Ortega y Gasset
Interview with Ortega y Gasset
Questions by Emily Burns
Who is behind the gallery and who runs the different aspects of the operations?
Clare: OyG is a collaborative effort. We meet every other week via Google chat and discuss opportunities we want to explore and delegate responsibilities that play to our strengths. Once we figure out the schedule of shows for the next six months, each director takes a turn as the curator of an exhibition. The curator works on a press release and sends it out to the group for feedback. Everyone works as a team to offer suggestions.
Joshua: While we do maintain specific administrative responsibilities that keep the space operating (writing, proofreading, photographing, packaging paintings, buying beer, updating the website) there are a million other things that occur that are invisible, but significant nonetheless. It might be a text about an idea, or a tip about and artist whose work is smokin’, or a supportive email about something that has to do with the ongoing struggles that are involved with maintaining a full-time job, a family, a relationship, a studio practice and an artist-run space. These are the things that are behind the “behind” of what, how and who runs the space.
Lauren: It feels like we also become an extension of OyG on the day-to-day scale too—that all of those little things we do for OyG become integrated into our art lives—like those things that we would do for ourselves we also double by doing for the group—and for some of us that means using our specialized skills to contribute, or maintaining those little mundane things that keep the gears greased.
Can you tell us more about how and why you decided to open the gallery/form the project? What was the impetus to take the plunge?
Clare: It was Leeza’s idea to create a different kind of artist-run space in NYC, offering artists an opportunity to connect with the East Coast scene. Leeza, maybe you can speak more about you idea?
Leeza: Sure! In early 2013 I returned to NYC after doing two Visiting Professor gigs in Ohio—one at OSU and the other at Denison. While there I met some great artists with whom I wanted to keep in touch and this got me thinking: How can all the itinerant connections we make with artists all over the country nurture and expand the art scene in New York? There were already many artist-run galleries in NYC so I wanted to start a collective that had a slightly different premise. I reached out to artist friends across the country: Sheilah Wilson (OH), Lauren Adams (MD) and Karla Wozniak (TN) and told them my initial ideas about starting a space. They were on board! So next, I asked them to reach out to artists they wanted to work with across the country. Pretty soon a collective of eight members formed with me being the only NY-based artist. For the first year of our project we were based at 1717 Troutman. It was a great year but a little exhausting for me because I was the point person to facilitate the shows curated by the out-of-town members. We invited some additional NYC artists (Eleanna Anagnos, Zahar Vaks, Eric Hibit) to join our collective to make it more balanced between local and national artists before we moved to our new space in Gowanus. There are now ten of us, and about half of us reside in the tri-state area.
How did you find the current space and decide on the location?
Eleanna: Once we lost our original space at 1717 Troutman, Leeza did most of the real estate hunting. We’d come close to securing a new space, but then the deals would fall through. I had a studio at the Old American Can Factory and I learned that a long-time tenant suddenly vacated a 4000 square foot raw space with street access. We approached management and negotiated for months about a plan of action, discussing how we’d break up the space (as we didn’t need all of the available space), build it out, the cost, etc. It was an exciting time and also intense because we didn’t know if we could come to an agreement. We are thrilled it worked out.
Joshua: Our original space was motivated mostly by Leeza and her relationships with the beautiful people that run Regina Rex. Our first space was right next door to theirs in the 1717 Troutman building. As was well documented (Art F City and the NYTimes, I think) we were all kicked out of that amazing, thriving community and were each challenged with finding a way to continue to exist. Eleanna and Leeza found and landed the incredible space that we have now. I think, however, that space and location are something that is always on our mind. New York is not a static entity.
What were some of the biggest challenges involved in starting and converting the space?
Joshua: Deciding on and agreeing to a name was by far the hardest road we’ve ever crossed! Hahaha, if you could have seen some of the submissions, oh my goodness. This was especially hard because most of our meetings were over email or GChat and for the most part, we were all strangers. There were some really bad ideas and some really good ones. No one was supportive of “Darryl Strawberry Projects,” but gosh dangit I still think that’s a really good name for a gallery. Hahaha! “Tilda Swinton Swagger” however…
How do your unique skills or perspectives as artists contribute to making the gallery and programming a reality?
