Monday, April 5, 2010

Thinkspace's Audacious Vision

If it wasn't for the folks at Thinkspace, I wouldn't be here writing this today. A few years back, I walked into the gallery on a whim and made my first serious art purchase. Drawn in by their adventurous curatorial eye, I've returned to the gallery again and again because of their open-heartedness and passion for art. So on the occasion of their big move to the Culver City Art District, I thought I'd ask them a few questions that might lend some insight into what makes Thinkspace one of the finest galleries in the scene.

L. Croskey and Andrew Hosner with Stella Im Hultberg at "Snow Angels" (2007)

The power trio of Andrew Hosner, L. Croskey and Shawn Vezinaw banded together to open Thinkspace nearly five years ago. But before Thinkspace was born, there was Cannibal Flower, the monthly art party that LC began throwing a decade ago when he noticed there were a lot of talented artists wandering around who had nowhere to show their work. Back then, the only galleries in LA showing this sort of work were La Luz de Jesus, Copro/Nason, New Image and Merry Karnowsky – and all of them had miniscule, obscure exhibition spaces. There just wasn't enough wall space for all the talent in town. Over the years, LC has given hundreds of artists their very first public exposure, including Lola, Luke Chueh, Joe Ledbetter, Brandi Milne, Joshua Petker, Mia Araujo and Sylvia Ji. In essence, LC opened up this corner of the art world, creating a forum for a wide variety of creative voices – amongst them most of the women rocking the scene today – and building a framework that supports evolution and diversity for everyone from graffiti writers to graphic designers to special-effects artists to professional illustrators.

Sylvia Ji and Andrew at "Behind Bedroom Doors" (2007)

Meanwhile, Andrew and Shawn – who were already obsessive art collectors – began publicizing the movement with their blog, Sour Harvest, which soon became the go-to resource for the skinny on where to see interesting art. When they first began their weekly listing of coming attractions, there was no easy way to know what art shows were opening on any given day, which led to many amazing events going largely unnoticed. Coming from the music industry, Andrew and Shawn knew that getting the word out about an artist is half the battle. Their tireless promotion of every aspect of this scene has been instrumental in the burgeoning growth we've seen in the past few years.

"A Cry for Help" opening spillover crowd (2010)

In 2005, Andrew and Shawn combined their music-industry marketing savvy and art-collector enthusiasm with LC's party-throwing expertise and sweeping knowledge of the LA scene, and the three of them launched Thinkspace. Over the years, the Thinkspace crew has discovered, nurtured and held the first significant solo exhibition for many of the popular artists in the scene today – such as Lola, Sylvia Ji, Andrew Hem, Brandi Milne, Natalia Fabia, Joshua Petker, Chris Ryniak and Camilla d’Errico.

Andrew Hem at "Brighter Days" (2007)

Always looking forward, they continue to build their relationship with a diverse array of creative visionaries, including Audrey Kawasaki, Stella Im Hultberg, Amy Sol, Ekundayo, KMNDZ, Dabs Myla, Sarah Joncas, Kelly Vivanco, Allison Sommers, Scott Radke, Tran Nguyen and João Ruas – all the while continuously scanning the horizon for undiscovered talent to showcase in the future. One of the most impressive attributes of the Thinkspace team is their prescient curatorial eye – rather than trawling through the rosters of other galleries to poach artists who are selling well, Thinkspace has continually trailblazed into new aesthetic territory, taking risks on the artists they believe in.

Shawn Vezinaw with Audrey Kawasaki at "Raveled" (2008)

At my behest, Andrew and LC took a break from prepping their beautiful new space for its inaugural exhibition on April 9th, and shared a few thoughts about their gallery ethos.

New Thinkspace exhibition space in Culver City

Erratic Phenomena: Thinkspace is truly a labor of love, as all three of you have jobs outside the gallery, and devote your spare time to promoting this art community - with Cannibal Flower and Sour Harvest - and building up the careers of the artists you believe in. Over the past five years, Thinkspace has provided so many of the artists who are now well-known in the new contemporary arena with their first exposure in a gallery setting. What would you say distinguishes the approach you take to running Thinkspace from the average gallery in the scene? Is there a unifying philosophy or vision that defines what sort of work Thinkspace shows?

