60-40 56th Drive
Maspeth, NY 11378
Founded in September of 2016 by Sara Maria Salamone and Tyler Lafreniere, Mrs. is a contemporary art gallery in Maspeth, Queens. Located away from the geographic center of the New York art world, the gallery focuses on offering a new platform for emerging, under represented and mid career artists, while engaging the surrounding community.
What are some cool projects or artist opportunities that are unique to Mrs?
Out of our lower cost Maspeth location allows us to focus on a program of emerging, underrepresented and mid-career artists, without needing to weigh this constantly against commercial concerns. We produce only five exhibitions throughout the season (September–July). Our exhibitions run on an eight week schedule, which is slightly longer than the typical six. This exhibition pacing has allowed viewers to slow down and engage with the art. We are lucky to have a lot of conversations with our visitors at Mrs. We are currently open four full days a week, though starting in September 2017 we will expand this to five days; operating on a Tuesday–Saturday schedule.
Can you talk about the importance of artist-run projects today?
After working in the New York art world for ten years, we found an increasing gap between artist-run project spaces and commercially driven galleries. This separation seemed to make the transition for artists working to advance their careers progressively more confusing and difficult. We started Mrs. to provide a venue and programming to help fill this space.
Many commercial galleries in New York have high overhead directly correlating to their location, as well as increasing rents and the high demands of constant art fair participation. These concerns can weigh heavily on a gallery’s programming choices. Conversely, many artist-run spaces, while able to operate with lower financial overhead, have difficulties reaching a broader audience of viewers and collectors and supporting their artists’ long term career trajectories. It’s central to our mission that we provide career support to our artists beyond existing solely as an exhibition space. We’re constantly laboring to facilitate connections for our artists with collectors, outside curators, and the broader art world. At Mrs. our artists come first and we strive to support their work and larger practices.
Interview with Mrs.
Questions by Emily Burns
Who is behind the gallery and who runs the different aspects of the operations?
Sara Maria Salamone and Tyler Lafreniere are the co-owners and operators of Mrs. Together, we collectively decide on the artists we choose to work with, programming, curation, installation and exhibition scheduling—which we identify as the most important aspects of our gallery. Sara is the main contact person—this is directly related to her experience working in curation and administration at various galleries and art related positions. Her main responsibilities at Mrs. include the day-to-day operations, such as administrative tasks: artist and collector relations, press, marketing, etc. Tyler manages the brand of the gallery and the more physical aspects to the business, like art handling. We both sit regular gallery hours. We have recently welcomed artist Ryan Wilde as our sales associate.
Can you tell us more about how and why you decided to open the gallery? What was the impetus to take the plunge?
After holding various positions in the arts, (intern, gallery assistant, gallery manager, art fair liaison, artist, and most recently director at launch f18) Sara was ready for a big change. In addition, after losing his long-time studio space in Williamsburg to development, Tyler had been looking for an affordable studio option for some time. The two of us have always collaborated on and supported each other’s projects and exhibitions and it made sense for us to find a space we could share. Our physical space is comprised of ¾ gallery and ¼ studio space.
How did you find the space and decide on the location?
Though we’d talked in the abstract about starting a venue for exhibitions, it was the Maspeth space itself that really solidified things. We found 60-40 56th Drive listed on Craig’s List and made an appointment to view it. The space was raw and dirty, a long-defunct deli and storage for a 99¢ Store, requiring a full renovation. But through the long, shuttered storefront windows, we saw the potential for a unique exhibition venue. It honestly all came together very organically.
Maspeth is a sleepy and tight-knit neighborhood in Queens, where public transportation is limited. The neighborhood is close to where we live and where our daughter goes to school, which makes it convenient for us logistically. Maspeth’s potential for an arts community has largely been untapped, despite its close proximity to Bushwick, Ridgewood, and Greenpoint. Besides the Knockdown Center, we are the only contemporary cultural point on the map. We’re a bit of a destination location, right here in the middle of New York City. Friends have called Maspeth “the land that time forgot,” but we enjoy being away from the art world center. The local community has been incredibly welcoming (from sharing home-baked cookies, to being the subject of grade school ‘current events’ reports). We’re excited to provide a cultural outlet for the neighborhood. Every visitor to Mrs. provides an opportunity to engage and openly talk about the art currently on view in the gallery.
What were some of the biggest challenges involved in starting and converting the space?
Our biggest challenge to date was the full renovation of our space from decrepit and defunct deli, to open and airy gallery/studio. Luckily, Tyler comes from a family of carpenters and woodworkers—so we were able to do all of the work ourselves. Over a number of months we worked days, nights, and weekends cleaning and rebuilding the space. Once completed, the rest came slightly more easily. With Sara’s background, we were able to anticipate many of the logistical challenges with opening a commercial exhibition space. We were were anxious with anticipation to open and eager to see what the reception would be.
How do your unique skills or perspectives as artists contribute to making the gallery and programming a reality?
Sara has years of experience in the arts and galleries, first in upstate New York, and continuing after officially moving to the city in 2008. Tyler has been a practicing artist his entire life and has worked in arts and design in New York City since 2007. We both concentrated in art at Hampshire College during undergrad. While at Hampshire, Tyler also studied printmaking at Goldsmiths University in London, while Sara took a semester of study at fit to concentrate on commercial photography. Sara also received an MFA in Photography from Parsons. Our collaboration is a marriage between art administration, curation, design and our unique and personal experiences as practicing artists in New York. We’re versed in both the creative and business aspects of working in the arts, and this has helped guide our decisions in running Mrs. As working artists, we have relatable experiences and knowledge which we’re hoping will benefit the artists we work with.
Can you tell us more about the gallery and your mission? What type of work are you interested in showing? What kinds of artists are you interesting in supporting?
