Back in 2013, I attended a group art show opening and it was my initial exposure to Garis & Hahn. The art was profound and it made a distinct impression just like the area of the Bowery. It is the demarcating line between the glitz of Chelsea to the West and the grit of the Lower East Side on the other end. I have followed the various shows and the other writers of AF have visited this gem of a gallery ran by two of the most charming ladies with serious art credentials. Their point of view has been strong and things just get better and bigger for them. I caught up with Mary Garis who consulted with Sophie Hahn (who’s still traveling) right after coming back from their Paris trip to chime in about the gallery and other things that may ring true for them.
ARTE F– USE: You just had your one-year anniversary for the gallery. What are the highlights for your first year and any lessons learned or wisdom gained?
Mary Garis: Actually, it will be 2 years in January! It¹s hard to believe how fast time flies. Some highlights so far, at least for me, has been the valuable relationships we have formed and strengthened with artists, curators and art world professionals. Working with an artist who is happy and producing great work is a rewarding experience and a pleasure to exhibit in our gallery. Other specific highlights and favorite memories would be our collaborations with Rag and Bone and M Missoni, our May 2013 “Peripheral Visions” exhibition which highlighted emerging and mid-career artists from Australia (a project close to the heart of Sophie, a native of Sydney), and expanding our gallery space to include a downstairs exhibition space. We really only put on exhibitions that we both like, and in that way we are fortunate that we have loved pretty much every project we have ever done.
Lessons and wisdom – It seems like there are always different scenarios and variables for every project we mount, so we are always learning something new or adjusting our methods every month. There’s rarely a dull moment, and we are very satisfied in that.
AF: How did you meet and decided to open up the gallery on Bowery?
MG: We met while completing our Master’s program at Christie’s Education. We were both kind of newcomers to the New York art world- Sophie being from Sydney and me from Oklahoma- so I think we definitely bonded in that respect- it was a natural friendship. After graduation, we spent several years working in different spheres of the art world- Sophie in art insurance and me in galleries. I think we were both happy enough in what we were doing, but many lengthy discussions regarding the gallery system and the changing direction of the art world led us to the idea that we wanted to start a project space that was relevant to our time. After about a year of preparation and much evolution, Garis & Hahn opened in January 2013, although technically we are “established now.” This kind of cheeky slogan on our logo definitely reflects the spirit and notion that we want our projects and space to be relative to contemporaneous issues and works. In an industry where many business pride themselves on their past and years of experience, we want to showcase that we strive to be of the moment and constantly changing and evolving.
AF: What kind of art do you most respond to and love to feature? Does this translate to the brand of your gallery?
MG: We do have some different aesthetic sensibilities and interests, but we are both drawn to a lot of similar concepts and ideas. Supporting emerging artists is something we both love, and we also both have the highest respect for a meticulously curated exhibition. Good curation goes a long way in our eyes. The gallery operates in many ways like a kunsthalle or project space- we are always working with curators to create group exhibitions with a central theme or a strong dialogue between works- in many ways, it is almost like a museum or non-profit exhibition model- our program is constituted of a rotation of exhibitions organized by outside curators, our own curation, and select solo artist exhibitions. Unlike a museum we are not bound to be impartial or beholden to anyone but ourselves, so there are some artists we work with multiple times, though we do not formally represent artists at present.
As for branding, our openness to a wide variety of contemporary art does not make it easy to classify our brand as “the gallery who shows X.” We want to give a platform to contemporary artists who are making art that is relevant to the issues of today, and also we are trying to further elevate and re-contextualize the ‘group exhibition’ to something that can be successful outside of a museum environment. We want the gallery to be a place where people can come to see, understand, and interact.
AF: Do you play a certain role in the gallery or it is a 50/50 deal on decision making and other matters?
MG: We essentially split the responsibilities and organizational duties 50/50, and all major decisions we make together. Sophie’s background is in art insurance, so she does a lot on the business end. I worked in galleries, so I am responsible for a lot of the day to day management. We both curate, and try to do as many studio visits together as possible. Sometimes one of us will take the lead on an exhibition or event, but for the most part we are right there together talking through every major move. We both taught ourselves InDesign and Photoshop (our very own “creative outlet”), and we have an amazing, amazing team at A&O PR (Lainya Renault and Kathryn McKinney) who are basically our third member of staff.
One of the artists we work with recently told me that she has figured us out. I am the serious, business-y one, and Sophie is the one who can charm anyone into doing anything if she asks nicely (I think her Australian accent helps). This may be true in some scenarios, but I find it kind of funny and worth noting, because it is almost the opposite in our personal lives- I am usually the goofy one! Of course she’s still charming in her personal life. Sophie and I do have very similar personalities though, and we are both Aquarians, which I like to think is one of the reasons we get along so well.
