Frank Bernarducci is a long time, New York City-based art dealer. He and business partner Louis K. Meisel own the Bernarducci Meisel Gallery on West 57th Street http://www.bernarduccimeisel.com/. I met Frank online through British artist Nathan Walsh who recently joined the gallery and thought he would make a cool interview subject. He does. Here’s our cool chat, but first…
“…Whenever a young, aspiring dealer comes to us seeking advice, the first thing I ask is if they know three people they can call to whom they can sell a picture. If not, then you're opening a store, not an art gallery…”
MICHAEL: Hello Frank, First off, I've admired your selections and focus on photorealist artists. When did you first decide that this was a worthy genre?
FRANK: Thank you, Michael. My partner is the one who has championed Photorealism since the ‘70s with his books and so on. If not for him, it might have been a footnote in contemporary art history. When Louis and I became partners in 1999, things were slowing down for the first and second generation painters, but the younger artists of the genre particularly from Europe now represented by BMG gave the whole scene an injection of adrenaline. It was always my thinking that here was an art movement that was undervalued and underrated.
MICHAEL: Wasn't it something of a gamble though? I mean, the genre back then certainly wasn't what it is today. Ahh, the '90s. Such a simpler time? No?
FRANK: Yes, it was a gamble, but every show we do is risky in a sense. You hang the paintings, call your clients and hope they respond in a positive light. As any artist will tell you, it’s a nerve-racking experience for everyone concerned, especially for them. Fortunately, at this stage of the game, it’s less of a crapshoot. You know what you can sell, who’s waiting for a painting, who is adding to their collection and so forth. In our case however, because the paintings are so time-consuming and labor-intensive, they come in one at a time, so you can often sell things before the exhibition or before they’re even finished from a jpeg.
MICHAEL: Many galleries have come and gone during the time you've been an art dealer. How have you managed to hang in this long? Especially in New York?
FRANK: We have artists who know how to paint.
MICHAEL: Haha! I understand. Talented artists are a big part of the equation, but what about the business end? Surely plenty of art galleries folded despite having very talented artists.
FRANK: Well, the other thing you need besides great art is clients. I know that sounds ridiculously obvious, but whenever a young, aspiring dealer comes to us seeking advice, the first thing I ask is if they know three people they can call to whom they can sell a picture. If not, then you're opening a store, not an art gallery.
MICHAEL: Wouldn't the entire upper middle class (at least) be clients if we put arts education back into all schools? Not everyone is going to love art enough to become collectors, but wouldn't that be a start?
FRANK: Art awareness is critical for any so-called civilized society, but unfortunately doesn't translate into art collecting. Fine art first of all is getting more and more expensive and second, there are so many distractions today that it's hard to get a younger audience to look at a still image for very long. Even so, there are more art collectors than ever before. Besides, art education should not be linked to money or collecting; it just makes people think that art is only for the rich.
MICHAEL: Yet so many people aren't even aware enough to know they don't have to be formally educated to appreciate art. What about the economy? Do you feel that the economy is truly improving? I assume this isn't much of an issue for wealthy clients. They have greater negotiating ability in down economies.
FRANK: I'm just an art dealer, not an educator. I'm not an economist either. I don't pretend to know about these issues. I think everyone is entitled to a decent education which includes music and art appreciation or whatever, but you might call us stewards of culture. We offer a free service to the public in terms of our monthly exhibitions. Anyone and everyone is welcome to attend and hopefully learn something. Our staff is there to answer questions, explain what is on view and talk about the artist. At no charge.
MICHAEL: How do you guys decide which artists you'd like to represent? What's the criteria? So many artists think there's something they need "to do" to get into great galleries.
FRANK: That's the million dollar question. And I've answered it a million times. How do I get into Frank's Gallery? Artists have tried everything. I'm telling you I could write a book. First of all, you have to be able to follow directions. Look at our website and it tells you exactly how to submit your work. If you can't even do that, I don't want to work with you.
MICHAEL: Believe me, I understand that. I have some artists who can’t even follow friendly, but important directions for these interviews.
FRANK: As far as what we look for in an artist, we're looking for an emotional response; something spiritual, a certain truth and beauty. The artist must have an idyllic vision of whatever is being depicted, a unique point of view. There must be a sense of structure and of course technically, it must transcend the reality of the subject being depicted whether it is a painting of a figure, a landscape or a still life. It must be painted in a thoroughly modern way, a way that we have never seen before. We receive more than 10,000 artist submissions a year so we know right away when we have something special.
MICHAEL: Interesting. What road actually led you to becoming an art dealer? Did you imagine doing this when you were a kid? Do you come from an artistic family?
FRANK: Well, my father was a painter in New York. He opened a gallery with a group of other artists and these tenement storefronts became known as the East 10th Street Coop Scene in the late 1950s. They were all influenced by Franz Kline, Pollock and DeKooning, but there was no place for young artists to show. Fast forward to the 1980s - I went to the School of Visual Arts where I studied graphic design and advertising, my first profession. Of course, I met a girl and she was hanging out with the artists in the east village, so eventually I decided to show some of my new friends art in the loft space where I was living. I came to realize it was the same thing my father had done, 30 years earlier.
MICHAEL: It seems to me that we're still in this period where creativity and process seem to be more important than craftsmanship. You've certainly seen trends come and go. What do you think about this?
FRANK: We've decided to stick to what we do and as a result our clients have remained loyal. We can't follow any trends. We'll get killed if we try to do that. We try and find the best of the best as far as technique, originality and vision are concerned. That's why collectors come to us from all over the world. Process doesn't interest me so much, that's an art school term.
MICHAEL: Finally Frank, You know, so many people are suspicious of contemporary art. They think it's bullcrap. Why should people care about it? It's not curing cancer, so what's the point?
FRANK: I'm not a preacher. I can't convert anyone. I'll just say that ignorance is contempt before investigation.
MICHAEL: Thanks Frank. Nice chat.
FRANK: Thanks Michael.
Check out Frank Bernarducci’s gallery site at http://www.bernarduccimeisel.com/