Gallerist at Home: Deb Klowden Mann

Deb Klowden Mann, the co-owner and director of gallery km in Santa Monica, is dedicated to developing her gallery’s program with an emphasis on LA artists who not only represent the present moment, but also stand the test of time. - Ellen Caldwell, Los Angeles Contributor

Deb Klowdem Mann’s living room with Wisenfeld painting. Photo by Geoff Mann.

Articulate, concise, and so conceptually rich, Mann’s interview demonstrates her complete dedication to her process.  Here, it is clear that collecting and curating is her art.  As with all “Gallerist at Home” interviews, I asked Deb about the art in her private home and found her  answers to be deeply moving and inspiring.  One of her sentiments she shared got to the heart of this column, so much so that I chose to open and close this post with it:

“In the gallery, it is about art that I believe will grow with the world, and in my home it is about art that will grow with me, and my family. I often find that the strongest art will do both.”

Sienna DeGovia |Allegorical Deer Centerpiece, 2011, polymer clay, metal, acrylic paint, 17” x 16.” Photo by Geoff Mann.

Ellen Caldwell: I love particularly unique pieces of art, and can see one immediately in that sculptural piece on your dresser… Could you tell me this?

Deb Klowden Mann: I love this piece because it has such genuine humor, combined with a really satisfying use of materials. Part of what I find myself interested in curatorially in my gallery work is the dialogue between reason and emotion, and I believe that to be a very potent space when it is approached through humor.  Sienna does this so well, and I think you can really see a lot of what makes her work unique in this sculpture.  Along with her art practice, Sienna is also a successful food stylist, and she’s one of the few emerging artists I know who feels that her day job is an asset rather than a liability. She’s not afraid of using her decorative skills in the service of what she wants to communicate in her fine art practice—often about the emotional nature of consumption—and I love the way she uses almost cartoonishly sensitive detail in this sculpture to draw us in to the piece.

Mann’s bedroom with DeGovia sculpture on dresser. Photo by Geoff Mann.

EC: That is fantastic.  Please tell me about how and where you came across her work?

DKM: This sculpture was part of Angel City Eats, a show Sienna did this past winter in collaboration with her father, production designer Jackson De Govia, and it was displayed in a room in the gallery that was themed on the excesses of contemporary celebrity culture. It was a great show, and this piece really spoke to me. It migrated to the gallery office after the show closed, and has slowly moved in with me, and now we can’t seem to let go of it. Sienna and I have known each other for a very long time—we really grew up together in Los Angeles—and I’ve probably had something she made in my space for as long as I can remember (everything from a birthday card she painted when I was eight to a porcelain dish containing a partial negligee-wearing self-portrait at its center that sat at a banquet table for her thesis exhibition at the California College of Art). Seeing her work reminds me to look past artifice, and to do so with a critical eye informed by appreciation and humor rather than animosity, which is something I value in just about every area of my life.

Alexandra Wiesenfeld | Family Portrait #3 (Paul), 2011, oil on canvas, 66” x 85”. Photo by Joshua White.

EC: Do you have any pieces that you feel like really embody or represent your life well?

DKM: I am the mother of a two year old boy, a four year old boy, and a young business, and accordingly my life is busy, messy, imperfect, and continuously surprising to me.  I think I’m drawn to work in my personal collection that either reflects that mad combination, or balances it, and this painting by Alexandra Wiesenfeld does a little of both.

We showed this painting at the gallery in Alex’s solo show during the spring of 2011, and I found myself seeking it out throughout the day and spending time alone with it during the course of the exhibition. It is a very personal piece for Alex and her family. She painted it as a portrait and tribute to her father after his death, and she understandably wasn’t sure that she wanted to part with it at the time of her show. When she recently told me that she had decided the painting could come and live with us, it meant a great deal to me. It’s also the first large painting in our collection, and as much as I do not believe size is a consistent indicator of significance, when living with artwork in my personal space, a successful large piece really does have a kind of daily impact that is quite amazing.  Particularly with this painting, the detail of the pencil drawing on the surface and the sense of depth and layering pulls me in throughout the day. It is also a piece that has a great deal to do with personal mythology and history, and it feels right to me to have such a strong statement about where we all come from in a room that is the heart of where I spend time with my family. It makes me happy to know that my boys will grow up evolving in front of this painting, and that their experiences and understanding of the painting will evolve with them.

Matthew Anthony Stokes | Sentinel VI, 2011, ink on paper.  Photo by Geoff Mann.

EC: I love that it is such a personal token for both you and the artist…that is truly reflective of the bonding nature of art (to owner or creator).  What about another special piece in your home?

DKM: There is a certain fearlessness to Matt Stokes’ work in the sense that he is truly committed to his own voice, and that is a powerful thing to be reminded of as part of my visual landscape in this kind of intimate setting. It seems silly to talk about the effect of the art you choose for your bathroom, but I believe it’s a space that deserves real consideration. We just finished the long experience of remodeling and adding on to our home—which I discovered to be a crazy process of matching where I have been in my life with where I hope to be—and we spent a good deal of time and energy on creating a very special space in our bathroom. It is the place where we are most often faced with ourselves alone, where we begin and end our day with little rituals, and as such we wanted it to feel both comforting and inspiring. This drawing of Matt’s is much more subtle than the pieces of his that we have exhibited in the gallery, and has the opportunity to speak in a personal setting that it might not have in a gallery space, where it would contend with much greater expanses of space and other artworks that more overtly ask for consideration.

