Homa Taj in Conversation with Brooklyn Art Dealers Robert Henry Contemporary


Richard Garrison, courtesy Robert Henry Contemporary, Brooklyn, NY

Henry Chung is a Brooklyn based artist working in photography and mixed-media. Henry attended Columbia University and NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts and currently maintains a studio in Red Hook where he builds his pinhole cameras and programs obsolete computer equipment.

Robert Walden attended the Atlanta College of Art (BFA, 1994) and received of a grant from the Pollock-Krasner Foundation (2003), participated in Emerge 2001 at Aljira, A Center for Contemporary Art, Newark, NJ and was a fellow at the Edward Albee Foundation (2005). Walden’s work has been seen in galleries and museums throughout the United States and in Europe, including The Berardo Collection Museum, Lisbon, Portugal and the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Kansas City, MO. Robert Walden lives and works in Brooklyn, N Y.

They are the founders of Robert Henry Contemporary.

There are bad artist, bad art and bad galleries. Beginning collectors should take the time to visit and get to know the gallerists and understand that the only criteria in being a dealer is paying the rent on the gallery. Find a dealer you trust…actually, find several dealers…buy from more than one gallery. For collectors starting out who know very little about the history of art I recommend reading books…there are many to choose from…The Banquet Years is a good one, or artist’s biographies. Also, joining a museum’s collector’s clubs is a good way to begin. Take chances and challenge yourself and don’t dismiss something because “you don’t like it”…if an artwork is difficult or not easily understood that does not make it bad. Questions are better than answers. Above all be as passionate about what you collect as the artists are about what they make.

Homa Taj – When did you open your first gallery of contemporary art? And, in what year did you move to your present location in Bushwick?
Henry Chung – We first opened our gallery in 2009, and renaming it Robert Henry Contemporary when we moved to Bushwick in 2012.
Robert Walden – [First it was] in a storefront space in South Park Slope and moved to our present location at 56 Bogart St, in June (2012).

HT – How would you define – if that’s possible – emerging art that is coming out of Brooklyn? I think of Brooklyn as the Berlin of the American art market…
HC – I don’t know if I can characterize emerging art that is coming out of Brooklyn. I think there are connotations of “street art” that is associated with Brooklyn and Bushwick, but I don’t think most emerging artists working in Brooklyn come from this tradition. Brooklyn is very, very big with disparate and disconnected artist communities throughout the borough. Like New York in general has always done, Brooklyn is attracting all types of artists from everywhere as a place where artists can find and develop a voice.
RW – Defining what is being made in Brooklyn today is impossible. There is more diversity than words to describe what is being made in Brooklyn. However, there does seem to be a significant amount of painting. Also, art is being made all over the borough of Brooklyn not just in Bushwick

[Tweet “I advise beginning collectors to learn and take their time, don’t be intimidated…and to look.”]

HT – Given the dramatically rising real estate prices in Brooklyn, how do you see the artists’ demographics changing? On the one hand, this may be a good thing since there is a growing population of affluent residents who can buy art. And, on the other hand, these developments are pushing artists even further away from NYC, etc…
HC – Rents for apartment and studio spaces are rising astronomically in Brooklyn, and especially in Bushwick. It is no secret that artists have been pushed ever further and further into Brooklyn and even into Queens to seek affordable work space. Whereas artists in the past came to Brooklyn for the less expensive large loft spaces, artists come today for affordable small, shared studio spaces. One effect on the artwork is that it is increasingly difficult to create large-scale projects, since the studios often are merely a semi-private space in a corner of a room shared with a half dozen other artists. I do see also that artists come to Bushwick to be part of the arts community here, which is pretty active and social with plenty of venues and events where artists mingle and meet one another. In the past the pioneering artists who set up studios deep in Brooklyn were generally loners not necessarily interested in community.
RW – [That’s] a constant problem in New York City and have been for generations…this is nothing new. What seems new is the pace at which things are changing. There has been a lot of coverage in the news media about the problem of rising cost of living in NYC and Brooklyn, in particular, but no one seems to have a solution. New York City is increasingly more a market for selling than a center for art making like it became in the 20th Century…that market is a tightly closed society too.

HT – You are both artists how do you find the artists whose work you exhibit? Or, they find you?
HC – There certainly is no shortage of artists in Brooklyn, and one can find just about any kind of artist here. The artists that we show are generally people who we already know, or come from recommendations from people that we already know. Like any field, we rely heavily on networking. As we are both artists, Robert and I have a very large network of artist friends. As we are also gallerists, we have developed a nice social network of like-minded dealers and gallerists. When we have rare slot open for a group exhibition, we tap into our network to find the right fit. Although we had in the past, we currently do not accept unsolicited submissions.
RW – So far, most of the artists we show come from our network of friends and friends of artist friends…there are a few exceptions: Pancho Westendarp for example, came to us through an open call for submissions…which we accept periodically, usually in July and August through our website. We have not accepted submissions lately because we are more than too busy with the artists we are working with now.

