I’m here with Micah at 111 Minna. Can tell us some history about yourself before working with 111 Minna.
I moved to the city in 1997 on a scholarship to go to the Academy of Art, around the corner from 111 Minna Gallery, so I found this place pretty much as soon as I moved to the city. Didn’t wind up going to Academy for more than a semester, was attending 111 Minna and doing live art at clubs like 1015 Folsom and VSF and a lot of places in Soma underground warehouse parties and things like that with the likes of Sam Flores, Mars One and NoMe Edonna, back in the late 90s, and really got turned on by 111 Minna’s program. At the time they were showing Eric White, Joe Soren, Doze Green, among others and as a fairly young painter at the time 111 Minna was a gallery that was in my sights as a place that I wanted to show. Throughout the years I wound up doing framing on the production side of things where I met artists like, Robert Bowen and David Fallis (David has his own shop now and handles framing for a ton of local artists) Through framing, and learning the trade as a way to present my work in galleries that I was showing around the city and then took that knowledge and that experience into a frame design position at the Weinstein Gallery. For six years I was working there on the commercial side of the art world and I transitioned directly out of that job at Weinstein Gallery into my job here at 111 Minna.
What year did you begin working with 111 Minna?
That was October 2010, so it’s just tipped the scales at about two and a half years. The first year seemed like it was a long year. This last year… I don’t even know where it went.
So tell us about your involvement with 111 Minna and what has happened over the past two years.
My involvement with the gallery sort of began as an artist in 2005. I had my first show here in 2005. Beginning in ’05 I had five solo exhibitions five years in a row, and throughout that five years showing here I sort of saw the gallery go through a massive transition under a few curators in that five year period until its program wasn’t right for what I was doing as an artist. So I started to look elsewhere and lost interest in the gallery, as an artist. When they offered me the position as curator, I wanted to re-associate the gallery with its roots, which had influenced me much earlier on, and also realign the gallery to the clientele that was loyal to them in those years. It’s been around so long and for so many years that I’ve watched it go through a cycle of clients where the people have moved to the east coast or had a family or moved to the south bay or east bay just to support that sort of thing, so I was able to observe that transition. Part of that transition has been all the other facets of 111 Minna’s business model, as it also acts as a nightclub on weekends, an event rental venue and event space during the weekdays. The gallery gained a lot of popularity and a lot of acclaim through that process, as in the midweek parties they began hosting that went on for a solid decade. It brought with it a fair amount of international acclaim to the gallery in addition to what they were doing in their art program 10 to15 years ago, and this ultimately furthered it’s artists careers. It sort of became something that the gallery held in their hat. We’ve showed these artists and they’re really successful now, we can’t show them anymore on as large a scale, because our program is different and due to this, we can’t necessarily offer them what a lot of other galleries that have contracted them can.
Through the process of all the things that Minna has done and it’s extremely multifaceted business model, I’ve learned that it has challenged the gallery aspect of the business model, and so I think over the last 18 months I’ve had to adjust my initial expectations of what my goals were here and parlay them into those aspects of the business that were already solidified and ultimately pay our overhead, which is pretty big here, and bring in capital aside from art. The challenge is to maintain a consistent relevance and attention to the art aspect of the gallery within these multifaceted events because the aesthetics and environments are typically all very different, and the crowds and people that are attending generally represent a diverse group of demographics.
So let’s talk about your role as a curator and your programming. What kind of artists are you trying to bring in?
When I arrived, I made a pretty massive shift than what Jay Howell was doing. In keeping with the 111 Minna tradition that I’ve known and inspired me, I’ve aimed to focus on our earlier loyalty to lowbrow artists with a focus on emerging contemporary artists that have been influenced by the street or those artists who’ve defined what we know as, “street,” all the while attempting to create a balance of artists that I either wanted to bring back or other artists that are now considered to be midlevel career artists, but who were possibly overlooked 5 to 10 years ago and have yet to have the opportunity to show with the gallery. Fortunately for me, 111 Minna remains a gallery that many artists still wish to cross of their list of places to show their work. So I try to balance it with artists that way and other artists whose work I personally admire in addition to younger, talented emerging artists. I think the ultimate common thread between the artists I’m showing is an evident technical ability in their work. I’m inherently drawn to clean, slick art, but through curating I’m broadening my appreciation of art and learning a lot more about the practice of art. In addition to realizing there is so much more to learn.
Can you name some artists?
