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ERIC BEN-KIKI: EBK GALLERY

Eric is an art dealer who resides in Hartford, Connecticut.  I saw his gallery online www.ebkgallery.com and knew I had to chat with him.  He’s also an artist, but has come up with a new gallery concept that is very artist and customer friendly.  Here’s our cool chat…

MICHAEL: Hello Eric, I'm glad that I've found a new art friend. First off, I'm guessing that you own and run EBK Gallery? Are you an artist?  Art dealer? Framer?  Consultant? 

ERIC: Actually I'm all of the above, but not at the same time, usually.  I keep the art gallery and art dealing separate from the art services and framing stuff.

MICHAEL: Tell me about your gallery.  What's your focus?  How did the gallery come about?  How did you become a gallery owner?

ERIC: In March of 2014, I was able to rent a space in Hartford, Connecticut to set up as a small gallery.  I call it EBK Gallery (small works).  I've had this particular idea for some time and was incredibly fortunate to find a space that matched what I think is unique. There is this traditional model of gallery shows that I think hasn’t adapted to today's times. 

What if you can bring the pace of how long gallery shows last closer to the pace of how we get most of our visual information i.e. websites, email, social networks, streaming platforms and such.

The "pop up" concept of doing things (which I have done many) are to me art events.  But galleries, exhibits, museums, and all of that, are arts infrastructure.  It’s infrastructure that has difficulty accommodating the volume of incredible art being produced.  All of this has to be viewed in the context of, yes, selling artwork.

MICHAEL: It most certainly does.

ERIC: What’s new and different is the exhibit rotation is on a weekly and bi-weekly schedule.  Since March, I have done 28 small, solo-artist exhibitions. This new gallery space is perfectly suited for presenting contemporary artwork in a really approachable way. The available work shown is also an introduction to each artist’s ongoing body of work.  When each show is installed, the web page for that particular exhibit goes live and stays live indefinitely. What this does is make the "bricks and mortar space" and the "digital web space" integrated and dependent upon each other, having substance, content, and accessibility. So this link, [small works] gallery is a page of links to each exhibit one can view in full.

Right now, I have shows on a two-week rotation (they were weekly for a bit) with the art receptions occurring in the middle of the show on Saturday evening.  So every other Saturday, I host an old school art reception and try to sell some art and really enjoy the people who show up. Every show I choose, I can't wait to set up because the work these artists produce is just amazing. Not too long ago, I decided to stop second-guessing myself and do what I've always felt good at and be amazed at what people make! 

Here's how it works in general:

Shows go up Monday morning and are up for two weeks now, sometimes a week. 

Web page of the whole show and info goes live also and stays live indefinitely.

Artwork is shown by appointment during the week.

Saturday evening 6-8:30 is the art/artist reception/ hangout for viewing and buying the art.

The address is 218 pearl St Hartford, CT next to bin 228 (great eats & wine bar, good vibe).

It's NOT a non-profit gallery, hence the focus will be on selling the art.

Small works mean anything around 24" or less, but 36” is cool too.

Each show is about four to 10 pieces max.

The only thing in this space will be art.

The entire exhibit can be seen from the street level windows and remains visible until about 11:45 pm each night.

I'll have curatorial say on what pieces will go in each show. 

Artwork has to be delivered to me at least a couple of weeks before installation and must be ready to hang.

I usually don't supply booze at the receptions, more focused on the art, but I have changed my mind on that a few times and the artists are always welcome to bring some.

The reason for Saturday evenings is people have to make a commitment to come into town if they don't already live there.

The ebkgallery.com web site is live and will have links to each exhibit.  Take a look.  [small works] page

PR is ... ebkgallerycom, mail chimp, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Grapevine, other peoples’ email lists and websites, print media, phone calls, magical and/or wishful thinking, etc.

I have the space on a month-to-month rental term so planning too far ahead is worthless for now.

The reason for weekly/bi-weekly time frame is my intent to bring showing and selling art physically more in line with the pace of the social network attention span, meaning sometimes gallery shows outlive their duration due to how fast visual and media information comes at us. But the positive is that each show is viewable in its entirety even after it is uninstalled.

MICHAEL:  Eric, that’s absolutely spectacular.  How did you become an art dealer and why Hartford?  Are you from there?  Is Hartford an art city?

ERIC: To be honest, I think it's more like I'm becoming an art dealer. That term, "Gallerist" seems to fit for now (kind of a goofy word but works).  I'm originally from the area and moved back here around '91. Previously I had lived in Cleveland for quite some time, which by the way is on a roll right now. 

Hartford's art community is okay. The Greater Hartford area houses some top shelf organizations like the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, New Britain Museum of American Art, Real Art Ways and the college and university galleries in the area. The non-profit sector here is in effect the art community.

At one point it occurred to me that there hasn't been an independent, commerce based contemporary art gallery in downtown Hartford for over thirty years. I could be wrong on that one though. But I think it's accurate. So as to the art dealer tag, I guess I'm helping create a market for art here. What's just as important, if not more important is how visible I become outside of this area.  My email list is getting bigger though, one person at a time.

MICHAEL: Were you an artist before hand?  How did you make that leap?

