I met New York Art Dealer Susan Eley online www.susaneleyfineart.com. She sent me a nice note after I interviewed one of her artists, Joseph Piccillo. After I basically dared her to do an interview with me – thinking she wouldn’t respond – the next thing I knew, we were actually chatting. I’m glad we did. Here’s how it all started …
SUSAN: Hi Michael, I wanted to thank you for writing such a wonderful interview about Joe Piccillo and his painting. I appreciate how you go into such depth about the artists and their process. We will be posting news of it on our web site. I've also taken the liberty of adding you to our gallery database to keep you informed about our exhibitions and artist news. Kind regards, Susan Eley
MICHAEL: Hello Susan, I also interview art dealers. Do you have an "A" game?
SUSAN: I like to think so! Susan Eley Fine Art has been around for nearly nine years. We do something very different from the average white box gallery in Chelsea or the Lower East Side.
I founded the art gallery in an Upper West Side townhouse in 2006 as a salon style space to host beautiful exhibitions by top contemporary artists, each with that unique voice Joe (Piccillo) talks about so eloquently. I was also interested in offering cultural, political and other events to an audience looking for cultural camaraderie, a place to gather and share ideas. We have regular poetry and literary salons, fundraisers for charitable organizations, panel discussions about the arts, Collector Talks and more.
MICHAEL: Very cool.
SUSAN: In addition to curating 6-8 major exhibitions a year and participating in art fairs in New York, Miami, Houston and San Francisco, I continue to blog for Huffington Post about art and dance that gets me excited. I was a professional ballet dancer in New York with the Feld Ballet in my youth, and also wrote and edited for several monthly magazines in the U.S. and abroad before opening the gallery.
So, I've worn several hats in my life, as so many of us do. Each hat has been distinct, but has fit me well. I hope to continue to always follow my passions and do what I love to do. And for now, it's running the gallery, nurturing the artists and helping to get their marvelous art on the walls for people to enjoy.
MICHAEL: You know Susan, one of the things that troubles me is that I'm continuing to see people inside galleries and museums spending as much time on their cell phones texting as they are looking at art. They're IN the gallery, yet NOT fully present with the art. What do you make of this?
SUSAN: I think this is a larger societal issue. People are constantly texting and on their cell phones, in school, church, museums, at the dinner table, etc. I'm old fashioned about this, and am always telling my kids to get off their phones, and we have rules about no phones at meal time. But, I also think that people are doing some very constructive things with their phones while in galleries and museums. They may be tweeting about a great painting, texting info about the show to a friend, taking a photo for FB, so it's not all bad.
MICHAEL: What's your earliest memory of contemporary art? Most people appreciate art, but what was the difference that led you to become an art dealer and patron?
SUSAN: My mother is a painter and a sculptor. My earliest memory of contemporary art was watching her paint in her studio. My mom painted every day. I learned from observing her that being an artist was simply her job. There was nothing mythical about it. Yes, she was born to make art, as a writer is born to write or a musician to make music, but for her it was about getting up and going into the studio and working every day. Over the years, I watched her work evolve and grow. My decision to become an art dealer and patron of the arts must have come from my desire to champion artists like my mom.
MICHAEL: As you no doubt know Susan, so many people are intimidated by art galleries. They think they're going to be judged or snubbed once inside. What do you think about this? I know that gallerists are so busy and can't always worry about how they're being perceived.
SUSAN: People are intimidated by art galleries. I am too! I think it's silly really. It's a weird phenomenon that so many galleries want to cultivate a haughty attitude and give off a vibe of unapproachability. One of the mandates of Susan Eley Fine Art was to NOT be like this, but to be welcoming and service oriented. I greet everyone who comes into the gallery and teach my assistant to smile and offer information. The crazy thing is that if you went into a clothing store or any retail store and were treated with this sort of condescension, you'd walk out and say what terrible service. For some reason, we let galleries get away with this behavior. And it's not because they are too busy.
MICHAEL: Is New York still the art capital of the world? I mean, if all other things were equal, couldn't you also do well as a dealer in Dallas, Seattle, Chicago, Toronto or Sydney? What's the continued obsession with New York? Keep in mind, I'm a native New Yorker. LOL.
SUSAN: New York still is the capital of the art world. Dealers need artists and collectors. There are great artists in every corner of the world, but NY still attracts the greatest concentration of them. However, as real estate rates rise, an increasing number of artists coming out of art school are settling in other cities. So, maybe the paradigm will shift in the coming years, as more move to cities like Philadelphia, Boston, Cleveland, etc. Artists feed galleries, which support and collaborate with museums and other institutions. But for now, NY is the cultural capital on the world. And as NYC is the financial center of the world, this is where the collectors are.
MICHAEL: How do you decide whether or not you'd like to represent an artist? Do have a particular focus?
SUSAN: If I like an artist's work, I will visit the studio. This allows me to see current and past work, and get a sense for working habits and pacing. Starting a relationship with an artist is like dating. Good to start slow. A risk free, gentle way to begin is to include this artist's work (2-3 pieces) in a group show or an art fair. I can gage people's reactions to their work, and get a sense for how a professional relationship might ensue. We don't discuss representation for many months. That's a big commitment.
My focus? People who know my taste in art often say they see a thread in the artwork I show. I don't think I have a particular focus, though. I like what I like. Common to all of the work I show is that it strikes a chord in me never struck before - each SEFA artist has an independent, original vision. And they each express this vision with a consummate craftsmanship.
MICHAEL: Finally Susan, Most people walking the planet won't likely ever enter an art gallery let alone buy art. Even the most profound, beautiful art is a tough sell. So what's the point? Most people don't have the disposable income for art, do they?
SUSAN: Yes, most people on the planet will never walk into an art gallery and fewer will buy art. So why do we do this? I personally feel compelled to track down good art and help to get it seen by as many people as possible. Perhaps it's a cultural imperative that drives people in the art industry to work. Whether we do this consciously or not, I think art dealers are building legacies. Walk into any museum and I think you'll find your answer as to what the point is. 99.9% of what we look at, exhibit, chase will not stand the test of time, but that tiny per cent will. And over decades and centuries, art that endures will continue to fire and feed our imaginations, intellects and souls.
MICHAEL: Indeed it will. Thanks Susan. What a nice chat.
Check out Susan Eley at www.susaneleyfineart.com.