1329 Willoughby Ave, 2A
Brooklyn, NY 11237
Transmitter is a collaborative curatorial initiative based in Brooklyn, New York, focused on programming that is multidisciplinary, international, and experimental. The gallery was founded in 2014 by Rob de Oude, Carl Gunhouse, Sara Jones, Rod Malin, Tom Marquet, and Mel Prest. In 2015, Jen Hitchings joined the curatorial team, followed by Kate Greenberg in 2017. Kirk Stoller is joining us in 2018 while Mel Prest is on hiatus.
Interview with Transmitter
Questions by Emily Burns
Can you give us some background on how the gallery was started? When was the gallery formed and what was the impetus to take the first steps? Who was involved in the early stages?
After Parallel Art Space, Rob was looking for a new location and new collaborators. From past experience and from calculating the time and money involved he came to the key idea of six partners. Talking to peers and past curatorial collaborators from Camel Art Space and Parallel Art Space, we came to the first iteration of members.
How did you find the space and decide on the location?
After scouring the neighborhood extensively, Rob came to the 1329 Willoughby location. Microscope Gallery had just moved in, and there was a lot of potential for growth and for additional spaces to move in as well. We had already been in touch with tsa (Tiger Strikes Asteroid) about potentially operating from the same location, and by sharing the space with tsa were able to make it work. Once we were all settled, we were able to tip both Underdonk and Koenig & Clinton about the available space and thus are part of a growing community of galleries. Of course, another plus was the proximity to the subway.
What were some of the biggest challenges involved in starting and converting the space?
The biggest ones were getting the funds together for the buildout, which we all pooled together. After that the challenge was to find the actual time needed to convert the space. Having experience in construction, we were able to do almost all of this ourselves in about two months.
How do your unique skills or perspectives as artists contribute to making the gallery and events a reality
Our own studio practices range in medium and content quite a bit, but a general aesthetic and involvement in the community are what brought us together as a group. While our programming throughout the years is quite diverse in content, there is a connecting thread of formal considerations, as well as the quality of the work shown. We have all put on shows in other locations and spaces, and because we met as adults, rather than in school (except Tom and Carl, who have known each other since junior high school), we have pretty different histories and aesthetics. Bringing those differences into dialogue with one another is what makes Transmitter more than just seven people putting on shows.
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?
We have never really put a specific label on ourselves as a gallery in terms of the type of work we show. We attempt to diversify our exhibitions throughout the year in terms of content, showing both underrepresented artists and established artists, both local and abroad. There are thousands of artists in Bushwick, but we try our best to also engage with artists based outside of New York and the United States when possible. Of course, shipping and and other logistics can limit the possibilities for an artist-run space, but we have managed to exhibit a lot of artists from outside of our community.
What are some the short term goals for the gallery?
We have recently been planning more programming in the space to add to our exhibition calendar, such as artist talks, screenings, panel discussions, readings, and performances. We are also always exploring art fairs that seem like good fits for our program. We want to increase the number of artists we show, and to vary the exhibitions both thematically and physically.
What have been some of the most interesting or successful projects or exhibitions that you have coordinated at the gallery so far?
After three years of exhibitions and projects, highlighting one over the others can be hard to do. One noteworthy exhibition was based on the idea of the entire show being offered as a donation to the Baltimore Museum of Art. This show featured all Baltimore-based artists, and an interesting addition to the show became the correspondence with the museum, in which we as a gallery were vying for the inclusion of local artists in museum collections.
What are some of the pros and cons of working with a collaborative group of artists to run the space?
Practically, running the gallery as a group lowers the financial pressure and time required for each member to take care of behind-the-scenes work. We each have our own practice, and day jobs, and real estate in Brooklyn is so inflated, it would be much more difficult to do with fewer people involved. Of course, this also means seven people must agree on all decisions. We have a very democratic and casual approach to how we operate, so there has been little friction in that regard, but some decisions take longer to resolve than others. Because our interests as artists and curators differ, we also learn from each other, whether it’s introducing each other to new artists, spaces, or shows, or just having an opportunity to discuss art as a group.
Can you talk a bit about balancing your role as working artists with your curatorial practice?
