This month, I spoke by telephone with Adam Baumgold (also known as Ace – I have it on good authority that he is a helluva tennis player), owner of the Adam Baumgold Gallery on East 79th Street in New York and judge for our upcoming Bendheim show. You can check out his website at www.adambaumgoldgallery.com. I found the conversation to be very charming in that several people dropped by the gallery as we were talking, including an artist wanting to introduce his work, and Ace dealt with all of us, all at once, with such grace, openness and good humor. It is hard to convey this aspect in a written interview – it felt more like a movie – so I can only set the scene for you. Suffice it to say, it was a true pleasure to speak with yet another person who loves what he is doing and thrives on art.
Shauna: Good morning, Ace, and welcome. Let’s dive right in and talk about how you got started in the gallery business.
Ace: I was an Art History major at Columbia University and started collecting art. I became a private art dealer and established the gallery in 1993. The gallery is small but efficient for the work I exhibit.
Shauna: And you deal in exclusively contemporary art?
Ace: Yes. I exhibit work by both established and emerging artists.
Shauna: What excites you in contemporary art?
Ace: I am interested in a broad spectrum of work – a much wider range than is displayed in the gallery and on my website. I like things that are not from any particular school or movement. Things that are idiosyncratic, hard to define and not firmly rooted in any particular time period are intriguing to me.
Shauna: What about color?
Ace: Well. I love color, of course, but I am not crazed about it like some other people. I have lots of drawings and black and white stuff in the gallery. I am attracted to the formal qualities in art.
Shauna: I noticed there are lots of drawings and humorous pieces on your website.
Ace: I like a drawing if it is well executed and has wit and humor - intelligence, really. Also, some sort of narrative content is important to me. For example, Saul Steinberg's drawings are an embodiment of the above listed qualities.
Shauna: If you could put together a “dream collection” for yourself, what would be in it?
Ace: (LONG pause.) (Laughs.) That’s a tough one and maybe I’ll pass on it. There are always those nasty budgetary constraints… there are things that one can look at, even for a long time, and then tire of them. I am happy enough to go visit my favorites in museums. But, maybe I’ll take a small, general crack at the question…. (another LONG pause) My collection would be very diverse and made up of things that touch me or interest me on a deep, emotional level. There would be a narrative content throughout, and all the works would show the individualistic hand of the artist. Yes, that’s it.
Shauna: Wow. I should ask this question more often!
Shauna: What do you find to be most enjoyable in your work?
Ace: I think putting on the exhibitions is the most interesting. They change every five to six weeks and I do eight solo and two theme group shows per year. I enjoy the installation process a lot – working with the artists and watching the show develop. The artists often come in from out of town or overseas and it is a pleasure to spend time with them. The critical reaction to the shows is also interesting. It brings me great satisfaction when an artist receives acclaim or gets into a good collection, private or public. That’s really what motivates me.
Shauna: You said you do two group, theme shows every year. How do you choose the themes?
Ace: In general, I like to mix things up and put together a show from different generations and styles. The interrelations are fascinating as well as the contrasts and similarities. It’s fun to display the work of a young artist next to a Picasso and observe the same issues emerging over the generations. I often try to find a unifying theme that applies not only to my artists but that defines a trend in the art world at large. It is a holistic approach. Oh and it’s important to me to have a healthy mix of self-taught and schooled artists.
Shauna: How do you find your artists?
Ace: The most important way is that artists in the gallery as well as other dealers recommend artists to me. Often I have seen the work of an artist through a group show or other exhibition and sometimes they are not affiliated. I pay attention to MFA programs, etcetera. People will bring in their portfolios and it used to be that they would send me slides. Now I ask that they send me a jpeg in the body of an email.
Shauna: So, what happens after you find the artist?
Ace: Sometimes we do a solo show right away but that’s rare. I will include them in a group show or something to gauge interest in their work. The exhibition schedule is determined a year or two in advance and most artists do a solo show every two to three years.
Shauna: What are your thoughts on framing and presentation?
Ace: Of course, this depends on the artwork. Certain art lends itself to a certain frame or presentation. The most important thing is that the frame should not overwhelm the artwork.
Shauna: For our Bendheim show, artists can bring two works. Would you rather see 2 pieces from the same body of work or pieces from 2 different bodies?
Ace: Oh heavens! Artists should make this decision themselves! That said, there should be something that is coherent – that unites the work. Artists are rarely successful working in 2 completely different styles. Some link is needed.
Ace: I have some questions for you, if that’s okay.
Shauna: I’ll do my best.
Ace: How may works will I see and how many will the gallery accommodate?
Shauna: The gallery limits us to a maximum of sixty works and you can choose fewer, if you like. I don’t know how many submissions we will have but traditionally it has been around 300.
Ace: In all media, including photographs?
Shauna: Yes, paintings of all varieties, drawings, we have many botanical artists, sculpture, photographs, we have quite a few collage artists and you will probably see some fiber art this year.
Ace: Is there some special way that I should go about the judging?
Shauna: No, not at all. You can do whatever you want and everybody seems to do it differently. As artists can submit two works, some judges eliminate one right off the bat and go from there.
Ace: Do I have to do that?
Shauna: Nope. You can do whatever you want.
Ace: And I am awarding some prizes, yes?
Shauna: Yes, about a dozen. The lead prize this year is the Credit Suisse Prize for Best in Show of $1000, then there are the McClellen Memorial Award of $500, and others ranging from $350 to $100.
Ace: I have to choose a best in show? Oh dear. I’m not sure I could say what is “best.”
Shauna: I don’t think you need to think of it that way. You just get to have the pleasure of awarding nice prizes to very deserving work.
Ace: Are any of the awards for a specific style or media?
Shauna: Yes, just one: The Inez and Sid Noble Award for Contemporary Realism. The rest you can award to anything you like.
Ace: Well, this should be fun.
Shauna: Yes, in fact it is a blast and you will meet a great many wonderful and talented people and see some interesting work.
Ace: I look forward to it and I’m going to do my best to try to attend the reception.
Shauna: We’d all love that. Many thanks, Ace, and we’ll see you next month.