Clare: Some people are better at writing, some are better at image management, some are better at brainstorming ideas. All of our perspectives are so important to creating a unique vision of how to showcase culture that is being produced, as well as and needs and audience.
Lauren: And, I love how those perspectives push us to get somewhere with ideas that we may not have persued as individuals.
Will: I think that one of the strongest things about OyG, and other artist-run-spaces, is this “we’re all in this together” mentality, where the gallery only exists to support other artists and extend conversations outside of the studio. We’re attempting to fill a void that’s out there; we want to recognize and help champion under-represented and deserving artists and give them an opportunity for their work to be seen and heard. We’re all trying to make it work as artists and are constantly hustling, and I think that that pro-active and generous spirit fuels our programming at OyG.
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?
Clare: We want to show work that is interesting to us, that speaks to community, and conceptually smart.
Eleanna: We are creating the art world we believe in and a platform to support and exhibit living artists making thoughtful, provocative, conceptually rigorous work of all kinds. Since we are artists ourselves, we have a specific vantage point. We are a community of artists, curators, art lovers and collectors where exploration, discourse and content are the highest priority with a sincere commitment and investment in what is being made right now.
What are some the short term goals for the gallery?
Clare: Launch a new website, promote our nonprofit status, create swag for people to be able to purchase, do an art fair next year, start flat file project, sell more work by the artists we exhibit.
Will: Because we’re an artist-run space and finance the space ourselves, we’re ideally always looking to break even. We just officially received a not-for-profit status which is really exciting, so we’re hoping to announce that on social media in the near future in conjunction with some fundraising events and OyG swag. Who doesn’t want an OyG tote bag, OyG calendar, or OyG trading cards? Probably the trading cards won’t actually happen, but still...
What have been some of the most interesting or successful projects or exhibitions that you have coordinated at the gallery so far?
Lauren: Obviously I haven’t been at most of the shows since I’m a new director—so other directors may know better than me, but I think the narrative of the Rick Briggs show is great—and it seems like it had an amazing turnout. OyG gave a solo show to someone who has been almost a career-long New York artist, and avid supporter of OyG and we got to return the favor through a really great exhibition.
Eleanna: Each project has been done with such care that I find it difficult to measure what a successful project looks like: Is it measured by the turn-out on opening night? Or sales? Great press? Maybe success is dictated by the conversations that have spurred from those shows. I view our success more holistically, not based on one show or another, but rather on the totality of our efforts and vision. Together we’ve invested ourselves and our time in building an organization to support artists like ourselves and create an art world we want to be a part of that isn’t dictated by the market, but through discourse. It’s an organization based on trust and integrity and we hope it shows in all that we do.
What are some of the pros and cons of working with a larger collaborative group of artists?
Clare: Pros: A team of smart talented people have your back. The more ideas we have and the more hands are available make for less work for just one person. Cons: Sice some people are not local, it becomes difficult to participate with time, hang a show, and sit for gallery hours. Non-local directors try to make up for it with virtual duties like website and image archive, and writing and editing. It can be challenging when there are opposite viewpoints, but we work hard to hear each other and make decisions that are best for the group.
Joshua: It’s hard to describe a “New York” contingency and a “non-New York” contingency (which always pains me to say, because I was born and raised in New York) in terms of pros and cons.
It’s kinda like the pros are the cons and the cons are the pros. We’re not all in New York. That’s a good thing, and it also sucks. We really do love each other quite a lot and whether you are in New York or not, I feel that there is a general and sincere desire to be together.
One of the biggest benefits, for me anyway, is that I get to work with and interact with artists. I think that artists are extraordinary people (at least the ones that make up OyG) and I feel so fortunate to work with and get to know these folks in a way that I would not otherwise.
Catherine: The pros are endless! I really can’t imagine a better group of people to work with and with whom to work toward a common goal. The collaboration is really the most important aspect of the ethos of OyG—we value each other’s decisions and work independently of Ortega y Gasset and I feel we make eachother better for it daily!
Can you talk a bit about balancing your role as working artists with your curatorial practice?