HT – Is there a conflict of interest between you being artists, and art dealers?
HC – We keep our artist side separate from our gallerist/dealer side. Not so much because there is a conflict of interest (which there of course may be), but more so because of the perception of the legitimacy of the gallery. There is an unfortunate stigma with “artist-run” spaces in that they are are merely vanity projects. In order to grow our gallery and have it reach its full potential, we had to make the hard decision to keep the two worlds separate.
RW – No. We do not exhibit our own work. So, there is no conflict. I feel being artist gives us particular insights and advantages into what art is and how it is made that we can offer to our clients. Most people don’t go to a proctologist for a root canal, so why would anyone go to someone to buy art when that person doesn’t know anything about what art is?

HT – Your gallery’s program is very strong in representing conceptual art. But, from what I have observed over the years, your idea of conceptualism is balanced with an equally engaging appreciation for aesthetics – rather than concepts and ideas for their own sake with little regard for beauty…
HC – For me, the best artwork tickles both sides of the brain. I feel that strong and successful artwork often offers the viewer multiple levels of interpretation, and can appeal to a range of audiences and moods. I like that one can delve deeply into the conceptual underpinnings of certain artworks one day, and then think about how beautifully the shapes and colors suit the room the next. Conversely, I delight in the seeing the joy of someone who is attracted to a piece because of its aesthetic nature, but discovers an entire world of conceptual reading afterwards.
RW – There is nothing wrong with beauty. I am interested in work that is equally visually and conceptually or intellectually stimulating. This stems directly from Marcel Duchamp’s ideas on what he called ‘retinal art’ and “non-retinal” art…essentially, I am interested in work that is a combination of the two…or at least presenting what we show as both a visual and conceptual experience…work that delights the eye and engages the mind. I try to avoid what I call “I get it art” which is essentially work that is a one-liner…or work that makes statements rather than asking questions. Questions are more engaging than answers.

HT – How would you define the importance of art fairs? 
RW – Art fairs have become the go to sales event for galleries. There are good ones and bad ones just like art, artists and galleries. From a gallery’s perspective the best fairs are as much about sales as they are about quality. Volta is a great example. With it’s focus on single artist presentations collectors get a chance to experience and see more work. This allows for more in depth exploration and discovery. It also allows the collector to see consistency in an artist’s work.
HT – You were back at Aqua Art Fair at Art Basel Miami Fair. I have to say Aqua is my favorite satellite fair in Miami since it takes place in a most unique location: it is a distinctly Miami experience which cannot be emulated anywhere else in the world. Well, perhaps somewhere in the Mediterranean region. What was it like to exhibit your artists’ works there?

HC – We love the setting at Aqua! The hotel is unique in that it is one of the few left where the rooms all face the common courtyard. It feels to me as if one were at a town square, and all the shops are art galleries. Unlike fairs that are in large tents or in a convention center, the intimate setting of Aqua affords a certain casualness with our guests and fosters great conversation with potential clients. Unlike other hotel fairs, the rooms open out to the open air, not a hotel hallway, and we get to spend a week in the beautiful Miami weather. The atmosphere is festive and lets the guests experience art in a very “Miami” setting.
RW – That is one of the reasons we like the Aqua Fair…the venue itself. Because the hotel is only 2 floors and centered around an open courtyard with palm trees, etc…so, that it feels a bit like a town square of a small beach-side village but all the stores happen to be art galleries. There are challenges of course, the walls are plaster and not drywall, for example. However, the atmosphere is relaxed and unpretentious. Visitors are less intimidated and conversations about the work happen more readily. It is like no other fair for exactly the reason you suggest in your question.

HT – I understand that you were invited to participate in the Aqua’s first Selection Committee. What was that process like?
HC – We were honored to be part of making Aqua the best that it can be. Aqua already has a great reputation as an independent boutique art fair, and it was good to see that there is an effort to maintain a strong showing of galleries. Both Robert and I tried to consider not only the proposal in the application, but evaluating a gallery’s program as a whole as well as criteria for selection.
RHC – In 2012 Art Miami bought the Aqua art fair from its founders Jac Chartier and Dirk Park and the new director Jennifer Jacobs has gone about a process to grow and change the fair…essentially to make a great fair even better. Part of that process was to establish a selection committee to help expand the quality and geographic diversity of the fair. We were pleased to be invited to help this process as best we could.

HT – Which artists did you showing in Miami, this year?
HC – We are showing a selection of gallery artists curated to represent our narrowly focused programming:
Derek Lerner – ink on paper drawings using thousands of lines to explore the conflicting ideas of his urge to create and its effect on the environment.
Jerry Walden – investigates the nature of the aesthetic experience by combining Formalist compositional elements of color, line, pattern and direction with personal emotions and memories
Liz Jaff – obsessively cuts, folds and sews paper and string with exacting consistency to explore ideas of love, commitment, sacrifice and memory of time and space
Elise Engler – obsessively documents minute details of larger experiences through small, whimsical drawings, lying somewhere between art, taxonomy and natural history
Richard Garrison – analyses ubiquitous materials, objects and places from the suburban, often consumer related, American landscape
Pancho Westendarp – drawings and sculptures that analyze relationships between time, space, memory and movement
Robert Lansden – highly obsessive drawings built upon algorithms, focused on explorations of chance, discovery and time
Sharon Lawless – explores the tension between the planned control of rational thought and the random accidents of chance and irrationality through collage and “ready-made” imagery.

HT – Which artist are you showing at VOLTA, in Basel (June 2015)?

RW –  Liz Jaff’s Foramen:

Liz Jaff at VOLTA11 from GalleryLOG on Vimeo.