So, I was talking with my friend and hero, Kathryn McGuire, about my dream (fantasy?) of running my own art gallery. Of course, dreams are for sleepers. Kathryn has actually done the thing. She is the owner/founder of the Clerestory Fine Art Gallery in Montclair, NJ. She is also a member of the African American Cultural Committee (AACC) of the Montclair Art Museum, as am I. Clerestory Fine Art Gallery is now my Happy Place. Kathryn opened the gallery in May of 2019, with a solo show by artist, Brian Stymest. She has since had a string of critically acclaimed and fiscally viable events and exhibits. The current exhibit, A Fish Cannot Drown in Water, features the work of artist, Sybil Archibald.
I asked Kathryn how she went about it, why she went about it, and if/how I should go about it. The relevant highlights of that conversation are here:
H2C$: Why did you open an art gallery?
KWM: My background is developing educational programming for diverse audiences in museums and curating for various institutions. When I moved to Montclair, I started a figure drawing group and began working as a co-Director for Studio Montclair's Incubator program for emerging artists. Through both of these roles I started to meet more and more artists who were much more than "hobbyists" and were sitting on large bodies of mature artwork with well-defined styles. They deserved solo exhibitions with catalogs and a much deeper analysis than can be presented in group shows or anything juried online.
Northern New Jersey is a unique area that can encourage creative communities to thrive, and also provide a financial support network for those communities. Often artists are pushed to one area and investors or collectors live separately. Here we are intertwined. My job is to connect those worlds, and also encourage people on either side of the artist/dealer/critic/collector cycle to loosen up and create more.
H2C$: How did you open an art gallery?
KWM: My husband and I sold an investment property to fund renovating the space. I wanted a second-floor location on a main commercial street to provide both location accessibility and foot traffic, but still maintaining an intimate viewing experience. We were very fortunate to find a space in a historic building, which reverberates with our interest in presenting scholarly exhibitions.
I met with an accountant, formed an LLC, found a graphic designer, artists, and started getting to know local collectors.
H2C$: You make the whole gallery owner thing looks so glamorous and sexy. What is some particularly not-sexy part of it that we don't get to see?
Ha! To me, the overtly “sexy” parts are openings with Prosecco. The REAL sexy part is installing the work & getting to know the artists and what makes collectors tick. The “unsexy” part is the monotony of distributing press releases (writing them is fun); posting events; the slog of Instagram- the inevitable desk job component. Whenever I get to bust out a hammer and level- that’s sexy.
H2C$: Should I buy/invest in an art gallery?
KWM: Invest in an art gallery by supporting it. Word of mouth and attendance at openings, etc... helps boost the renown of the gallery, but most importantly BUY art from small galleries. With social media, there's tremendous democratization of what art can be viewed digitally, but for artists to sustain an actual practice, they need to fund that practice. Supplies, printing, marketing are all costly. Life is costly. They create these objects and put them out into the world to view and interact with. A piece of art is a single purchase that will outlast any clothing, furniture, or vehicle you own. It's worth the investment.
So, there’s that. I will not likely be buying or opening an art gallery. Neither should you, probably. According to Kathryn, I am doing my part as a collector, patron, and advisor to artists and collectors. If you love art, support artists by buying great art from cool galleries.
William S Jiggetts