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Minding the Gap

A (footnoted) roundtable discussion with key members of Cincinnati’s next generation of gallerists

By Laura James · September 23rd, 2008 · Cover Story

CityBeat: To start off, maybe you could all say a little about who you are and what you do.

Andrew Van Sickle: I’m the gallery owner of AVS Art on West Fourth Street Downtown. My gallery (focuses on) contemporary outsider art 1 and pop art 2 , mostly upstart artists. Mostly locals, though I do have some national artists coming in for the next show, which is a Red Bull show with graffiti artists from Jeffrey Deitch 3 . Some of his artists are coming in, and that should be very interesting. Fifteen graffiti artists from around the country … But mostly (we show) local artists and outsider artists. Those are my two specialties as I’m learning this business … The gallery opened April 2. I’m a newbie.

Annie Bolling Rangeley: I’m co-owner of Phyllis Weston-Annie Bolling Gallery in O’Bryonville, and our gallery specializes in anything from emerging artists to Russian Impressionists and everything in between. As you may know, my business partner (Phyllis Weston) has been in this business for 40 years and was, for some time, considered an expert on American Impressionism. But that market’s sort of dried up and hard to get into, so we’ve moved on to Russian paintings. But we show local artists. We kind of do a little bit of everything. We say that quality is what counts. I have been working with Phyllis for eight years. We’ve been (in the space in O’Bryonville) since 2006.

Matt Distel: I’m the director of Country Club. We opened in October of last year. We like to say we’re project based and we have an area of our gallery that produces editions and multiples, prints and objects. Anywhere from emerging artists to established artists and an estate here and there. So we are sort of all over the place, but we like to focus on younger artists.

CB: Explain what you mean by “project based.”

MD: We’re really only doing three exhibitions a year here in Cincinnati, and we like to export our things to other places, whether it’s fairs or helping to produce projects for an artist or with an artist that might not ever get exhibited here. We tend to take on each show as a project as much as an exhibition. ... We want to do as much as we can in Cincinnati; we show a couple of Cincinnati artists. But it’s just as important for us to bring interesting things into the region as it is to take the things we’re doing here out into the world.

CB: So do you do a lot of your sales outside of Cincinnati? MD: Some. I mean, I couldn’t give you a breakdown at this point. Our print and editions business is primarily online at this point, so if you factor that in then, yeah, a really healthy number of our sales comes from outside the city. It’s essentially a mail order business.

CB: What about you, Annie? ABR: I would say that because we run exhibitions every month we have a lot of local patrons. Our primary sales are through our openings and when the exhibitions are up. So we have a lot of local clientele. But some regional.

Phyllis has some clients that go back 30 or 40 years in Alabama, Louisville, some people from Closson’s early on when that was a big draw.

CB: Andrew, you’re just probably starting to find your client base right now. What kind of things are you aiming for? AVS: I think I’m aiming for the upstart collectors — the young couples, the people who are moving downtown and are looking for unique art that doesn’t match their couch or their drapes … It’s a learning process every month. I do monthly exhibitions as well. But it’s not a gift shop, which a lot of galleries tend to be. They gotta mish mash everything, and I like going into places and seeing a solid show every month.

We also have events, and we do rent out the space … So I guess it’s like working with promotions and marketing and public relations — you need to build up an awareness for a gallery that’s like an island on its own. There is nobody around us right now. I have my (openings) in the middle of the month because, on like Final Friday, nobody comes because they’re always somewhere else.

CB: Weston-Bolling is kind of alone, too, in O’Bryonville.

ABR: There’s a lot of shopping. But we have Tredway’s Gallery 4 and Jack Wood Gallery 5 ... but they are very different. And so I guess we’re the only gallery like us in the area.

CB: What about you, Matt? Did you consciously pick this space on Findlay Street because of the building and the people in the building?

MD: We like being close to Carl (Solway) 6 , and he’s been really supportive.

And it’s a lot of space for not a lot of money. We’re obviously more of a destination spot. I mean, we’re not going to get any walk-in traffic. ... That’s never going to generate sales for us anyway. If it does, fantastic. But if not, we’re prepared.

It’s not like we aren’t concerned with things like Final Friday, but it doesn’t really make sense for us to revolve our schedules around that. We also don’t necessarily think that a big opening is going to generate sales for us either. That’s like the hustle. It’s more about the people we are connected to and in contact with. ... We view the openings as an excuse to throw a party.

We approach our shows kind of like a museum would. This type of installation 7 is not really salable by most of the Cincinnati collectors. We want to show the artist a good time. We want people to know that this place is fun. And I think that ultimately it that will help us, but we’re not looking for immediate returns.

ABR: Yeah, the biggest fear, like a week before the show’s about to open, is that nobody’s going to show up. You’ve got this artist, and it’s sort of like standing in the room in your underpants.

AVS: I think that having the opening parties, you do get a lot of ... people who want to be there for the scene, and being across from a nightclub (Bang!) I’m guilty of that. I knew that was coming big time. When I was the art director at Club Clau 8 I sold a lot of art, usually to people from out of town. ... But I think that if you’re going to be in a situation where you’re going to have a party, you should have a dance floor, VIP section, bottles, people drinking, crazy and spending money like crazy.

