Interview with Gallerist Elga Wimmer on Her 25 Year Anniversary

Nicola L, Black Penetrable (1966/2012), 83” x 37”, vinyl and gauze.

Elga Wimmer’s show, “Silver Lining,” celebrates 25 years of curating in the New York art world. Originally from Salzburg area, Wimmer spent time working in the fashion industry in Paris, but has made her home in New York for decades. Her first gallery was located in Soho, but for ten years now, she has had a good-sized space in Chelsea, where she has developed a name for herself as a curator of unorthodox shows, often of foreign artists, such as Eduard Costa, Nicola L, and Sang Nam Lee. Catholic in her appreciation of many different kinds of art, Wimmer’s reputation is well established as an outpost for highly original, somewhat offbeat shows. She possesses a broad outlook on the current state of the art, and embraces the young and the old, the radical and the conservative, and the figurative and the abstract. “Silver Lining,” then, give us a chance to develop an overview of her unusual achievement in a field where, today at least, accomplishments tend to be slight. The following is a group of question that refer to the show, which exhibits artists from the very beginning of Wimmer’s career some 25 years ago, up to work done very recently (within the past two years).

Jonathan Goodman: How did you make your way into the American art world? When and where did you first establish a gallery in New York City?

Elga Wimmer: I started working with an art advisor in New York in the secondary market in the late 1980s, and at the same time visited artists’ studios and saw a lot of contemporary art.

When in Paris I met my then partner, with whom I opened my first gallery in SOHO, New York in 1992. Two years into the gallery partnership, I decided to continue the business by myself.

(L-R) Carol Szymanski, “g” horn (2000), natural trumpet, brass and silver and “g and I” (1991)
charcoal on vellum, archival white washed wood frame.

JG: Who were some of the earliest artists you worked with (especially those in “Silver Lining”)? There are those who have gone on to have international careers—do you keep up with these artists? Do some of them still show with you?

EW: Artists I showed in the very beginning in my gallery in the 1990s in SOHO were Carolee Schneemann, Vicky Civera Redondo, Sang Nam Lee, Angela de la Cruz, Eduardo Costa, Carol Szymanski and Nicola L. I have access to all of them, even if some are with other galleries now, as I always kept up contacts and followed the artists I was really interested in. My career as a curator outside of my gallery activity gave me the opportunity of continuing with all of these artists. Carol Szymanski had a recent solo show in my Chelsea Gallery, as did Nicola L. The latter is in my show “Body and Soul: Performance Art – Past and Present,” a collateral event at the Biennale Arte 2017, Venice. Richard Humann and Osmo Rauhala joined my gallery in Chelsea in 2004, when their previous gallery closed, and we have been working together ever since. Humann is also showing at the Biennale Arte 2017, Venice, with a project on augmented reality. Karim Rashid, a renowned artist/architect/designer, shows with my gallery, but also internationally.

JG: You have spent decades living in New York and working in the art world here. How has New York helped (or hurt) your creative vision? How has it changed—either in favor of or against the production of new work?

EW: I am still in the art world and have also maintained the gallery; this  means that New York still positively influences my creative vision. We all know that the art world has changed and is more of a real business now; there is more emphasis on investing in art. My opinion is that when you acquire an emerging and really good artist in a renowned gallery, you can never go wrong!

JG: The artists you have shown are quite widely spread over the world. Does New York continue to support an international presence, and how does that presence affect American art?

EW: New York is still the international center of the arts. No other city has surpassed it! There are now many good galleries in other cities, and LA tries to compete with New York, but the latter keeps its primary position. American art has been part of the international art scene for quite a while, a newer aspect is that now women artists are shown more widely.

Angela de la Cruz, Untitled (1999), oil on canvas, wood, 40 x 60 x 10 cm.

JG: Can you name four or five of the artists in your show that you are particularly close to? What kind of work do they do? Am I right in assuming that with many of the artists in this exhibition, you were the first to show them?

EW: Carolee Schneemann, a pioneer in performance and video art, exclusively worked with my gallery in the 1990’s. She just received the Golden Lion from the Biennale Arte 2017, Venice.

I curated Angela de la Cruz’ first solo show in New York with the John Weber Gallery in 2000. The artist was nominated for the Turner Prize in 2010, shown internationally in museums and is now represented by Lisson gallery. Victoria Civera Redondo was prominently shown by curator Dan Cameron at the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid in the show “Cocido y Crudo” (“Cooked and Raw”) in 1994/1995. I took over this exhibition in my gallery right after, and am now showing also her talented daughter Vicky Usle. These artists are part of a very art gifted family, the father being artist Juan Usle, who was in a group show titled “Couples” in the 1990s in my SOHO gallery with his wife Victoria Civera Redondo.

JG: How hard is it to maintain a personal relationship with the artists, who work with you on a professional and financial level? What is the key to good relations between art professionals like yourself and the artists you show?