Catherine: This is a great question Maake, we are all artists first! That is the point—we are not claiming to be full time gallerists, dealers or marketing experts. However, given the scope of our projects and thankfully, our reach—we need to be sharp on all things we do. This means learning the ropes of online art marketing, installation, press releases and much more. We honestly learn from each-other and along the way. The struggle is similar to any artist in New York or any major city—balancing life and art is hard but we aim to look at it as an opportunity. If we do it this way, we gain energy and momentum from curating and installing the work of others. As opposed to something we ‘have’ to do. We love it and we hope that it shows.
Lauren: I agree and as a personal anecdote, OyG helps to present opportunities to draw together the things that I am most invested in and passionate about—art, artists, community, and putting these things together. OyG helps me to maintain that balance by giving those practices roots under an umbrella which allows those things to connect and grow.
Clare: It also gives us the opportunity to take those questions and curiosities we have in our studio or in our minds into the world, so it feeds the art and it feeds the other ideas we have outside of our own practice.
How does social media affect or interact with the role of the physical gallery space in showing artwork today?
Clare: It is so important to use social media as a way to create an audience with people who are not local, and also for people who are local but may not be able to attend every event. It’s a place where we showcase artists we work with, artists that inspire use and artists we watch.
Catherine: Essentially, social media is one of the strongest, if not the strongest, platform artists and galleries now have. It is so critical for us to use it in a smart and generous way. It is shaping the way we as artists navigate the world. As curators, its how we file and store artists we admire and want to learn more about.
What are some of the important aspects of artist-run spaces and projects today?
Will: The generosity involved in running an artist-run space is such a significant element to the equation that I think shouldn’t be overlooked. We’re all artists with separate and diverse practices and running a gallery isn’t anyone’s top job; it’s really a labor of love. I think that that not only translates to the types of shows and projects that artist-run spaces develop, but to the general ethos and aura of the gallery. You can feel the warmth and familiarity when you walk into an artist-run space. There isn’t anything pretentious there; gallery attendants actually want to talk to people! They actually care who walks into their space! I think that positivity that radiates out into the world is so important and inspiring, and it really makes the art viewing experience accessible to everyone.
Joshua: Look at that answer from Will! Boom! The proof is in the pudding! So true.
What are some of the most rewarding aspects of running the gallery?
Catherine: One of the most rewarding aspects of running a gallery is the community of like-minded and driven artists we aim to champion. In a way, making decisions on what work is relevant, provoking, and strong gives us the platform to make cultural shifts and gestures in the art world. We get to claim what is working and what needs more attention in the art world today. That is an incredibly difficult thing to do but gets all of us out of our own habits and minds as artists. Giving to others— in exhibition opportunities and even as simple as social media generosity—lays the foundation for community and dialogue.
What are some of the unique opportunities offered to emerging artists through your organization?
Catherine: We were so excited to open up an extra studio space we have behind the gallery space to an open call for an artist residency and solo show opportunity. We put out a national open call and reviewed hundreds of amazing applications. This decision was so difficult, but the idea of offering this to an artist in need of space, community and opportunity seemed too good to be true and something that perfectly aligns with our ethos as an artist-run space.
Leeza: In the summer of 2015 I brainstormed an idea for our gallery’s vestibule area that the group later dubbed “The Skirt” after many conversations and debates. The Skirt was organized specifically for site-specific installations, which are a big part of my own practice so I felt that a space dedicated exclusively to site-specific work would be appreciated by artists who work in this way. Sometimes we invite artists to do projects in The Skirt, and sometimes we hold open calls to expand our knowledge of who is doing interesting work. Being a three month project, The Skirt gives artists the opportunity to overlap with other exhibitions and therefore be seen by new audiences over the course of three one-month gallery shows.
Catherine: We are considering several artists who made our short list for the residency to create a site-specific installation in the coming months.
Anything else you would like to add?
Will: Thank you for asking such thoughtful questions! We’re kind of obsessed with Maake and are honored to be included.
Catherine: Agree with Will! We love Maake and are thrilled to be a part of this! Thank you!
Eleanna: It’s true! We are. Thank you Maake!
Thank you so much for taking the time to chat!
To find out more about Ortega y Gasset, check out their website