ABR: It’s important to get people into the mentality to collect art if they like it. People will buy big, expensive cars, but the minute you drive it off the lot that thing has depreciated in value. I’m not impressed if you have this big house and your big cars and nothing of interest on your walls. Art is so subjective, but I think it’s important that we help people understand why collecting is important.

CB: Well, why is it important?

ABR: Art is just such an important part of life. It can be a social commentary; it can be a historical piece.

Contemporary art and what the young artists are doing now is just a statement on what’s happening in the world, like especially the Beautiful Losers exhibition (at the CAC) and a lot of the stuff Matt has (at Country Club). We need to invest in these things. It’s important that the artists can continue their careers.

If you’re buying art from someone you trust and who has a decent reputation, there is a great possibility that you could get a return on your investment. We always tell our young collectors, “Buy one good piece. If you need to pay for it over time, most people will work with you. Buy one good piece, and then maybe next year you can buy another good piece. And then 10 years down the road you might look back and have a significant art collection.” And I think it’s such a personal reflection of who you are. It gives back in so many ways.

AVS: Art really is one of the most desirable objects out there. We lose sight of that with the cars and the homes, like Annie said. … People are really uncomfortable buying art. I don’t know why Cincinnati has lost touch (with collecting). We don’t have the fever for art the way people do in other places. … Walking into someone’s house is always so interesting to see what they have on the walls, whether it’s pictures of their families or artwork by friends or things that they’ve gone out and actually collected. It really defines who you are.

ABR: It becomes a process, too. I have a background in art and was always fascinated with artists. I graduated with a degree in fine art, and I knew I was never going to be an artist. I knew I didn’t have what those other people had. But when I got the job at Closson’s and saw the gallery side of it, I was like, “Oh my gosh, this is perfect.”

Many people are afraid of art. They are intimidated by it, so if you can be that intermediary between the artist and the collector (that’s exciting). … It’s fun if you can be the bridge, putting (art) into homes and getting people thinking about this world that we live in. The artists have already done all that thinking, they’ve done all that feeling and they put it out there for others to see and to hopefully generate some sort of a dialogue.

CB: What advice would you give to new collectors?

MD: Speaking very specifically about Cincinnati, there are people like Phyllis (Weston) and Carl (Solway) and maybe to another degree someone like Toni Birckhead 9 who activated their generation to buy art. They got people really excited. And if you look back, you’ll see that they’ve built amazing collections for people and made people a lot of money, which is part of what we do. I mean, it’s a business too.

I think you do need to do your research as much as anything. So there has to be some kind of passion there and some kind of due diligence. I think (Weston and Solway) did that. And now we have a pretty good gap (in collectors) because (Weston and Solway) are still selling to their own generation to a great degree. And so we have a pretty good gap. And now it’s down to us here, with a few other people probably. I think we need to sell to our generation. And to a certain degree our generation should be buying artists of our generation. I feel like that’s ultimately what’s going to speak to people if they’re starting a collection.

CB: Or just to be involved in the artworld. Even if it’s just coming by and eating crackers and cheese and appreciating the art in a different way, people start to understand that it can be more than just a pretty picture to hang on your wall.

MD: I came from more of a curatorial background, so that’s one of the things I’m finding I need to temper a little bit. That dialogue is almost as rewarding as a sale to me. So I better watch that a little bit! We’re not just selling art. We’re helping artists build their careers. When you realize that, it puts you in a totally different mindset.

CB: Oh, Bill’s here! Please introduce yourself to the tape recorder.

Bill Renscheler: I run the Aisle frame shop and a gallery with Krista Gregory. We show people we discover, basically in town or friends that I’ve had from graduate school or just about anybody locally. We just had our one-year anniversary in September. We change shows about every six weeks.

CB: We’re talking about young galleries and who’s been collecting and who you want to see at your gallery.

BR: Wow. God, you mean think about things?

CB: Tell us why you started your gallery.

BR: Because I was sitting on 50 Harvey Osterman photographs and had to show them. I went to graduate school with him. I thought he was the world’s best photographer.

Oh, and Krista was walking around (the frame shop) twitting her thumbs, so she needed to be the director of the gallery. She needed more work to do. All I did was think about it, and when I told Krista she actually did something, so it was pretty cool that way. Collectors, yeah, I don’t know. It seems like we just send out cards. … and I don’t know what the demographic is. It’s a lot of people we know.

CB: I think people have a really hard time understanding how much money galleries need to put on these shows.

ABR: Yeah, I don’t think people realize it. BR: They don’t have to think about it. ABR: But it’s expensive. To stay in business, it’s expensive: the rent, the phone, the lights, framing bills.

BR: That’s one thing I don’t have to worry about. I don’t really have to worry about making enough money, because my frame shop generates enough to pay for the heat and the phone and stuff.

ABR: But it’s all expensive. It’s really hard to be successful in the gallery business, but it’s worth it.

AISLE GALLERY is located at 424 Findlay St., Over-the-Rhine, 513-241-3403.

AVS ART GALLERY is located at 314 W. Fourth St., Downtown, 513-328-3456.

COUNTRY CLUB is located at 424 Findlay St., Over-the-Rhine, 513-792-9744.

PHYLLIS WESTON-ANNIE BOLLING GALLERIES is located at 2003 Madison Road, O’Bryonville, 513-321-5200.



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