Busi­ness is only part of our busi­ness

Pasatiempo - - Pasa Reviews - Michael Abatemarco For The New Mex­i­can

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

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