Some artists I’ve booked which are new to Minna are, Melissa Arendt, Kelly Allen, Steve Johnson, Alec Huxley and Mike Shankman. Melissa Arendt, from Sacramento, crossed over in to fine art from a history in graphic design and illustration. Her work is original yet sort of reads as collage, which a lot of artists are doing now and it’s getting a lot of acclaim, but her work is actually hand-drawn, hand-painted original work, which I feel is an interesting approach to collage itself. Kelly Allen is another artist (who I placed in the same exhibition as Melissa) who has quite recently transitioned from very technical oil paintings where she’s treating the imagery more like textile-based design work and now she’s crossing over into abstract forms just to loosen herself up and I think she, at least the way she reiterated it to me, is that she began following one particular style for so long it started to constrain her entire psyche and she needed to create something completely different than what she was known for and she’s beginning to get acclaim for her new approach. Steve Johnson, who’s a drawing professor at North Carolina, is one of the first “impact” artists that I scheduled. His work is incredible and holds a great deal of energy in its overall style and presentation which are massive, museum scale pieces created with graphite and gouache. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing Steve’s work develop over the last eight to ten years and it’s given birth to huge drawings of epic tidal waves comprised of stampeding animals which bares a strong and obvious sense of narrative. He’s begun extracting the stampeding elements and isolated only select character animals and surrounded them in negative space, but the narrative qualities are still and always present in his work. Mike Shankman is another gifted artist we showed in June. His work is highly painterly and contemporary, but edgy, expertly carried off with the use of dynamic textures, bold color contrasts and broad strokes in his work.
The pool of artists to choose from is so large and the amount of months within a year is so small… I would really like to be showing more artists than I’m able. I’m limited by artists being booked out at other galleries and I’m still in the midst of re-establishing ourselves as a premiere Bay Area art gallery and regaining our credibility to the point where I truly can get the artists that I really want to show.
We’re limited in the sense that we have all the other things that we do as a business. I tend to have to focus on two-dimensional works of art mainly because we get too crowded at times. I’m unable to display as much sculpture, as I’d like due to it having to be moved around so much. We receive so many patrons within a month it can be a bit unsafe for certain types of artwork. So unfortunately, again, I go back to the constraints that I realized in my first 18 months of having to curate based on the business model and needing to factor in the crowds and all the different events we host. It’s not a white cube gallery…
To touch back, you said there’s only twelve months in a year and there are so many artists, but there have been some physical changes to the physical space at 111 Minna to be able to hold more exhibitions. Correct?
Yeah, we’re treating our space like an elbow, it has a giant elbow, like a giant L, and we are 4,000+ square foot space.
You’re split in half now.
We learned that we have the ability. I basically booked the shows that way from September 1 to November 30, opening seven exhibitions in the course of three months when usually we’d open three. It’s worked out pretty well. I feel the work still reads impactfully in the gallery as two different spaces and when you walk through the space and you hit that elbow and you go into the other room it is sort of an abrupt change, but it’s also kind of a breath of fresh air, because the one side of the gallery is so long, so linear, you get tired of reading it that way. You walk into the other room; it actually has three or four essential viewing walls so you’re more surrounded by it. I feel it’s more dynamic; it’s not as daunting to artists to fill the entire venue. This way, I may offer an artist a solo exhibition or do a two-person show and book them in four to five months to complete the work as opposed to two artists in a space, depending on their style, it would take them a solid ten months or more.
Through this, I’ve learned… We were opening a show every other week, and between you and I (or everyone) I feel it’s too fast. It’s ultimately not fair to the artists as the turnover between actual openings is too fast. As soon as we opened a show I immediately had to focus on the next. Obviously promoting a month or more out and in certain respects, based on whatever publication or whatever the promotional medium was or that I’m advertising in, just had to hit the ground running and this wasn’t allowing enough attention to focus on momentum created from the show we had just installed and opened. So, we learned from this and will adjust, but still implement the positive elements of this model or experiment if you will.
This isn’t and can’t be a sticking model for us though as we’ve already lined up several solo exhibitions for 2013, which will encompass the entire gallery. Our first 2013 show and first solo show of the year was just recently opened with the incredibly talented, David Choong Lee and coming up later in the year are, Michael Garlington and Rob Reger will have a solo shows in the entire space.
Where do you source your artists?
It’s rare that I receive a submission, which fits but it does happen. I usually already have an idea. Maybe I’ll have one artist that I definitely want to show that might have been a recommendation from another artist or myself and the owner, Eiming Jung, make a decision and in this case, it’s usually his “nod” since he’s a bit of a social butterfly and spends much of his life out there talking to people and he gets hit up for or talked to by artists all the time. I did surprisingly well sourcing local artists during open studios in San Francisco the first month that I started and was able to find some artists that I really wanted to work with. When I first started here in October of 2010 I had to begin booking from January 2011 on, so I didn’t leave much room to select artists who would obviously need a great deal of time to create a show. So I had my entire year to book within two months basically. It was gnarly. So the first few months I was relying on friends that I’ve worked with in the local Bay Area art scene or down in Los Angeles and through all the artists that I met in the industry working at Weinstein Gallery and those who I was exposed to in the commercial gallery scene. Fortunately through working in the industry for so long, I had a built in pool of artists that I already had an established professional relationship with that I could rely on to meet my deadline. And they were glad for the opportunity, so thankfully I had some relationships in place that made that initial six months a lot easier on me than it would have been. We were still able to have some impressive shows booked in a very short time because I knew what I had at my disposal and I knew which artists had bodies of work that hadn’t been shown yet.
