How to Present Art
Sometimes the gallery seems to be an information kiosk. Visitors ask all kinds of questions. I’ve written about some behind-the-scenes topics on this blog in the past, including how our announcement photos are taken, and how I was introduced to ceramics. But frequently I’ve also answered the question, “How did you become a dealer?”
I learned about the art business from lots of people, mostly dealers and artists in Los Angeles. But, when pressed, I would have to say that the most influential was Jan Turner. I had an entry-level job at her Janus Gallery, during the early 1980s. I was the exhibition preparator. It was during that time that I met Ed Moses, Peter Shire, and many other artists. It was at the Janus Gallery that I learned how to present an exhibition.
The Janus Gallery, in several locations over a fifteen-year period, exhibited paintings, sculpture, photography, and ceramics. The stylish and sophisticated Jan Turner showed paintings by Ed Moses and Carlos Armaraz, as well as the ceramic sculpture of Peter Shire, Elsa Rady, and Mineo Mizuno. This was in the context of the hippest architecture (Coy Howard designed the space), at openings that featured Hollywood’s “A” list, and to much critical acclaim. The risk taken was enormous. For one exhibit by Elsa Rady, architect Frederick Fisher designed the installation, special walls and fixtures were built, and the largest space in the gallery was dedicated to “Conjugations”—a series of works that grouped Rady’s vessels in oscillating, mutable forms.
From the beginning of the gallery, Turner promoted the work of Peter Shire. Shire’s playful architectonic works, rooted in constructivism but altered by bright color and a zany sense of humor, eventually became known internationally. His experiments with the teapot form bridged into the design world and their playful form adapted well in the postmodern world of architecture and design. So well, in fact, that they were featured in several magazines in the early 1980s, and one article caught the eye of Ettore Sottsass. Peter Shire was invited to join the Memphis Group, becoming the only American member of the European design team. Shire branched out into furniture design, worked in glass, and gained major sculptural commissions, but has since returned to ceramics on occasion.
The hallmarks of the Jan Turner years were exquisite presentation, and the paintings or sculpture were displayed in a perfect sequence, with just the right isolation. No expense was spared in lighting, pedestal design, or detail. As one might imagine, Jan presented herself with impeccable style as well—and still does. She was our guest at the opening of our Ed Moses show, with her daughter Aimee. I often think of how much I learned, over 25 years ago, from working in her gallery.