EC: So true!  I have a favorite print that hangs in my bathroom, and it came from the bathroom in my grandparents’ old house… it sounds silly at first, but you are right that the calming energy art can instill in this room of rituals is so important.  When did you get this piece?

DKM: Matt gave me this piece last year after we had just finished our second of two shows with him—the first a solo show of paintings and works on paper, and the second a retrospective of an incredible experimental theater group he co-founded and directed in Europe from 1989-1998 called Maquette. The second show in particular was a great deal of work for all parties involved, and afterwards Matt brought a small portfolio of drawings into the gallery and said, “pick any one you want.” The partnership between an artist and a gallerist is such a real thing, and particularly when both people are “emerging,” it takes a great deal of trust on both sides. Gifts like this really speak to that, and make me feel very lucky to have those relationships, and to feel valued in them.

Olga Koumoundouros | The value of the sword is not that it falls but rather it hangs #5, 2011, Graphite, collage and acrylic on paper, 11 7/8" x 8 7/8" paper size, 18 3/4" x 15 1/4" framed. Courtesy of Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects; Photo credit Robert Wedemeyer.

Olga Koumoundouros | More Swords of Damocles, 2011, Graphite, Wall Street Journal collage and acrylic on paper, 55" x 22" paper size, 64 3/4" x 35" framed. Courtesy of Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects; Photo credit Robert Wedemeyer.

EC: Have you bought any new works recently?

DKM: I purchased these two works on paper by Olga Koumoundouros from Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects several months ago. They were the first pieces that I purchased at an outside gallery (one that was not my place of work), and it was a wonderful experience. Most of the pieces in my collection up to that point were either gifts, works I bought from artists I love and know personally, or pieces I purchased through galleries I worked for during the time I was employed there. Ever since I first interned at Rose Gallery (then The Photography Gallery), and then directed a small gallery at Brown University when I was an undergraduate, I’ve had the pleasure of bringing amazing pieces by artists I worked with into my personal space. I’ve always relished knowing the stories and the people behind the pieces, having them feel like the continuation of a conversation and a presence in my life that already meant something significant to me. After opening my own space, I have loved that feeling even more, and felt so privileged to surround myself with art from artists with whom I have important relationships.

But I also became curious about the kind of process of discovery that I see our collectors go through when we help them find something they may not even know that they are looking for to bring into and enhance their daily lives. I started visiting local galleries that I love, like Susanne Vielmetter and Taylor De Cordoba, and looking at their artists, and relishing being pulled into that always-exhilarating ‘back room’ and discovering new voices for the first time.  When I saw these particular pieces, I really fell in love.

Interior hallway of Mann’s home. Photo by Geoff Mann.

EC: It is great to hear you articulate that “process of discovery” so clearly – and it is particularly interesting to hear you talk about it as a gallerist.  It makes sense that viewing, collecting, and creating art is a continuous process of exploration and innovation – in the studio, in the backroom, in a museum, or in one’s home, but it is not often discussed… What art do you find you gravitate towards, or have you discovered new styles that interest you recently?

DKM: I am attracted to a very wide range of media, but I frequently find myself coming back to works on paper. There’s such an immediacy and honesty to paper, and it’s also very accessible in a personal setting.  I think that for many artists it’s easier to approach paper without the self-consciousness of other mediums that are often viewed as holding higher significance (both conceptual significance in an overall practice, and significance in terms of commercial value). In these pieces, I think you really see Olga Koumoundouros’s looseness, freedom to experiment and possibly to discover what is going to come next for her in her three-dimensional work. I love the ease of her marks on the page, the decisive use of color, and the integration of the collage, particular in one of the long lines where newspaper text mimics pencil.

Living room showing Olga Koumoundouros, More Swords of Damocles. Photo by Geoff Mann.

EC: Where do you see your private home collection differing from your gallery exhibits?

DKM: There is a lot of overlap between the kind of art I show at the gallery and the kind I bring into my home, but the decision to place the pieces in each space comes from a different place. At the gallery, I’m often most excited by art that I believe to represent a significant voice in the contemporary dialogue. At home, what I want in my space is not about a meta-narrative so much as a personal one. I choose for our home with my gut more than my head, though both are certainly present in the process for each space. In the end, in both places, it’s really about work that speaks to me now, and that I believe will stand the test of time. In the gallery, it is about art that I believe will grow with the world, and in my home it is about art that will grow with me, and my family. I often find that the strongest art will do both.

Interior of gallery km: installation shot of David Lloyd's Monas Hieroglyphica in November, 2011. Courtesy of gallery km.

Portrait of Deb Klowden Mann at the gallery. Photo by Eric Minh Swenson; art by Bernard Chadwick.


Deb Klowden Mann is the co-owner and director of gallery km, which opened in Santa Monica in the fall of 2010, and has a strong focus on contemporary artists across media, with a particular concentration on Los Angeles artists. Along with a history of gallery work, she also co-founded and co-edited the literary art publication No: A Journal of the Arts. She lives in Culver City with her husband, two sons, and their scruffy dog. 

At gallery km, Jill Daves: “Chasing the Sun,” runs from July 14th - August 18th and Laura Kim’s show follows, September 15th - October 20th.

Ellen C. Caldwell is an LA-based art historian, editor, and writer.

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