Sil­ver­lens’ Isa Lorenzo and Rachel Rillo re­build an old pas­sion on new ground


“It’s im­por­tant for peo­ple to imag­ine how it feels to live with art. Be­cause of the larger spa­ces in gal­leries, art isn’t nec­es­sar­ily just dis­played on the walls any­more. It’s be­come an ex­pe­ri­ence.” - RACHEL RILLO

Nav­i­gat­ing the sprawl­ing new space of Sil­ver­lens feels like an in­tru­sion. The first few steps past the gallery’s slid­ing doors bring un­ease, with art dis­played as if it were poised to con­sume you. Con­ver­sa­tions can be heard from a room to your left, but they’re muf­fled enough to com­pel you to en­ter the gallery fur­ther. As you look at the art­works, there’s some­thing cu­ri­ously fa­mil­iar about how they are framed against the white walls and how the artists’ names re­sound. You know you’ve been here be­fore, and yet you also haven’t.

The new place that Sil­ver­lens gal­lerists Isa Lorenzo and Rachel Rillo now call home along Pa­song Tamo Ex­ten­sion is a 1,500 sq. m. con­verted ware­house, re­fur­bished with a phone-con­trolled lights sys­tem. A stone’s throw away from the gallery’s old ad­dress, the new­ness of the space doesn’t last long; nos­tal­gia lingers in ev­ery nook and cranny, re­mind­ing us why Sil­ver­lens, one of the coun­try’s lead­ing con­tem­po­rary gal­leries for the past 10 years, is still here.

“I feel like I’m still learn­ing,” Lorenzo says about the last decade. “When I jumped into this blindly [years ago], I didn’t know any­thing about art; I just knew I liked art. I knew how I wanted to be treated as an artist and as a client. What I’m learn­ing now is that when you want some­thing, you have to ask for it. You have to pur­sue it.”

The past few years have been a steady pur­suit of op­por­tu­ni­ties and re­la­tion­ships with their res­i­dent artists. Apart from help­ing le­git­imize pho­tog­ra­phy as fine art, Sil­ver­lens has been cru­cial in build­ing a com­mu­nity so un­like the art world cliques present be­fore. The ties that Lorenzo and Rillo have es­tab­lished made their first show in their new set-up pos­si­ble, with Translación bring­ing to­gether old and new works by artists who have worked with the gallery.

“It’s fun be­ing able to give an artist a stage, a plat­form,” Rillo says. “As part­ners in this, we al­ways ask our­selves, ‘Is it still fun? Do we still like what we’re do­ing? Is it still giv­ing us much ex­cite­ment?’ Though it’s be­com­ing more about work, the an­swer has been yes—many times. The com­mit­ment to build this space was a big yes, but it was also just the scari­est.”

Lorenzo and Rillo have gone through the most ter­ri­fy­ing night­mare a gal­lerist could have. On July 13 last year, an elec­tri­cal fire burned down 217 works of art in their old ware­house. “When that hap­pened, there was a lot of self-doubt,” Lorenzo ad­mits. “It was a real, ‘ I don’t want to do this [any­more].’ It was a death—we lost ev­ery­thing. That was a huge mo­ment.”

“She was dev­as­tated,” Rillo adds, “But I was also like, ‘ This is it. This is the adult step. Do we keep at it or do we chicken out?’” The re­sult of tak­ing the brave step for­ward is this: a gallery that stays faith­ful to its vi­sion of ir­rev­er­ent art for 10 years and count­ing.

To­day, it isn’t enough for the two to make peo­ple see art. “It’s im­por­tant for peo­ple to imag­ine how it feels to live with art,” Rillo ex­plains about their new space’s de­sign. “Be­cause of the larger spa­ces in gal­leries, art isn’t nec­es­sar­ily just dis­played on the walls any­more. It’s be­come an ex­pe­ri­ence.”

This isn’t also the time for artists to slow down. “My doubt has to do with look­ing at artists who think they’re not as good as they think they are. I doubt for them, be­cause they don’t know it yet, that be­ing an artist is [the] best thing for them,” says Lorenzo.

Now that the art scene is get­ting big­ger, how “new” should artists be think­ing re­gard­ing what they pro­duce? “There’s noth­ing fresh and new,” Rillo states. “Ev­ery­thing’s on­line now so I don’t look for ‘new’ that way. Maybe a new ex­pe­ri­ence? Yeah. It’s the new feel­ing when you do some­thing.” Like how the new Sil­ver­lens wel­comes you: there’s enough nov­elty to draw you in, with the com­fort­ing ghost of fa­mil­iar­ity keep­ing step be­side you. •

“The au­di­ence is not just peo­ple who buy art. It’s stu­dents, artists, peo­ple who don’t re­ally buy art but want to ex­pe­ri­ence it.” - ISA LORENZO

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