Kristen Dodge: Back in the Game at September
Kristen Dodge is not just one of my favorite art world people, she is one of my favorite people, period. In a business replete with elusive characters, Dodge is a rare straight shooter. (She is also rare in that she combines a deep knowledge of art with deadly business acumen.) In late 2010, after a number of years in Boston, she opened Dodge Gallery in New York’s Lower East Side and did what she does best: aggressively advocated for the artists and ideas that she passionately believes in. The gallery was open for four years, at which point Dodge decided she needed a break from the art world’s frenetic pace and rapidly shifting landscape. She and her husband, artist Darren Foote, moved to Upstate New York where they embraced a very different lifestyle.
Now, just over two years later, Dodge is back, and I think the art world is the better for it. Her recently opened space in Hudson, NY, September, has already gained a lot of attention. I wanted to know what brought her back into the “game.” – Steven Zevitas, Publisher
Steven Zevitas: It has been just over two years since you closed Dodge Gallery in New York City. How have you been spending your time?
Kristen Dodge: I’ve been living upstate with my husband and growing plants and adding to our animal family. For a solid year, I basically departed the art world. We spent a lot of time working on our home and property, and considering other professional pursuits. I got my real estate license and seriously considered making this side-interest a fulltime gig (until I ran up against too many rules, and unhappy agents). I also steadily volunteered at the Columbia Greene Humane Society. In truth though, I never left art. How could I? I’ve been writing my column Art vs. Farm, doing countless studio visits, seeing shows whenever possible, advising selected artists and collectors, and consuming art. The final audition for my return was putting on two exhibitions at RETROSPECTIVE and producing a catalog this last winter. And then I tricked myself into finding a space.
SZ: When did you first start thinking about opening a new gallery? Why Hudson? Where did the name come from?
KD: When I first moved upstate there were more than a few people who asked me if I would start a gallery up here. I laughed with some disdain at the idea. But the concept grew on me as I began to see the potential for Hudson. I have an entrepreneurial itch. The name September came to me easily and quickly. First of all, I love the word itself. And then there’s the fact that it’s a time of transition, which is the crux of both gallery programming and an artist’s practice. Creativity means embracing newness, allowing for change, entering the unfamiliar as a kind of familiarity (like seasons). By contrast, the art market it often seems to feed off of sameness but pretend to champion difference.
Blue Jean Baby, Installation View at September
SZ: What were your criteria in terms of choosing a location?
KD: I considered renting an old gas station, or installing pop-up shows in interesting architectural spaces, but once I realized that I was actually doing this, it really only made sense to be in Hudson and on the main street. I decided to not push ourselves further off the grid and create a scenario of us enjoying our shows with ourselves. So I made an unspoken deal. If I found the right space, I would go for it. In a city of old buildings that are either residential or small by deign, it was a gift that I was shown a large, centrally located space with high ceilings and northern light (direct sun = bad for art). Also unusual and important, was that the space was new (= no ghosts, leaking roofs or tweaky electrical system), and raw, meaning I could design and build to suit. I turns out I like transforming spaced into galleries.
SZ: Will you be formally representing artists? If so, will there be cross over from the Dodge Gallery program?
KD: I’m adverse to the word represent these days. On our website we use the terms “sometimes” and “always” instead of “exhibited” and “represent”. There are artists I have a more intimate working history with, and whose work and practice I have a deep commitment to. That’s where I begin. Then there are artists with whom I’m interested in building that kind of relationship, whose work I’m excited about, and see something exceptional in. But it’s all more fluid than possessive.
SZ: Are you thinking strategically with the new space in terms of the types of artists, media, etc., or will the program be more organic?
KD: It’s a good question. I begin with what interests and moves me, rather than the right business move. That said, I’ve been in the business long enough that certain kinds of planning is just second nature- like don’t organize two group shows back to back (or go mad), mix well-known with lesser-known artists (benefits and informs both), spread out solo shows by artists that have cross-over in their work (diversify your audience, and don’t overtax certain clients). The difference in my approach these days is that I want to rebel against developed, functional decisions. I’m interested in showing older work with new work, and inserting works into an exhibition mid-show.
SZ: Will you be participating in art fairs?
KD: There are one or two that I would consider if the timing is right, if the context makes sense for the artist, if I can convince myself it’s worth doing, and if we get accepted to the ones we would be willing to do.
Blue Jean Baby, Installation View at September
SZ: The overhead of running a space in Hudson is presumably substantially lower than running a space in Manhattan. On the flip side, there will be a lot less foot traffic. How will you be getting the word out about September and growing your client base?
KD: Our overhead is humane. We have more actual and mental freedom than the pressure of high numbers can afford in the city. The foot traffic has been surprising, even comparable to LES in terms of numbers and mix of collectors, artists, advisors, and art lovers without titles. That will change in the winter though, which is likely when we’ll do a fair. Growing a meaningful collector base is a slow, long-term process. The people who have supported me and the artists I work with are making their way to Hudson in due time. And as they do, the exchanges are more lengthy and meaningful. They absorb the upstate vibe, and aren’t trying to hit 38 shows in an afternoon like chickens with their heads cut off.
SZ: Now that you have had some time to reflect on the Dodge Gallery experience, what lessons did you learn?
KD: That I can’t escape.
SZ: What is your view of the current state of the art world? Do you think is has become more or less difficult to run a commercial gallery space?
KD: It’s a tough business. Really, it’s a labor of love. There are so many sacrifices that go into running a gallery, and sometimes you feel like a community service. But for people who love art and believe deeply in supporting artists, it’s the most direct and uncomplicated way to get work in front of people. In that way, it’s the same business. What’s changed is that people stopped seeing shows and replaced art fairs with real looking and learning. But there’s a fatigue permeating the art world, a realization that it’s been a gluttonous maximum of manic consumption. We can get back to center.
SZ: Moving forward, how do you think the role of the traditional “art dealer/gallerist” will change? What are the challenges that galleries face?
KD: People who run smaller galleries want to be close to art, and to have a meaningful relationship with the artists. When that goes, usually with a larger scale operation, I don’t see the point. So one challenge is to articulate why you’re in the business, and figure out how to keep those reasons at the core of your operation. To me, that’s the definition of success. Galleries will always face the challenge of staying in business. And deciding what sacrifices need to be made to do so, can be very tough. I say, stay gold Ponyboy.
SZ: What are you most excited about as you enter this new phase and launch September?
KD: I’m most excited to be this close to art again, to be creating something new, and to be open to the things that I don’t know yet.
Kristen Dodge. Photo By: Zia Anger