As an artist, before I took this position, one of the reasons why I accepted it was because I wasn’t immersing myself in the local and underground art scene like I had been. I burned myself out on the scene the first 8 to 10 years I was in the city doing way too much and I needed to back out or simply focus on what I was doing or attempting to accomplish in my studio. And I did, and so therefore, outside of select relationships or friendships with other artists that were doing things in the scene, I didn’t know who was new in the scene or who was coming up and there’s still too much. I’m 36 years old, I’m not going out to everyone’s shows, unfortunately because the job that I do is pretty all consuming. But again, the pool of talent, even in the Bay Area, is so much broader than it used to be when I first moved here, in my opinion. Ever Gold Gallery, Heist Gallery, Shooting Gallery, Whitewalls, Guerrero Gallery; none of these galleries were here when I moved here. Or galleries may have come up for a little while, but they lasted a year and fizzled out. There wasn’t the San Francisco Arts Quarterly (SFAQ) or a local scene or an Art Murmur to fuel it, basically. But it’s been a learning process… I didn’t come here with curatorial experience and I don’t have an art degree. The way that I view art and have handled any position I’ve held within the art world, is purely based on my experience of doing a lot of it and in many different facets for the last 20 years and being super into art in one way or another. I know what I like. I think that’s the advantage of having so many different curators and gallerists within the Bay Area. It offers a variety. Each particular entity has their own aesthetic, their own program, but it all just makes the entire package and the sort of social culture within this region that much richer.
Where do you see the programming of 111 Minna going in the near future? You said you were trying to make a shift, you want to bring in certain artists, and now that you’re dealing with the two spaces you’re making that transition and it’s been two years in transition, so where do you see the direction of the energy going?
I think two years is just afforded me the time to establish my footing. I’m currently gathering experience as a curator, gathering experience and knowledge about this gallery as a venue and reading the numbers quarterly and annually, be them the numbers of people in attendance, where we’re putting promotions, artist relations, presentation, how certain artists show up, how do they maintain themselves, are they popular on the scene, is it worth if they’re difficult to work with, how does it affect me, how does it affect our business, how are we viewed? This goes for art openings, client events or whatever’s going on, so my goal for this year and the way I’ve curated based on what I’ve learned thus far, is to make positive adjustments which yield more attention and revenue for our artists the gallery. I’m really focused on 2014 as being a solidified change from the previous years of I’m still gathering intel, if you will, and the whole idea of doing a show every other week, there’s a lot of reasons why I did that and the results of this experiment are already being applied to the show schedule moving forward.
So you want 111 Minna to have the identity of that gallery you once knew again.
Definitely. I want it to be. I think for any gallery that’s been around for as long as we have in this city, in this part of town, I want to retain the respect from the people that we did early on. Maybe to some people we lost it at some point for whatever reason, a bad experience because of how chaotic our schedule is or even the unknown, but we’ve always had a loyal fan base at our core and it’s mainly for these people, that we wish to be a gallery that’s holding true to what we began as. We want to continue to offer something unique to patrons, clients and artists alike. I think that one of the most rewarding things I’ve been able to experience here through creating and booking shows, is when I find young talents who are really quite talented, they still haven’t been exposed much, and yet are aware of 111 Minna’s history, and they’re all about the opportunity and they’re going to do the best work they’ve ever done because they’ve always wanted to show here! It pumps them up and inspires them, and that’s what 111 Minna did for me as an artist back in 2005. It was important to me then and as I gained exposure, clients and friends through that opportunity, it remains important to me today.
What are some of the upcoming exhibitions we should looking forward to at 111 Minna?
We currently have the massively impressive, installation based show by David Choong Lee through the end of February and they we revisit our split gallery format with Nate Van Dyke and Jonathan Wayshak in one side while contrasting it with the more subtle work of Ben Walker, Nicomi Nix Turner, Jaxon Northon, Josh Thurman, Emily Burns and Monty Guy in the other side. This is followed by the stunning photography of Michael Garlington, which will also be complimented with paintings by Jonny Hirschmughl in April and then a guest curated show in May by Irene Hernandez-Feiks of Wonderland Gallery. To see what we have scheduled for the rest of the year, you’ll need to locate current copies of the ultra informative SFAQ, of course.