ERIC: Having been an active artist in the past (sculpture and installation), I had always been involved in the presentation of art. I would say this has been an evolving passion. Surprisingly, having a gallery comes quite naturally. It gives me a platform to use all of the things I've learned over the years.  From artist-sculptor, exhibit designer, preparer, curating and production, construction and installation, web content and whatever it takes to make it work. Most of my "make a living time" is spent at my main space which is a framing and art services biz I've been running for the last 18 years. Prior to that, I was an exhibit designer for the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art. I've always enjoyed that process of "concept to deadline," because it always tests you to put all of these chaotic parts together with a result that you want to take pride in. I consider myself very fortunate to be able to see through the eyes of an artist when I visit studios to choose work for shows. When I'm in the presence of truly wonderful art, I literally can see a complete show, in 3-d, in my mind and I get very amped up about creating that show.  I think I'm “still leaping," but I'll let you know when I land.

MICHAEL: Shouldn't you be in New York? You're a serious art professional.

ERIC: I'll take that as a serious compliment. Thanks!  Of course New York would be great. Although there are pluses and minuses on that one.  Hartford (and New Haven) are known for being the cities that are "not in New York" and "not in Boston," so people assume the art buyers are going to either of the two. I think for Harford there is some truth to that. The costs of what I'm doing in Hartford would be massive in NYC especially while trying to develop a collector base.

My thoughts on where I’m located are that there’s an incredible array of seriously accomplished artists and artwork being produced everywhere now.  So this presents me with the possibility of seeking artwork from many different areas like NYC, Boston, Phily, New Haven etc., anywhere, and showing it in my gallery. I would think that art buyers are quite savvy about finding what they like through the web.  I have contacted and have been contacted by artists from very different locations and I don't think it's because Hartford is an art nerve center, well, it is for me for now. But New York and Boston are less than two hours either way to drive so I get my fix when I can. 

With a little bit more time I'm quite confident I can reproduce this model (or variations) of showing artwork anywhere.  What I would like to entertain is starting to link with other curators and dealers and present shows in other spaces. Sometimes I have work of an artist I wish I could bring to other cities just to show people how great the stuff is and it could turn out to be a more active market. The logistics behind putting the small solo shows together are really manageable and very responsive. So would I like to present in New York?  Hmm, hell yeah.

MICHAEL: LOL. Excluding places like New York, London and Berlin, do you think we'll ever get to the place - due to globalism - where it won't matter where art is actually shown?  I mean, can all local art also be international and vice versa?

ERIC: Well, I definitely think it matters where art is shown. Not sure if it matters as much where it's made. 

When it comes to art, I really have no clue what "globalism" means because some of the most profound works of art have always had universal impact over time and geography way before the internet was cooked up. For me, the concept of "local" when it comes to art can be spun as a badge of honor and pride (as in, "Local Artist Sells Work for Millions Internationally"), or the kiss of death to an artist's career. I know it's probably just me, but I can't seem to get the word "tourist" out of my mind whenever I hear the word local.

"International" I think is a matter of distribution regardless of it being physical, visual, audible or intellectual. I would say "local" defines a region or a unique value not found elsewhere. Both states of description create value whether it's monetary or social. And that's a good thing.

One thing I do believe is that artists have always been intensely influenced by the environment of ideas. In the last twenty five years or so that environment just got massively, and I mean MASSIVELY more accessible and vast. And that means great news for contemporary art because the beauty of contemporary art is that you don't know what will be made tomorrow, and chances are you will be amazed yet again if you are fortunate to view it.

MICHAEL: What you're doing is quite intriguing.  How much of a staff do you have?  It seems like a lot of work.

ERIC: Well, I have a very enthusiastic staff working long hours and it is a lot of work. But I have to confess that the staff is me. I know, sounds impossible but yes I'm doing all of it.

MICHAEL: Believe me, I know.

ERIC: As to it being a lot of work?  Well, it is a lot, but it hardly feels like work.  And taking the staff out to that holiday appreciation dinner is quite affordable. I have a feeling some people will stumble onto my website and see the amount of shows that are there and think, "This guy can't be doing all of this," but yes, it is true. Although I have to say, really, it's the artists that do all of the work.

MICHAEL: Why not give up what you're doing now to become a full-timer at a museum or some arts and culture organization?  Wouldn't that be more secure?  

ERIC: I think about it occasionally. That would mean I'd have to dust off a vintage resume and update it. I saw this hilarious one-liner on a Twitter feed (@pausedesigns) that said, "My resume is really just a list of things I never want to do again." But then again, there are so many people vying for those jobs, I would exhaust myself trying to find a good match for me. I couldn't give up the web gallery thing though it's just too much fun putting it together and continuing to build it.  Dream job? An art organization that came to me and said, "Make It So.”

MICHAEL: I totally agree.  Do you still create art or have you given that up? 

ERIC: I have a lot of ideas for artworks and projects taking up space in my head right now. I always tell myself I will get back to creating art. Optimistic no doubt, but sooner or later one of these projects will get started. Of these projects I hope to get started on this coming year is a project I call, "The Hall of Truth." I reckon it could be dangerous and/or inspiring depending on one's perspective. We shall see. They say when you get older you need less sleep. This is good news for me.

MICHAEL: Finally Eric, What's the point of all of this?  Most people walking the earth won't even visit an art gallery let alone buy art.  Shouldn't we be more concerned about world peace or a cure for cancer?

ERIC: Quite some time ago, I came up with a little private adage. It captures and symbolizes why I think art is important.  For me … "Art makes life visible."

MICHAEL: Thanks Eric.  This has been a blast.

Check out Eric www.ebkgallery.com.   



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