Andrew: That’s a tough one to put a finger on. It really is a major labor of love, as we’ve yet to really pull much out of the gallery for ourselves. We’re constantly reinvesting to push things bigger and better. I think it boils down to the fact that we were all passionate art collectors ourselves, first and foremost, and have befriended a great many of the artists we collect and support. We approach things from more of a family vibe when we reach out to an artist, especially in the last few years. We really want them to know where we're coming from when we reach out to them about working together – that we have a vision and plan in place. Sometimes things connect, sometimes they don’t. It pains me when others don’t see what we do in an artist’s work.

The one main thread that connects all the work and artists we show is that we have to love it and want it on our own walls. We don’t show work because it’s in high demand, or another artist with a similar style is hot. If someone we work with heats up and fits that bill, that’s amazing, but by no means are those the criteria that catch our attention. I think our track record of introducing fresh and exciting talent speaks for itself.

Sarah Joncas mural from "Sour Hearts & Sweet Tarts" (2008)

LC: We really care about the artist – and not just the artists that show in our gallery, but any artist. That shows through our Thursday open-door portfolio review. 95% of the artists that come in for portfolio reviews are not trying to show at Thinkspace – they are coming in to talk about their art and career decisions. Then we have Cannibal Flower, to support those artists who do not have a gallery home yet.

LC with Isaac Pierro at "Red Forest" (2008)

EP: All three of you are avid art collectors, and have houses in which every foot of wall space is covered with art. Each of you has also told me that nothing short of a life-or-death situation could compel you to sell anything in your collection. How do you think being such serious art enthusiasts flavors your approach to being gallerists?

Andrew: We really just strive to show work that stops us in our tracks, and hope that those who support our gallery see in it what we see. I really wish I could open a few more spaces – such is the amount of amazing talent that we come across. There's just not enough time in the day to expose all the artists we wish we could. We’re honored that the artists we are working with have chosen us as their homebase out here in the LA market.

If we can see it on our walls, then we see no reason not to give something a go in the gallery. We approach things with an eye towards the future. Sometimes an artist just has that certain something you can sense or feel in the work – but the imagery or narrative content isn’t there just yet. That’s when we’ll start them out slow with some group shows, and offer up the promise of a more focused group show down the line, or perhaps even lay out plans for a solo a year ahead in our project room – just ways we offer to help nurture and grow an artist’s world and in turn, hopefully, their collector and fan base.

Scott Radke – "Deer 4" from "Pins & Needles" (2008)

EP: This year, Thinkspace is coming up on its five-year anniversary, which you'll be celebrating with a retrospective group show in November. What would you say have been your greatest triumphs and biggest disappointments? How has being gallery owners changed you as people?

Andrew: Being a gallery owner has really opened our eyes to the art world at large. It’s a sprawling and ever-changing beast that has so many intricate moving parts, all of which are in one way or the other interconnected and feed off each other. From press to collectors to artist relations, there’s never a shortage of things to do, see and learn from.

It would be hard for me to single our greatest triumph, as I feel we’ve had many – of which just surviving this past year and coming out of it all stronger and more focused is a major one. To be able to make this move, at this time, is such a triumphant thing for us. This is our third space, and with each move, we’ve taken things up a notch and upped our presentation of those we support. With this new move, the sky is the limit, really.

We’re curating a
show in London this June, with other satellite shows in the works for later in 2010 and throughout 2011. We’re just looking to spread our vision as far as we can. We hope to make many of the artists we work with household names in our movement. That is the greatest triumph, when an artist we work with reaches a level where they have ‘arrived,’ and can finally focus on being an artist full-time. To be able to provide the vehicle for someone to chase after their dreams and realize them is a powerful thing.

