Sunday, April 11, 2010

Opening a gallery during a recession? Intrepid.

From the far periphery, through the grapevine, and with updates from some little birdies, I've been following Luella Tripp's journey from the closing of Gallery Siano, to the opening of LGTripp Gallery in Old City Philadelphia on March 28. I first met Luella at the opening reception for the final show at Siano Gallery a couple of years ago, which I wrote about in one of my first posts on this blog. The gallery's closing produced a void in the Old City gallery scene, but I was introduced to someone in the business who seemed truly focused on art and the artists.

With each update, and then finally, a real date for an opening, I started to get curious about the kind of person who opens a gallery in the middle of a recession and post-art market bubble. (I know, I know, according to some of the leading economic indicators, the recession is over. Just tell that to all the folks who have lost jobs, houses, etc.) But the idea of a brand new gallery opening in the spring seemed a harbinger of hope. I decided to ask Luella a few questions and invite her to be "interviewed" to talk about her journey, and she was up for it.

How did you get started in the gallery business? Art history background? Curatorial studies?

There are professionally trained gallery directors and then there are self-taught directors. I’m in the latter category.  
This journey began about nine years ago. After working for many years in office management I became increasingly restless, wanting to explore ‘something’ (not sure what) that tapped into my creative energy. This combined with an appreciation for the visual arts; introduction to the local art community and relationships with artists prompted a rather spontaneous decision to open a small gallery in Old City. In retrospect, I’m rather stunned at the boldness of my decision, but in reality felt compelled to follow my passion. I had to give it a try.

In the months preceding the opening of PARALLELS gallery, I became aware that the art that ‘spoke’ to me, often drawing me in like a magnet was abstract and non-objective work. Looking at art without clearly recognizable images catapulted my imagination to another place…one unknown, unexplored, and that transcended my present moment and reality. It was euphoric. The vocabulary of shapes or lack of, layering of colors, unfamiliar textures, the harmony of balance, the energy of expressionist work, the calming nature of color fields, the beauty of lines intersecting or looping, the unexpected punctuation of a marking, all at the impulse of the artist’s hand and imagination…this captivated my spirit. 

As abstraction became my passion it only made sense that this should be the focus of the gallery.  After all, in order to successfully represent and sell a product I had to believe in it and be passionate about it, so abstraction became my niche, the identity of the gallery.  In the summer of 2001, in a small gallery space, I installed my first exhibition at PARALLELS Gallery and opened the doors on First Friday.

My education as a gallery director took place in this little gallery. It was intense, exciting and terrifying all at once. However, I loved it and absorbed all the information I could find on twentieth century art and the role of a gallery director. Two years later, following 9/11, an impending war and their impact on the art world and specifically art sales, I made the very difficult decision to close the gallery.  
Six months later in January 2004, I became director of Gallery Siano, another gallery in Old City.  The following four years I had the pleasure of working with about 100 artists, both young and mid career, local, national and international artists, collaborated on a couple national exhibitions at the gallery, was curator of exhibitions at two local museums, placed art in both personal and corporate collections, was curator of a retrospective exhibition and a Master of Fine Arts senior thesis exhibition, sold work through interior designers, placed art in MTV’S REAL WORLD Philadelphia house and organized exhibitions at alternative art venues. After four wonderfully exhilarating years, I was informed our lease had quadrupled and I would have to close the gallery.

But miracles continued to happen. Before closing Gallery Siano I was offered gallery space in a building soon to be renovated in Old City. Now, two years later, LGTripp Gallery will open its doors and have the privilege of once again promoting artists from the Philadelphia area.  The gallery will represent fourteen artists I have worked with and whose works I respect and admire. Whether it be paintings, works on paper, sculpture, photography or installations, my passion for the abstract and non-objective will be apparent and at the heart of LGTripp Gallery. [As you will read below, the opening reception for LGTripp Gallery took place, as scheduled, on March 28.]

Opening Luella Tripp Contemporary has been quite a journey. Can you talk about how you maintained the vision despite some major challenges, like the economy tanking and construction/architectural issues?
The one constant factor that gave me impetus to persevere after closing both PARALLELS and Gallery Siano is the artists. At times when the future was uncertain or I didn't see any possible space for a gallery, I just had to think of the incredible artists I had worked with for 4 - 8 years, their commitment and dedication to creating art and I would pick myself up and keep searching.  They (the artists) were my motivation!

How would you describe the program for the gallery?
Of course I will continue to be a strong proponent of abstraction.  At the hands of a skilled artist, abstraction is dramatic, powerful and inspiring.  My goal is to exhibit paintings, photography, sculpture and installations. Fourteen artists will be represented by the gallery, with regularly scheduled solo exhibitions. At Gallery Siano I loved offering exhibitions to new artists, so I plan to continue that tradition once a year.  Abstract photography is also a passion of mine so December is reserved for photography shows.  About four times a year I plan to dedicate one of the galleries to an installation.

Considering that quite a bit of time has passed since Siano closed and LGTripp Gallery came into fruition, how did you manage to maintain your relationship with your roster of artists? 
Mainly through emails.  I would send periodic updates of what was happening with the construction of the gallery.  Most of the time it was to announce delays with the opening which became discouraging. The delays were legitimate but nevertheless it seemed to be endless. At one point I felt it necessary to release my artists to pursue other representation because I couldn't in good conscience ask them to hang on any longer. I also continued to make studio visits when the artists had new work to show me.  This really propelled me to keep looking for another space or option to promote their work.  I was very excited with the progress they were making. Then there were also occasional opportunities to sell some of their work.
It was an amazing opening. Although I anticipated a decent attendance, I never expected the several hundred that dropped in to see the gallery, the expressions of congratulations and best wishes from so many friends and acquaintances... some I hadn't seen for a couple of years. The response to the space, the exhibition as a whole and the artists' work was extremely positive.   
 When I initially spoke to the artists regarding this exhibition, I asked them to create new work, their very best work to date, and if possible never previously shown. This group show wasn't about selecting existing work that would be appropriate for the exhibition. This was truly a PREMIERE, an opening, presenting some of their best work to date. It was all about the artists and their 'in the moment' place in the evolution of their creativity.  I was very pleased with the results and thought the exhibition clearly demonstrated each artist's distinct style and skill along with the significant development of his/her work. Although the last two years were uneventful in regards to gallery involvement, the artists were in their studios, inspired, energized, clearly focused on the next creative direction.

Any thoughts on the whole journey, about following your passion, having faith that you were making the right decisions, having it feel like it's real and yours, etc.? 

The journey has been a learning experience, one requiring patience, perseverance,"trying" not to lose sight of a vision or a goal in the midst of obstacles and the unpredictable, believing there is a season for everything and everything in its right time and place, faith borne out of deep belief in the intangible, observing what seemed like the impossible become reality one little step at a time, each time giving impetus to continue on this trajectory.   

The first day the gallery was open, it felt surreal...two years had come and gone, I felt as though I had just completed a marathon, the space looked spectacular, more stunning than I had ever imagined and the art that I loved had taken its rightful place. It was an extraordinary if I had come full circle and it felt terrific to be back in business! Nine years ago I took the plunge and opened a little gallery at 321 Arch Street. In my wildest dreams I never would have anticipated this awesome space and opportunity would be mine at this time. Now the real work begins!


Joanne Mattera said...

Good interview. Thanks for the update on Luella and her new gallery.

Stephanie Clayton said...

An excellent post. Her passion comes through in the interview. And by the way, I don't think the recession is over, either- we shall see...

Nancy Natale said...

Good for her! I hope this incarnation is successful despite the odds. Thanks for posting.