While our individual practices as artists inform our work as curators, both in terms of what we’re interested in and how we connect with other artists, there are two things we do a little differently than some other artist-run spaces; we don’t include our own work, and we don’t promote exhibitions with the curator’s name. In this way, we operate more as a formal gallery and aim to keep our own practices separate from our curatorial practice. Two of us keep our studios in the same building as the gallery, so that does make physically being there a bit easier on both the studio practice and availability for visitors off-hours.
How does social media affect or interact with the role of the physical gallery space in showing artwork today?
It does seem to have a considerable impact on visibility. We’ve had a good number of visitors, especially those who come in from out of town, tell us that they follow us online and wanted to see the space in person. For this reason, high-quality photos of the artwork and installations are key. Carl’s expertise is really an asset! Consistency in online engagement seems to also be really important. We also promote other gallery shows and artists we’ve worked with when they show elsewhere, which helps build connections, and helps us keep in touch with people we’ve worked with.
What are some of the most important aspects of artist-run spaces and projects today?
With the art market becoming so commodified, and real estate in New York shifting so drastically and frequently, it’s really important for younger artists to take the reins themselves and create their own alternative spaces and communities that aren’t driven entirely by sales. Low overhead allows for more adventurous programming that doesn’t necessarily rely on what will sell. We’ve had exhibitions in which nothing is for sale. A lot of galleries can’t or just won’t take that risk, and those are the kinds of shows that keep things interesting.
What are some of the most rewarding aspects of running the gallery?
We genuinely love working with artists. Getting to know them and their work, forming new connections between artists who hadn’t known one another before, securing first-time press or a sale for an artist, all these are really rewarding. It’s always a pleasure to see an artist we’ve worked on showing up somewhere else, and for their work to get the attention it deserves. It’s almost a person-by-person building of a community, where people can stop by, speak directly to the people involved, and find a place with like-minded peers.
Any funny stories or tales about intense or ambitious installs?
Well, one installation was all murals. So every wall needed to be in excellent condition. Only after the show was all planned out with six artists agreeing to create murals in the space we realized that only one week for changing shows, with everyone in the space at the same time could be a recipe for trouble. There were some all-nighters, and some intense scheduling, but in the end with about 15 minutes to spare before the opening everyone was done and still on speaking terms. In fact the artists were grateful for the experience.
Do you focus on primarily group or solo exhibitions? How is this planned?
The curation of each show is largely up to the curator, and we don’t have guidelines for exhibitions, so it’s a range throughout the year. We do tend to present a solo exhibition that is more installation-based for our shorter, three-week show in December though. In 2017, we presented two solo shows, two two-person shows, and six group shows, for example.
The gallery, website, materials, and overall Transmitter vibe is clean, organized and very pro. How important is ‘image’ and is this more crucial for an artist-run space?
Our attitude is that keeping things clean lets us focus on the work and the artists.
Have you had success getting press as an artist-run space? Is that a challenge for artist-run spaces in the city?
We have had some press, even including mentions in The New York Times and The New Yorker! We are always gratified by press when we get it, but it’s also exciting because it gets new people to come to the space. It’s definitely a challenge though, as the number of reviews of gallery shows overall seems to be shrinking all the time.
What are some of the unique opportunities offered to emerging artists through your organization?
The gallery is located on a block with five other galleries, and Bushwick as a whole has about 50 galleries, so we get a lot of foot traffic. We also hold events like artist talks during exhibitions in order to facilitate conversation about the work.
What are some of the characteristics about Transmitter that make it unique and different from other galleries in Brooklyn?
We have tried to put on shows with diverse mediums, and curate artists from outside our immediate networks. Tying that together here is a cohesiveness in our approach to installation and a level of professionalism that we think is unique.
Any exciting changes, events, or projects coming up soon?
Lindsay Packer’s current solo exhibition, a light installation titled Day for Night is on view through February 11. Following that is Quinn Likes Trucks, featuring Kyle Kogut, Michael Marcelle, and Jennifer Sullivan, opening on February 16th, and in April we will present group show about the contemporary still-life featuring Robin F. Williams, Jonathan Chapline, Don Pablo Pedro, Crys Yin, and more.
Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with us!
To find out more about Transmitter, check out the website.