As far as disappointments, it's so hard to put a finger on the biggest one overall. I’d say the thing that lets us down the most is when we strive to break an artist out and it just doesn’t connect via interest and sales. It hurts, as we approach them with great hopes, and sometimes the reality of the business side of this world has to come into play. We can only ask so much of them, before all of a sudden we have a year or more's worth of work that is just sitting and not connecting with collectors and new homes. It makes us feel like we've failed, and we hate that. We like to think we have a very strong curatorial eye and everyone will see our vision, but the reality of it is that that can’t always be the case.

LC: In short, our triumphs are when the artists respect our efforts and put their all into the show, and it works out the way we expect it to, and sometimes even better than we expected. The disappointment is just the reverse of that. As a business, we put 100% into every one of our shows, and it disappoints us when we notice that the artists didn't put in as much – not knowing that they jeopardize their career, even more than the gallery's reputation. As far as how I've changed by being a gallery owner, I am now more business-minded.

Andrew with KMNDZ at his debut solo "Full of Grace" (2007)

EP: What advice would you give to someone who's just starting an art collection? Are there pitfalls to avoid? What qualities do you see in the ideal collector?

Andrew: Buy what you love. Buy what catches your eye and speaks to you. Don’t worry about what your friend or a fellow member on a collector board is saying is hot, and such. Don’t let others dictate what you buy, first and foremost. Art is a very personal thing, and something you will be living with for years to come. Don’t worry about the investment potential, because if you love it, you really shouldn’t be planning to sell it anytime soon. If something goes up in value and becomes a major investment, then that’s an added bonus, but don’t let that be your focus when collecting. Art shouldn’t be viewed as an investment. There are far too many other well-proven methods of earning money out there to choose art as a way to make a quick buck.

Don’t spend more than you can afford too soon. Been there, done that – more than once. Be mindful of your finances. Some galleries will offer payment plans, others will allow half at the beginning and the other half at the end of the show. These options can sometimes provide opportunities to up-and-coming collectors that might otherwise not be possible, so don’t be afraid to ask a gallery about payments – you don’t know until you try.

I like to see collectors who buy art they love and whose enthusiasm you can feel when talking to them about artists. Folks like that fuel me to go out and continue the good fight, and keep exploring for new talent that wows us – and hopefully in turn, our patrons. We love to introduce collectors we work with to other collectors we know. There's nothing more rewarding than watching new relationships develop that you can tell will help both parties love art all the more, and learn more about it in the process.

Ekundayo – "Dawning of the Age" from "Interlaced" (2007)

LC: For the beginning collector, there are plenty of emerging galleries and underground shows where you can get artwork for under $500. Don't worry about the investment – buy it because you love it, and if it becomes something that's worth a lot of money, then that's an added bonus. For example, I bought the first piece Amy Sol ever showed in LA, at Cannibal Flower. It cost me $250. And I'm sure my partners have other amazing price stories.

Amy Sol – "Everything" from "Karmic Magic" (2008)

EP: You spend a great deal of time searching for unknown talent to introduce at Thinkspace, and the quality of your discoveries betrays a forward-looking curatorial eye that's relatively rare in this scene. What do you look for in a developing or underexposed artist? What do you specifically avoid?

Andrew: Why, thank you for that. We’ve definitely learned from our past experiences, and now approach artists with a full plan that usually starts with a year's worth of group shows to help introduce them, while at the same time letting them further define their overall world, and then build them out from there. Between my endless hunting on the internet and my partner’s dealings with Cannibal Flower, we are constantly being exposed to fresh and exciting new talent. There's really nothing more rewarding than helping to expose someone’s work to a larger audience. To be able to be there and be that base and watch it all grow and come together is an amazing thing. Many of the strongest voices in today’s new contemporary movement got their start at Thinkspace or via Cannibal Flower. It’s a very long and distinguished list.

Overall, we like to look for that spark of originality, that something special that will help to define their work. There are several painters out there who are amazing – but from one piece to the next, there’s no connecting thread that lets you know upon first viewing who painted that piece. That’s really the one thing that is a must, a defining element that will help in establishing them as something outside the ordinary. Visual recognition of one’s work is a big thing.

