We’ve made it through the winter, and on a warm spring day I let my gallery-legs thaw and took a stroll to see what LES had in store for me. I am happy to have wandered into a new space that I have noticed before, but looks like it will be a mainstay on Rivington, along with its neighbors, ElevenRivington and Thierry Goldberg. In a large, open space that was formerly a sausage factory, Dodge Gallery opened in September 2010 with a group show, Dramatus Personae, a group show that –aptly titled– presented the gallery’s roster of artists. Their sixth exhibition opens this Saturday with a solo show by Sheila Gallagher downstairs and a group show, The Thingness of Color, upstairs.
Continuing our Featured Gallery series, I was able to ask Founder/Director Kristen Dodge about the past, present and future of the gallery.
As a young gallery, you have already developed an impressive and intriguing roster. What was Dodge Gallery before you had a space on Rivington?
I’ve always known that I would open my own business and in fact, decided that it would be an art gallery before ever working at one. There’s something about the combination of business and art that was extremely appealing to me- addressing the two sides of my brain. But it wasn’t until I spent several years working under the guidance of Abigail Ross and eventually growing into the position of Director and establishing a creative partnership with her at the rotenberg gallery in Boston, when I realized that running a gallery is not only something I want to do, but it’s something I can do. I remember asking Sina Najafi at Cabinet Magazine, my first employer out of college, why he decided to start his own business and he said, “because I don’t want to work for anyone else.” I eventually landed in that same place and became my own boss.
On that same note, what is your background? Did you go to school in Boston? Did you study fine arts?
Boston is my hometown. The Red Sox are my team. I was a double major in English and Art at Brown. I’ve had a love affair with NYC for years, lived there after college, and am very happy to be back.
What are some of the main differences between art galleries in Boston and galleries in New York? Are there certain advantages to New York that brought you here?
There is no question that New York is an international hub for contemporary art and simply has more to offer than Boston. I can probably count the collectors on my hand who have made a serious commitment to supporting art in Boston. That’s not to say that there aren’t great institutions, dealers, and collectors there, but the numbers can’t be counted in New York. It’s an incredibly exciting, inspiring place to be. Yes, larger egos come with the territory, but it’s a cocky business. Actually, there have been a handful of friendly dealers who have openly welcomed us, attended our openings, and offered answers to our occasional questions. I have great collaborative relationships with dealers in Boston and I wasn’t expecting to find the same kind of openness in New York. But signs of a growing gallery population in LES supports the collective affirmation that this is the place to be.
Why did you choose the Lower East Side for the gallery? Did you think about opening in any other neighborhoods?
I knew what I wanted and found it on the exact block that I was gunning for. LES is a great neighborhood- for galleries, restaurants and other small businesses. It’s a fun place to be and writers, collectors, curators, and consultants are starting to make LES a destination. It’s an area that’s relatively new for galleries, but is quickly becoming the hot spot to visit for more adventurous art fanatics. Since opening, we’ve welcomed countless groups lead by astute guides- including academics, consultants, directors and curators- who have recently added LES to their guided route. There’s an air of newness and freshness here that brings people back to an essential experience. That is, sifting out the extraneous bullshit, exploring beyond well-beaten paths, and taking the time to really look because you found it. Nothing can replace that moment of being present with a piece, which requires two things, openness and time, both of which LES inspires.
What was this space before you moved in? The layout is very unique, very much not a white cube.
Our space was formerly a sausage factory, and we spent nearly 4 months stripping it down and building it out to be a gallery. I wanted to retain the character of the building- the brick, the beams, the windows- while creating a functional space for showing art. It was a fine line to navigate- creating a space that is unique and memorable, while not trumping the art. One of the most satisfying experiences has been seeing artists eyes light up when they walk into the space- there is so much they could do here.
Since this isn’t a typical, white cube (usually reserved for 2D work) will there be any new media or video art?
I have an affinity for work that engages three-dimensionality, that is aware of the body and how it relates to objects and context. The rough translation of this is sculpture. I have a soft spot for objects- art that literally declares itself while conceptually extending beyond itself. New media is an important part of the dialogue, and becomes compelling for me when it is utilizing space through a relationship to the present context, objects, and viewer.
One of the upcoming shows will feature Sarah Cain, Franklin Evans, Matthew Rich, and Cordy Ryman. Did you curate this show? If so, how did you bring these artists together? Can you tell me about little bit about The Thingness of Color?
Sometimes, I like to challenge myself to engage things that I am not entirely comfortable with, or don’t personally subscribe to in my daily life. This includes color. It therefore seemed fitting to curate a show about color, and angle the conversation towards the conceptual drive of the gallery- objecthood. I’m very excited to be working with the artists I’ve selected for The Thingness of Color, representing New York, Boston and LA. And importantly, the artists are excited to be showing with each other. Some of them have been on each other’s radars for a while. The show will be bold, active, and yes, colorful.
I notice that a good majority of the artists on the roster hale from MFA programs on the East Coast. Obviously, proximity must have drawn you to these artists initially, but what is it about their work that founded Dodge Gallery? Are there any formal, conceptual, or possibly social, characteristics that draw them together?
People used to marry their neighbors and cousins because they didn’t have planes, trains, and automobiles. Maybe I’m provincial. That’s not to say that I married my cousin, but I did marry artists who studied on the east coast for the most part. However, they hail from all over the US including New Orleans, New Hampshire, Atlanta, Michigan, New Jersey, Idaho, Boston, and New York. In terms of what ties them together, I suppose that would be me. Aside from pursuing three-dimensionality directly or conceptually, they have a fantastic combination of a serious commitment to their practice, a developed voice in their work, and a sometimes irreverent sense of humor.
Also looking at your roster, can you tell us about Environmental Services?
Environmental Services is Doug Weathersby, Owner/Operator. It’s a business through which Doug operates his art making, including everything from performing cleaning tasks for paying clients to making ephemeral site-specific installations for institutions and collections. For Doug, there is no separation between labor and creativity, work and life. I’ve tracked Doug’s work since he won the Foster Prize and had a show at the ICA in Boston that caught me off guard. I walked past the gallery and was surprised that the museum hadn’t bothered to clean up their janitor equipment during business hours. Then I realized that the dust in the room had been carefully swept into the contours of the bucket and broom’s shadow. It was gorgeous, moving, humbling, and so unexpected. Basically, he had me at hello.
Since it’s officially spring, I am of course already impatient for the summer solstice. What does Dodge Gallery have planned for the summer?
In July, we’ll hang a group exhibition of artists on the roster and by special invitation. This show will bookend our first year of business with our inaugural exhibition DRAMATIS PERSONAE. And then maybe I’ll take a week off.