Eric Gleason is Senior Director at Kasmin Art Gallery. This is one of the very few blue-chip art galleries in New York City.
Founded in 1989 and owned by Paul Kasmin, Kasmin Gallery is an art gallery compounded by three spaces located below the High Line Park, at the core of Chelsea, Manhattan.
Contributing to make the art gallery scene more friendly and approachable to insiders and outsiders, Eric Gleason shares his experience and story about how he became gallery director of one of the top 5 most important art galleries in the world.
1.- Working within the art world is a highly vocational thing to do, when did you choose you would like to work in it and no other businesses?
I went to school for something different: Political Science, but I also did Art History mid-way through college. And I had a few disheartening experiences in college within the political realm, -not surprising. I worked in a Museum in Syracuse, where I went to school. I didn’t grow up in the Art World or anywhere near it, so I had no idea how it would function, nor did I know anybody in it. But I worked and interned in a Museum in Syracuse called the Everson Museum of Art. Between my Junior and Senior years, at that time, I kind of had an idea what a New York City Art Gallery was, but I had never set foot in one. So, I did that thing where you send a hundred emails to New York City galleries asking for the opportunity to do an internship. I got a few interviews and I interned at Marlborough Gallery. I worked with them between my Junior and Senior years over the summertime and loved every minute of it; so, I stayed in touch with them during my Senior year. In the meantime, I worked for a couple of Art Fairs with them. And finally, I joined them full-time where I worked for seven years after I graduated .
The commitment to human interaction, the engagement and closeness you have to art, the artists and the artist’s estates, appeal to me very much. So, you know…without having created art, you feel as close as you can to contributing to it, and more so than in Museums or Academia, etc. Being in a gallery is like being in the trenches.
2.- How did you achieve becoming Art Director of such a significant Art Gallery as Paul Kasmin’s?
Going back to my Marlborough days, I was given the opportunity and responsibilities by the President of Marlborough; Pierre Levé…So there were summer exhibitions which they never paid much attention to; what I like to call the “Dead Inventory Shows”, where a few galleries show, a bunch of works that haven’t sold in the past. I thought that was a great opportunity to integrate works by younger artists, given that there were low expectations during the summertime. I went to studio visits all the time and I proposed works to Pierre. I started organizing summer exhibitions, and one thing led to anotherso I helped younger artists establish themselves at Marlborough. This is all when they had their gallery in Midtown, on 57th Street. Then, they built a gallery in Chelsea in 2007, and when that opened, I began as Gallery Director and I’ve been Gallery Director ever since.
3.- What’s daily life like in a Gallery? What are your main roles? Do you have to organize the logistics of an exhibition, etc.?
Partly because there are a handful of directors at the Gallery. Our main initiatives as a Gallery, are the representation of artists, organizing exhibitions and participating in Art Fairs. Those are the main three things that occupy our day-to-day. And then, if we’re down on catalogues or doing special exhibitions elsewhere or consigning works to other galleries; these are part of our daily role too. But for the most part, for every artist that we represent, for every exhibition that we do, for every Art Fair that we participate in; you know, there’s one director that runs the point or is in charge of each one of those things. So, there are a number of artists that I work with directly, there are a number of exhibitions that I’m chiefly responsible for and there are a number of Art Fairs that I help. These are the things that make up 75-80% of the day.
4.- Do you work with artists that are represented by other art galleries?
We do. The idea of worldwide exclusivity, that type of representation, doesn’t really exist anymore. When there were just a few galleries in the world, that was possible. But now, the art world is so big, so global that you need to have partnerships with other galleries in order to cover the areas that the artists want you to cover.
We represent artists in the United States or just on the East Coast, New York; and those artists have other galleries who represent them in Europe or Asia or in Los Angeles.
We do have a number of galleries with whom we have wonderful relationships with.
5.- Could you name some of the galleries who you partner with?
Sure. Blum & Poe in Los Angeles, Nino Mier in Los Angeles and Ben Brown in London and Hong Kong, Blain Southern in New York and London. – We share a few artists with.
6.- Is there any reason in particular why you decided to partner with these galleries and choose those specific artists?
It’s really one artist at a time situation. We identify an artist whose career we can help and find clients for their work.We look for the artists first and second the gallery. We wouldn’t work with an artist that we couldn’t sell just because he works with “X” Gallery.
7.- How do you identify an artist that would do well in the market?
We look at a lot of things. Our program is somewhat idiosyncratic, I don’t think there is a particular style that characterizes our program, but the numbers have to make sense. There are logistical and intangible things that are beneficial. If Paul, our fellow-colleagues and I believe in the work, we’ll find people to sell it to.
8.- What are the main challenges that you face working at an art gallery?
For a program like ours, we’re focused half on 21st century living artists and half on 20th century artists’ estates (secondary market). Everybody here does everything, but I do a lot of 20th century, the secondary market; that is the management of artists’ estates, – that kind of thing. So, our direct competition is auction houses. If there is a private collection and there are works that they want to sell, they have a choice; they can either sell it relatively quietly through a gallery or a private dealer, or they can sell it very publicly through an auction house. And there are pros and cons to each method,but we’re in constant competition with the auction houses for the material. That’s a day-to-day thing.
With a market that is as deregulated as the art market, it attracts a contingent of people that are just unethical and borderline criminals. You have to always be on the lookout for those people. The higher the numbers are, the more likely it is to attract this type of people.
And in such an increasingly global industry and such an increasingly volatile world, there are cross-country economics that are changing every single day, and they’re not making it easier. For example, China. We did an art fair in Shanghai in November and weeks before the Fair started, the Chinese government imposed this tariff of 20% on any artwork that was made in America and that tariff has been increased to 40%. Those changes have happened in the last few months. Those types of things are such a moving target and those changes happen; – not because of anything that happens in the art world, but because of changes in the macro-political tensions. Those macro things can infiltrate the art world and make our lives a little bit harder. We are not the only ones suffering from this. We are probably one hundred on the list.
9.- And what do you do to combat all these macro-issues, the gaining territory of the auction houses. Do you organize, perhaps, cultural events in the gallery to attract more people or…?
I think our biggest branding/marketing exercise every year is Art Fairs. Anytime that we have an opportunity to show our program, you want to do so in the most thoughtful manner as possible. People judge you based on the artwork you show. If we’re taking works that have been shown all over the world and they’re burnt out or whatever, people will judge you on that. But if we consistently bring great examples of the artists that we represent to Art Fairs, then, people will judge us accordingly.
It’s such a relationship-based industry; – it’s kind of a cliché, but it really does apply here. You’re only as good as your relationships. If there’s a great private collection that wants to sell through us, we have to consistently prove ourselves to them by giving them the numbers that they want and providing context for their work that best suits it.