CRUSH is a gallery founded by artist Karen Hesse Flatow in 2017. Flatow collaborates with artists and curators to execute projects within the context of her studio practice. Curatorial focus is on collaborative projects and emerging artists, creating events and experiences that engage the artistic community, viewers and makers. Flatow received her MBA and MFA from Columbia University and attended the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture.
Interview with Karen Flatow, Director of CRUSH Curatorial
Questions by Emily Burns
Hi Karen! When Crush Curatorial first began, it was located in your former studio in Chelsea, and also has a second location in Amagansett. Since we first spoke with you about CRUSH, you have reopened the gallery with a new name! Its now called Hesse-Flatow, and is located at 526 West 26th street (The Greene Naftali building) on the 5th floor. Can you tell us more about the space?
It’s 2,500 square feet and overlooking the High Line. My first show will be with Charlotte Hallberg the first artist I worked with, Amy Beecher, and one other artist. We hope to continue our programming in much the same way but on a larger scale and will start to represent a select number of artists. I will continue collaborating with other artists, curators, thinkers and makers.
Can you tell us the backstory behind how Crush came to be? When was it founded and what ignited the idea?
When I look back on it, founding crush in late 2016 had a lot to do with protest, protesting the predominant male forms of power and influence in the world in general and the art world in particular. Trump, of course, had just been elected and we were all very angry and sad. I had started to look at another Donald, Donald Judd, and his influence on art and art criticism in the 60s.
I made protest drawings based on his critical writings and other feelings I was having at the time. I was interested in how Judd created a space in his studio/home to show the work of fellow (mostly male) artists and what it would be like if Judd had lived longer or was a woman living today. My practice turned into a kind of performance project, making work as a Donald Judd avatar and then showing the work of others in my studio and home. That’s how it started. Charlotte Hallberg who was a docent at the Judd studio on Spring Street was my first artist.
How do the two spaces relate to each other, and what are some of the most significant differences or unique qualities between them?
The two spaces are very interconnected. CRUSH/Chelsea is in the ante room of my studio in the heart of the gallery district among the mega-galleries. CRUSH/Amagansett is located in a historic underground potato barn in a section of Amagansett, Long Island that was once farmland and not far from the ocean. At the Chelsea space, I show artists that are typically found at small, artist-run galleries in Brooklyn or Queens. Every year, in Amagansett, I host three artists in residence as they work on a forthcoming show at crush. Last summer, artists Asad Raza, Nikima Jagadujev and Ezra Fieremans were in residence as they prepared for their performative project, Holobio which was presented in September. This year, Ilana Harris-Babou, Virginia Lee Montgomery and Patric Bayly will be in residence working on their forthcoming shows at crush.
What inspired the name Crush Curatorial?
I work with artists that I have a crush on. It’s all based on passion. I need to be around them.
In addition to exhibitions and openings, you also organize programming around each show—what types of events have you hosted in the past, and how have visitors participated?
From the beginning, I thought that it was important for the artists to be engaged in meaningful conversation about their practice, to allow space for collaborative projects and create opportunities for performative events and time based projects. Public programming has become very essential to our work. In Chelsea, for example, we had a “surreal” dinner party curated by artist Allie Wist, a live-score performance in response to Jessica Wilson’s video installation by Ryan Caruso and a “Lady Painter” dinner party with Aglaé Bassens, In Amagansett, we hosted an exhibition of works in around the pool curated by Patrick Mohundro and Anna Hugo, a dinner at the Shinnecock Nation cooked by Rikrit Tiravanija with freshly caught clams and a durational performance directed by Asad Raza that included a room filled with cut crape myrtle, slow dancers and a large bear (who was my son) stumbling in the dim light and countless dinners with artists on our long kitchen table.
You have shown up-and-coming artists who have gone on to do big things—including showing work in the Whitney Biennial, and receiving press from the New York Times and Art in America, and so much more. Can you talk a bit about the role you play in giving artists a platform to share their work and the potential impact that has on their careers?
That’s right, Ilana Harris-Babou participated in one of our first shows, Eating Your Heart curated by Molly Surno with her video Cooking with the Erotic and I actually met Asad Raza at the Whitney Biennial in 2017 in which he participated. I basically stalked him because I was interested in the show he had curated in his apartment called The Home Show. I wanted to know what he was thinking about since I was curating inside my studio and home. Both of these artists have had residencies at crush/Amagansett and have participated in shows there.
I have given many artists their first solo show in New York and have tried to create a supportive environment in which to present their work. As a part of each show, each artist is asked to design a meaningful conversation, sometimes with another artist, sometimes with someone who is not even in the art world. Especially early on in a career, I think it’s important for artists to speak about their work and have a written record of what was being said at that particular time. These conversations are all archived on our website.
How do you discover artists? Are there any particular avenues?
Discovering artists is an organic process. As an artist, I’m always looking at what other artists are doing. Sometimes I become interested in an artist through a conversation, chance meeting or other artist recommendation.
What is your background as a curator?
I have no background in curating. I just started to do it.
What do you look for in artists that you show? What kinds of work are you interested in highlighting?
I’m interested in the future, how art practices are influenced by modern culture and technology, informed by the past. I want a diverse range of artists to be given a voice and the opportunity to show. As a painter, I love to show painting. I think that art and how we experience it will be very different in the future, I believe it will be less to do about objects and more about experience and time based media. On the other hand, certain objects will be prized because they remind us of our past and we will long for them.
In addition to running Crush, you are also an artist. How does the balancing of the rigorous programming at the space work with your own practice?
I’m a painter, but my practice has definitely expanded and I have become interested in non-object based work and social practice, for sure. Pretty much everything that I do at crush informs my art practice.
What has stood out as the biggest joy in running the space so far? The biggest challenge?
The community, the conversations and the possibility of having a chance to make an impact on the career of artists have given me great joy. The biggest challenge is getting everything done while keeping the cost of running the space in line with what is sustainable.
What is a typical day like for you? Does this change seasonally?
Work 24/7. Every artist and gallerist would say the same. I move most of our activities out to Amagansett after June. I try to keep August for vacation and family.
Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with us!
To find out more about CRUSH, check out their website.