting a particular style or even making anybody famous (not that we wouldn’t be delighted to do so), so there really isn’t any conflict or even a separation between our roles as artists and gallery owners.
AL: Technologically speaking, do you find Homestead’s website to be a valuable way of marketing the gallery and what other web based forums/tools besides facebook, flickr, tumblr do foresee Homestead incorporating to further the galleries mission?
LT: This is a pretty tough question for me because marketing is something I’m not too familiar with. Right now we are incredibly reliant on Facebook--that thing is amazing in the way it gets the information out there easily and quickly. Our website is also a great tool, but I could see us adding a video format in the future. I would like to start doing Q & A’s throughout our openings with guests as well as the artists involved, and also recording the events of the evening. I also think that it would be a great idea for us to do a time-lapse video of the entire weekend, starting on Friday night when we begin the set-up, throughout the opening on Saturday, then taking down and restoring the apartment on Sunday. That could be an incredible way to showcase just how we do what we do. That way even if people can’t make it to the opening, they can still experience the event in some way. Also, thanks to people like you and blogs like yours, we’ll be a part of this dialogue as well!
AL: Thanks for the time Leah. You can check out Leah’s artwork and Homestead gallery HERE.