Business is only part of our business
Pasatiempo: How did Launch Projects come about? Cyndi Conn: I found for myself that the gallery model didn’t provide enough of the art historical and educational meat that I really craved and is the reason I like art and like to talk about art. When Ben and I decided to try something new, we talked more about what we didn’t want than what we did want. It helped us define what about these different arts organizations was missing and try to create a business that addressed all those pieces that we felt weren’t as strong in the gallery system, in the nonprofit system, and in the museum system. What we’re coming up with is a very small group of about seven to 10 artists we have known for two to eight years. I’ve worked with them on shows and really followed their careers. These are the Launch artists.
What we do at Launch is not only sell art, but we get the artists into exhibitions, we help them find grants, we help them find residencies, we help place them in other galleries around the world. We just placed one of our artists in galleries in Rome and Venice. We felt that a longer term, broader approach with a smaller group of artists is a better fit with what we want to do in terms of educating and promoting a group of artists more as a concept than by the individual works of art they create. Pasa: Are you acting as artists’ agents in promoting this handful of artists? Ben Lincoln: Most galleries throughout time had relationships with artists where they represent the artist. Many galleries impose exclusivity on their artists, and they can’t work with anybody else. Some galleries want global exclusivity; some restrict it just to the United States. We’ve taken on artists from Colorado and New Mexico, and we want to place them in L.A., in New York, in Texas, in Chicago, Italy, London, and wherever else they could be. For most galleries, I believe, the premise of a representation agreement is to act as an Launch Projects, with its atypical approach to the art market, has the feel of a labor of love. Its proprietors, Cyndi Conn and Ben Lincoln, began Launch Projects as a Web-based business providing consulting and curatorial services to collectors and artists, and the business has grown to include a gallery space.
Conn, former director of Evo Gallery and former curator at the Center for Contemporary Arts, and Lincoln, a former CCA board member, had similar ideas about artist representation that they felt were missing from local galleries. Taking on a handful of artists— including Rita Bard, Eric Tillinghast, Zoe Danae Falliers, Clayton Porter, and Jordan West — they began an endeavor designed to be artist-based rather than primarily about sales.
The gallery’s new site-specific installation, Tree of Life (Antimicrobial) by Lucrecia Troncoso, is on view by appointment as of Friday, Feb. 12. The gallery is also exhibiting new work by Bard, Falliers, West, Willy Richardson, and Daniel Borins and Jennifer Marman. Pasatiempo met with Conn and Lincoln in their new space on Palace Avenue. agent, to really help them. What we found, though, is that the gallery model has become a very commercial, money-making endeavor. The artist’s cause has been lost somewhere in the process. Pasa: Do galleries focus too much on the bottom line? Conn: I think that, ironically, the bottom line even gets lost in terms of collaboration. The idea of holding to your stable of artists, guarding how their careers progress — in theory I understand why that ends up being how a gallery operates. But in practice, we found that the less we guard that, it takes trust between the artists and us. Lincoln: It makes for less profit early on, for the short run. Conn: The idea of holding to an artist, keeping them in Santa Fe and trying to sell them to New York but not having a New York gallery is not realistic. This is not a new model in terms of collaboration. There are many well-known galleries where part of their mission is collaboration and finding sister galleries. For us, it’s much more about having this inherent faith in each other. When we sign a contract with an artist, it’s as much what we will do for them as their faith in us. It’s a much deeper commitment. Pasa: Artists work in a context that often references movements or art from the past. What’s missing from galleries that do not have the art-historical background that Launch Projects has? Conn: I think that to have an art-history background as a curator is just a different approach than being a business person who opens a gallery. There’s no better or worse,
but what we saw happening in the ’ 40s and ’ 50s, they were really art historians, curators, and artists opening galleries. Once the art world started taking off, post-WorldWar II, business people started becoming gallerists, and the entire model changed. Boards changed and museum systems changed all based on that. For us, it’s so much more about how do these artists that we select fit into a larger framework of art history. Pasa: You started Launch Projects as aWeb-based business. Was it your intention to eventually acquire a gallery space? Conn: No. We started on the Web with, basically, three verticals of clients: artists who needed help promoting their work; collectors who wanted help building and managing their collections; then the third element is the educational element, where we would be hired out to give talks and lectures to help educate people about art. We were operating in these three different ways, and we realized that we needed an office. As we were looking for offices, this place became available. We realized that to physically have art and have exhibitions was invaluable to us. You need to look at art to appreciate it. For the Lucrecia Troncoso installation, you need a space. Pasa: Has it been challenging to start a business in these difficult times? Conn: Because of the collectors we’ve known throughout the years and the artists we’ve worked with, it became exciting. I think Santa Fe audiences were eager for something a little bit different. I don’t think people want to buy things spur of the moment just to have art on their walls anymore. They want to make really intelligent choices. I think this approach really fits that slowing down in our economy. Pasa: Is the economy a reason for not holding big public openings? Conn: Parties are fun, but at the end of the day we all agree that nobody really looks at the art, and you’re not making any really profound connection with the artists. For us to have much smaller events and encourage people to call us and come in and talk to us is a different approach. I think the idea of the art world as one big glamorous party is becoming less and less relevant. Lincoln: But there are people who want to buy art, who have the money to buy art, but it hasn’t become part of their life yet. Cyndi brings such an intellectual sincerity to art. People respect that and trust it. The brief success we’ve had since we’ve opened can be attributed to the faith that people have in the intellect. Everyone may not agree on the imagery, but they trust the endeavor.
Launch Projects founders Cyndi Conn and Ben Lincoln; below, the gallerists with artist Clayton Porter
Lucrecia Troncoso: Nasturtium, 2006, cellulose cleaning sponges, wire, and glue dimensions variable