Audrey Kawasaki's "Drawing Room" (2008)

EP: Most galleries discourage aspiring artists from submitting their work, or allow submissions, but tell artists not to expect a response. Thinkspace holds walk-in portfolio reviews with gallery director L. Croskey every Thursday afternoon. What's the philosophy behind this unique practice? What future successes have walked into LC's portfolio reviews over the years?

Andrew: We aim to create a feeling of community via our networking with local artists. Everyone needs a sounding board, and LC is great at that. I’ll let him elaborate a bit more on this.

Shawn and Andrew with Ekundayo at "Interlaced" (2007)

LC: A lot of artists are looking for someone to be honest with them about their work. Their friends and family are biased, telling them that their work is great, even though the artist knows that something is missing. As an artist, I wish there was someone around who could have given me some honest advice, from a collector's or curator's viewpoint. I can provide 10 years of underground art show experience and the five years of standard gallery practice I've learned from Thinkspace. Over the years, I've had a chance to see my advice work through artists who are now successful – for example, Luke Chueh, Ekundayo, Dabs Myla, Lola, Joe Ledbetter, Mia, Chet Zar – and those are just a few.

Lola – "Tickled by the Nurture Tree" from "The Rememberlings" (2007)

EP: There are those who extoll the virtues of large expanses of white wall and looming ceilings in a gallery, but I've always felt the freshness and vision of the work on the walls was more to the point. Would you say your low overhead in Silverlake's Sunset Junction hipster enclave has allowed you to take bigger risks with new artists and unconditionally support the artists you love, rather than fretting incessantly about covering the rent?

Andrew: I can’t agree with you more on that statement. It really is about the vision and quality of the art, at the end of the day. The thing is, politics and perception play into the art world in very major ways, and it was time for us to make a move. Many of the artists we've worked with for some time are growing quickly now, and we must grow with them, and offer them more in terms of the gallery in which we will showcase their work and the clientele we hope to attract. Of course the low overhead of our old space in Silver Lake helped us take more risks in those early days, and we’ll never stop aiming to expose new talent, but we have a great many artists we have worked with now for 3-5 years, and it’s come time to step up and provide them a very polished base from which to further grow and prosper, and with our new location and plans for the years ahead, we hope to continue this exciting upward momentum for some time to come.

João Ruas – "Dawn III" for his upcoming "III" (2010)

EP: This April, you are transitioning Thinkspace into an elegant new setting in Culver City's gallery district. Where do you hope to take the gallery in the years to come? What would you like to see happen to the new contemporary movement as a whole in the next five years? Where do you see it going in the next 25?

Andrew: My hopes for the gallery are first and foremost to maintain the high level of craftsmanship in the work we show, and to continue to grow things outward and upward in terms of the exposure we gain for our artists and the collections in which we place their work. In the future, we will aim to do more satellite shows in different markets by partnering with exciting spaces, with the aim of expanding the audience for our artists, as well as their collector bases. We’ve already done several successful shows of this nature, and are excited at our first international venture this June in the UK with London Miles Gallery. Other future plans include more editions with our artists and more involvement in the international art fair circuit.

As for where we see this movement in five years… I just see bigger and better things. There are already at least half a dozen major museum shows planned before the end of 2010, and many already coming together for ’11 and ’12. With major art establishments now on board and seeing the reality of it all firsthand, via record-breaking turnouts, the sky is indeed the limit. It is a very exciting time to say the least. The future looks very bright.

Hopefully the history books will realize the importance of this moment in art history, and in 25 years this period will be looked back upon with the same reverence and respect given to the pop art movement of the ‘60s.

Audrey Kawasaki – "Oiran" from "Smitten" (2007)

Thinkspace will debut its elegant new Culver City gallery on Friday, April 9th, with Anthony Pontius in the main room and two small group shows in the rear galleries. Look for the former Kinsey/Desforges space, and come join the party!

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