AF: What makes the Bowery special as a neighborhood that you decided to open up your space in this part of Manhattan?
MG: Having worked both uptown and in Chelsea, and with deep respect and admiration for the spaces and projects going on in both areas, we were pretty sure that the Lower East Side was more aligned with the experimental and community spirit we wanted to present. Bowery is kind of like this perfect crossroads to so many neighborhoods- it’s technically “Lower East Side” but it’s also adjacent to Soho, the East Village, all of these places with a grand history of artistic endeavors. The New Museum is a block south of our space, and it is great to be so close to an institution mounting so many refreshing, contemporary exhibitions.
AF: When you get a minute to yourself and not do anything gallery or art related, what are the activities you indulge in to revive or refresh yourself?
MG: Most people who have visited Garis & Hahn during the week have had the distinct pleasure of being attacked (with kisses) by our resident gallery mascot Ray, my toy poodle. Ray keeps me busy in my personal life as well. When she is at the kennel, I also enjoy traveling as often as possible. My favorite getaway is Sanibel, Florida on the gulf coast- it has the best sunsets in the world.
Sophie enjoys running, meditation, cooking, and visiting friends and family in Australia. She is also an ace with power tools and completes many DIY projects in her spare time (she actually made/built a lot of the furniture in her apartment herself).
AF: Describe your dream exhibition someday or already in the works.
MG: We are both very interested in bringing outside artists and markets to NYC and giving them a proper platform to be seen- for example Australia (Peripheral Visions, May 2013) or Croatia (forthcoming in November 2014). In recent years, eyes have turned towards the West Cost and there has been much discussion about the art market in Los Angeles. Historically, many California artists were kind of stigmatized as local, almost outsider artists with very little representation in major art cities like New York or Paris. That is no longer the case , and I’m interested in exploring how these concepts have affected what artists are creating now in that area. I have been tossing this curatorial examination of young LA artists around for a few years, so I am excited to see it come to fruition in our 2015 program.
AF: You could not possibly fathom a future not being in the art world. But what would you be doing if you did not own a gallery?
Sophie Hahn: Curating art exhibitions and sourcing fresh new talent. I really love the curatorial side and finding new artists to support.
MG: I love the NY art world. It is such a dynamic place, and I definitely think I would still be working in it in some capacity. Possibly writing and/or curating.
AF: As one of the upcoming gallery owners, the first show I attended featured all women, so do you intend to close the gap and discrepancy of women artists in the art market? Does this make you a feminist and do you mind being called one?
MG: Borderline: Depictions of Skin was technically our second exhibition (the first being a show that was curated by a woman, but featuring photographers both male and female) but we did not think of it in terms of gender in the curation. Is there a connection between the fact that three women all depicted skin and the body in such a way that created an interesting dialogue? Probably, but it wasn’t a connection we explored in the formal curation of the exhibition.
On the subject of women in the arts- it is obviously a problem that artworks by women are so underrepresented in galleries and institutions. That being said, it wasn’t something I thought about in relation to the gallery until I was familiarized with the work of Micol Hebron. It really makes you confront the numbers and see the representational inequality. Up until that point we had not given any conscious thought to the idea of gender representation in our exhibitions, at least not in respect to numbers, and now there’s just more of a general awareness. We like to exhibit art by both genders. Usually I think it comes out pretty evenly, statistically speaking.
A feminist is someone who supports equality for men and women. Every person on this earth should be a feminist.
AF: How do you measure success in your current endeavors? Any game plan for the future of the gallery and personal achievement you’re focusing on the horizon?
MG: Cultural relevance. Critical Attention. Revenue. Those are our big three indicators of success, and to us, they are all vital for different reasons. We have some exciting things in our pipeline- you’ll just have to wait and see!
And I’ll most definitely be waiting and can’t wait to see what these gals have in store in the near future. I know it will be relevant to the time and the quality is high. I can most certainly attest to the fact that the best gallery reception to date is being attacked with kisses by Ray. I’ve never seen anyone inside of a gallery so happy to see me. (Most of the time, it is with trepidation when people know you’re there to write a review.) But let the Belles of Bowery ring out other than the Westminster Chimes because it will be a cacophony of sights that will reverberate on both the East and West Side. Stay tuned!
Click below to view my interview with Garis & Hahn during the reception for Julien Levy:
Interview from the belfry by: Oscar A. Laluyan
Video by: Max Noy Photo
Photographs courtesy of Garis & Hahn and credits on each photo