The gallery showcases contemporary artists in this outlying neighborhood, with a focus on offering a new platform for emerging, underrepresented and mid-career artists and engaging the community. We’re interested in showing all mediums, focusing on the primary market, though we recently dabbled in secondary as well. With five exhibitions per year, we’re able to slow down and take the time and effort to find artists we feel are a solid fit for our programing. Curatorially, we both have strong personalities which means we’re particular with who we choose to exhibit and represent, but our aesthetic sensibilities seem to balance productively. Equally important to the work is the artist’s relationship with their practice. We’re interested in artists who consider both how this is situated into a larger context, and its ongoing trajectory. This methodology has worked well for us in our first year and we’re looking forward to continuing with this process as we look toward the future.
What are some the short-term goals for the gallery?
We’re currently applying to more domestic and international art fairs and working on expanding our collector base. In our next season we look forward to further developing our programming as well as adding a roster of artists, who we’ll be working with in a more official capacity.
You have been involved in art fairs in the past, and plan to do so in the future. How do the fairs relate to the daily operations as a physical space in Queens? What are some of the benefits and challenges of working with the fairs?
Since the beginning of Mrs. we have always planned to participate in art fairs. They offer extensive visibility and a much wider audience for our artists and the gallery, which isn’t necessarily achievable at our physical space. Fairs are a great opportunity to build connections with our collectors and to make additional press relations and contacts. They are also a fantastic way for us to network with other galleries and artist-run spaces.
The challenges and downsides relate directly to cost, shipping and time. Booth fees, associated shipping, and production costs are expensive, despite the above mentioned benefits. We choose to treat each fair proposal with as much concern as a physical exhibition in our brick and mortar space. For these reasons we’re extremely particular about which fairs we choose to apply to. So far we’ve been very pleased with the exposure that fairs have provided and look forward to continue to expand our participation going forward.
What have been some of the most interesting or successful projects or exhibitions that you have coordinated at the gallery so far?
Honestly, we’re so thrilled to have the opportunity to engage with artists we’ve been passionate about for a number of years. This, in and of itself feels like an enormous success. From our first solo exhibition with Omari Douglin to our current group show with Rebecca Morgan, Mark Mulroney and Montgomery Perry Smith, every opportunity has felt unique and exciting.
Can you talk a bit about your transition into a curatorial role, in addition to your roles as artists? How does your work as a curator relate to your practice? When did you become interested in curating, and how has your curatorial practice evolved?
Sara: I started curating in upstate New York, before moving to NYC. I was asked to organize an exhibition in a nonprofit space, so I went for it with some local artists which I was/am friendly with. It was a fun experience with very little risk—I was probably twenty four. The first exhibition I curated in NYC focused on the abject, which, ironically included one of Tyler’s works. This was while I was pursuing my MFA, and it felt natural to also consider curation. I’ve since had many curatorial opportunities, working alongside Meaghan Kent at her nonprofit organization titled site95—and in a collaboration with my close friend and colleague, Jennifer Simmons for Doppelgänger Projects. To me, curating feels just as creative and rewarding as my personal artistic practice and in a sense, curation has become an integral part of this.
Tyler: Previously to Mrs., I ran a zine called Gypsé Eyes. I published six issues over four years and worked with scores of artists in the process. Over that time, Gypsé Eyes was included in various exhibitions both around the us and internationally, including the Printed Matter Book Fair. Through this, I was also invited to curate a selection of artist books to be included in the ‘Made In Fukushima’ library in Japan. In parallel, my personal practice has long included elements of installation and required a consideration of space and context of a work’s presentation. I also utilize a great deal of found imagery in my practice, so editing and curating has been integral to all of these concerns. The opportunity to work with other artists in a curatorial capacity, offers me an objective freedom which can be harder to find in my own work.
How does social media affect or interact with the role of the physical gallery space in showing artwork today?
Social media has been somewhat of a blessing for us, specifically Instagram. Instagram is fantastic for visibility and we’ve benefited from this platform in terms of exposure and collectors relations. More and more we find collectors viewing our account and reaching out for more details on artists and pricing. We do find that viewers will also “virtually” experience our exhibitions, when they’re out of traveling range. Also, we often hear that our visitors found out about the gallery or an exhibition via Instagram. We see this as a useful, low-cost marketing tool. We also use Facebook, though it often feels like more of a chore than a benefit—except for the events page, which still seems to be relevant.
In your view, what are some of the important aspects of artist-run spaces and projects today?
These days, there are more and more artist-run spaces and projects, which offer unique visions and opportunities to artists, art viewers and collectors. Artist directors can bring a different vision to the traditional gallery structure. They often have a more astute understanding of artistic practices, and this can lead to more creative opportunities. There is a lot to admire in the programing of these artist run spaces. Some of our favorites include, 106 Green, Safe Gallery, yours, mine and ours, Ortega y Gassett, Freddy and Bible.
What are some of the most rewarding aspects of running the gallery?
Running Mrs. has been a dream come true. After working for many other institutions over the years, it is a breath of fresh air to produce exhibitions and opportunities that are entirely in our control. It has been a learning experience and a challenge, which we both feel we have creatively benefited from. This past season we’ve worked with so many fantastic artists, including Omari Douglin, Elizabeth Atterbury, Sarah Bedford, Tracy Miller, Walter Robinson, Jennifer Coates, Will Cotton, Caroline Wells Chandler, Wayne Thiebaud, Jen Catron and Paul Outlaw, Rebecca Morgan, Mark Mulroney, and many more. Connecting with these artists, developing relationships and thinking critically about their practices has been the biggest reward.
Thank you so much for taking the time to chat!
To find out more about Mrs., check out their website.