EW: Outside of the gallery, which I more regard as a Project Space, my activity includes a lot of curatorial work, as is evidenced in the upcoming exhibition “Body and Soul: Performance Art Past and Present”at the Biennale Arte 2017 in Venice. In this exhibition I work among others with Carolee Schneemann and Nicola L. Schneemann is now represented by PPOW and Galerie Lelong, but we have maintained a close relationship, and the artist is always open to my suggestions as curator. I have always followed the artists I exhibited, even if they have gone on to work with other galleries

Lydia Dona, “Cores in Contrast”, 2017, 30″ x 30″, oil, acrylic, metallic paint, enamel paint, laminated iron oxide on canvas.

JG: How do you find new artists to exhibit? Are you optimistic about the current crop of artists under forty? Can you name some of these artists?

EW: There will always be good artists of a younger generation, as Vicky Usle who was in my Anniversary Show “Silver Lining” recently, or Willa Schwabsky, the very young daughter of critic Barry Schwabsky and artist Carol Szymanski, whom I showed for many years.

JG: The support of collectors devoted to works that cost a smaller amount of money has dwindled extensively, without quite dying out. How do you confront the practical problem of selling very good, but underknown art? Are most of your collectors from America or Europe and Asia?

EW: There are collectors who are looking at emerging artists at lower prices. These are the intelligent ones, for if you turn around twice, the work has gone up considerably in value. My collectors are from around the globe. It is, of course, more difficult for a gallery to show emerging art, as the gallery expenses are high. Nowadays it is more difficult for young unknown artists to be shown in a gallery. Mostly they start in group shows.

JG:  Can you see a difference anymore between art coming from different nations? Or are we being herded, whether we want to or not, into becoming a mono-culture, whose efforts no one can identify nationally or racially any longer?

EW: I believe that a good artist always taps into her/his roots. Impossible not to talk about gender, race, politics, private and public issues today!

JG:  You travel a considerable amount. Are you finding interesting art in Europe or Asia? Or is everything pretty much the same all over the world? The diversity of “Silver Lining” is quite remarkable in its catholic acceptance of different styles. Is international pluralism still valid or has it become old hat?

EW: I do find interesting art in international Biennales, art fairs, museum shows, galleries, and artists’ studios.

In “Siver Lining” I show the artists I have given solo shows to in the past. So, of course, there is a big diversity. In all other of my curated shows there would be a line or a theme that connects the artists, as happened in my “Abstraction Revisited” at the Chelsea Art Museum, or the art collection of Henry Buhl, which I traveled to museums in Asia with the theme of “Speaking with Hands.”

JG: Do you prefer group shows to solo shows? Or is it the other way around? How do you feel about the journalistic coverage of your exhibitions? You are obviously a commercial gallery, but do you ever get government support in some way for the benefit of your artists and for the ability to continue your program?

EW: I have given many solo as well as group shows. All my shows are well covered by renowned art critics. Rarely do I get government support! Only the Austrian government has supported me—twice in an exhibition in my gallery with Austrian artists.

Vicky Uslé, Nesos Abyss (2015), oil on canvas, 80” x 60”.

JG: How do you work out the pricing of your artworks? Do you enter into a conversation with the artist, or do you take on the responsibility of the pricing yourself. What is the rough spectrum—the high end and the low—of the cost of your works generally?

EW: Pricing of the art works depends of the stage of the career of an artist, in how many shows he/she was included in museums and foundations, the international reputation that has been achieved, etc. I would always discuss the pricing with the artist.

JG: When your lease runs out in Chelsea, do you intend to remain in that neighborhood—or are you thinking about moving elsewere? Does the Lower East Side or Brooklyn’s Bushwick attract you?

I like Chelsea, and I have a very good rapport with the management of my gallery building.

Carolee Schneemann, Portrait Partials (1970), photographic grid
33” x 33”, AP 1, courtesy collection A.Beaugendre.

JG: Who are some of the major artists working today? Both in New York and outside the city. Have you shown any of them?

EW: See answer to question number 5. I also showed in the 1990s, among others, Mariko Mori, Doug Aitken, and Lisa Yuskavage; and about ten years ago, Marina Abramovic, Carolee Schneemann and Adrian Piper in a show tilted “Corporeal” at Photo Espana in Madrid. In 2001 I curated a show “A Salon for the 21st Century” at John Weber Gallery, Chelsea, as one of the first exhibitions to show architects and designers with artists influenced by architecture and design (among others Andrea Zittel, Marcel Wanders, Marc Newson, Steven Holl, Philippe Starck).

JG: Does your taste tend to follow current trends, or do you like to establish a connection with the past in your shows? America is fixated on putting out the absolutely new—do you agree with this stance or not. Finally, what do you want to do in the future?

EW: I have been always considered a forerunner, and take considerable risks by showing artists that are not internationally known or established as yet. Many of the ones I showed ten or twenty years ago are very well known internationally now. In the future I would like to even more concentrate on my curatorial career. There is a big trend now to rediscover artists coming out of the 1960s to the ‘80s, who previously did not receive the recognition they deserve!

 

Interview by Jonathan Goodman

Photographs provided by the gallery

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