January 2009, Interview with James Salomon

Alice Aycock, Sand/Fans, (1971/2008), (dimensions variable)
photo credit: Tim Lee, courtesy Salomon Contemporary


Hans Michaud interviews James Salomon of Salomon Contemporary and Mary Boone Gallery

Hans Michaud: What is your background? Education? Previous professions?

James Salomon: I grew up in Westhampton, Long Island. My father is French and my mother is from Quogue. I went to Boston University for film studies...it was something to do. Two weeks after graduation, I moved to Paris, where I wound up staying for four years. After a few odd jobs, I found myself in the Latin Quarter handing out resumes because I wanted to work in a bookshop, where I came across the editions boutique for Galerie Maeght on rue du Bac. At 21, I decided then that I wanted to own an art gallery. I knew that it would take a long time to get there, and wasn't sure how long exactly, but it was something that became a real interest and strong desire. I am not an artist; I thought it was more within my character to bring together ideas and idea makers. In 1998, I moved to New York, and after harassing Mary Boone for six months she let me in. It has been an incredible experience since then, and I feel privileged to work with some of the greatest artists in the world.

HM: What drew you to art in the first place?

JS: At an early age I became very interested in looking at art. My father would take me to Paris once a year, and we would go to museums together. Sometimes I would run off by myself, starting at about age 12, which had a great sense of adventure and discovery. I remember being very moved by abstraction. It was mysterious, it was powerful to me, but I had no idea why. At this point art is a necessity. Having it around me keeps me sane.

HM: How, exactly does art keeps you sane? From a subjective standpoint, in other words, describe how a span of time in your life might progress sans art.

JS: I guess without it I would use other devices to feed the brain healthily. Having a great work of art in my environment affects me in different ways, but the experience can sometimes be heightened in an engagement with the creator, an admirer,or someone who challenges it. So an artwork may be a vehicle for a shared human experience or even conduit for a friendship. Maybe it can create an enemy! I love meeting interesting and passionate people through what I do.




Lawrence Weiner -
A MEANS TO AN END
ON A PLINTH OF GRAVEL
A MEANS TO AN END
ON A PLINTH OF SALT
A MEANS TO AN END
ON A PLINTH OF SEAFROTH
,
(2006) courtesy Salomon Contemporary

HM: How do you go about the task of directing for two different galleries?

JS: At Mary Boone Gallery, I have a role in operations and sales, but I am not directly involved in programming. Although Mary is supportive of my seasonal program out East, it is completely autonomous of her gallery. My choices are mine. Mary understood how important this was to me, especially on my “home turf”. Her blessing came easy, but there’s a lot of trust and respect that comes with that. After 10 solid years, I believe that we have a very good working relationship.

HM: Do you have high hopes that this year will bring you into contact with new artists whose work challenges and inspires you? Or do you take each day as it comes?

JS: I have already laid down the groundwork for my summer program, which involves a new artist whose work I am greatly looking forward to presenting. His name is Hiroyuki Hamada, he is a Japanese artist, 40 years old, who lives and works in East Hampton. Apart from that, I invited Alice Aycock to curate a show which will include a few of her contemporaries. This is very exciting to me, as I admire her enormously. I will also be exhibiting Ned Smyth’s new sculptures in June, and Darius Yektai will have a late August through fall show in collaboration with LTMH Gallery, New York. Darius and Ned both live and work out East; we have had great experiences together from the gallery’s onset. So I am already very proud of the Summer 2009 lineup.

HM: Is the clientele for each much different in taste and buying potential, considering the different locales?

JS: Yes and No. There are collectors who I meet out East in the summer who become Mary Boone clients in the fall. Then there are collectors who buy from my shows in the summer. It's all the same to me if people are excited about procuring something interesting.


Nir Hod, Genius, (2007) 17" x 12" oil on canvas,
courtesy Salomon Contemporary

HM: From your perspective, is the business of art in any way "recession-proof"?

JS: Since Lehman Brothers went down, things changed for everybody. Nowadays, people are being very prudent… this can be a good thing, because if someone makes a commitment to purchase a work of art, then chances are a considerable amount of thought went into it.
 Opportunities may present themselves in an economic downturn as secondary market pieces will surface at more palatable prices. As well, great artists who didn’t participate in the “economic bubble” may keep their slow and steady course.
 That’s the most optimistic way I can answer the question. We’re all in this together.

HM: Who are some of your favorite artists and do your favorites also bring the gallery the most attention and sales?

JS: All the artists that I work with are my favorite. Otherwise, we wouldn't work together. For me, it's all about chemistry and trust.

HM: Is there a common aesthetic or conceptual thread between the artists that you represent at SALOMON CONTEMPORARY?

JS: The commonality is great quality work as far as I am concerned. The public will make up their mind, but I love what I show.

HM: At this time are the bulk of the art buyers coming from the U.S., Asia, Europe, or the Middle East? Also, why, in your opinion, are the bulk of the art buyers from that location?

JS: "When I hear the word culture I take out my checkbook" - Barbara Kruger
 Collecting art and art patronage has no borders. Cultural institutions are the temples for art and the wealthy help support them in one form or another. They may buy works of art to eventually donate to an institutional collection, they may underwrite construction, fund an educational program, etc. To those who give big, we love you!
 With that though, "buyers" have their own taste, which could be rooted in a multitude of social, cultural, economic, religious, or other factors. I learned very quickly with experiences in the Middle East that the general public has little interest at this moment to sign on to western contemporary art. They follow artists that come from their land. Many Asian collectors stick to Asian Contemporary art. Same goes with Indian collectors. So there can be a type of "nationalism" or tribal identity, which is what it is.
 Getting down to money issues, there are certain economies and currencies that are stronger than others. This may create a better “deal”, depending on which side you are on. So for the past few years with the Euro having an upper hand on the dollar, we have witnessed many Europeans buying artworks in America. This is typical with global consumerism in a luxury market.
 At this moment, however, it is hard to predict which groups will be doing what and for how much.

Eric Fischl, Puppeteer (1997), 51" x 18" x 18",bronze,
photo credit: Ralph Gibson, courtesy Salomon Contemporary

HM: In the last several years, there has been a comparative "surge" of new artists (entrants) into the world of contemporary art. This may have been influenced by the inflationary bubble of the early/mid-2000s. Now that the bubble has "burst" and we're undergoing a correction, are you seeing a corresponding lessening in the number of new artists/entrants in the field?

JS: I wasn't around to feel the 70's, but listened and read that artists were producing because they wanted to, and found "some way" to show it off. I think that people will be looking to tone down the razzle-dazzleness of it all for a while; some galleries will unfortunately close, and that tightens up the facility for young artists to exhibit. We may see more alternative spaces.
 We all need to eat and try to sleep well and strive to be happy. People will go on to do other things and make a living and survive differently, but they will remain artists if they stay true to themselves along the way. That goes for someone just getting out of art school to someone who has had a moment in the sun.

HM: Why a gallery outside of NYC?

JS: Salomon Contemporary was always intended to serve the East End community, which I consider my home. The area has a great art audience comprised of year-rounders and seasonal residents (of course with their droves of houseguests). My visitors are intelligent, savvy, and enjoy arriving at “the warehouse in the woods” on a Sunday afternoon. The focus is on presenting progressive ideas to that public, which includes but is not limited to art gallery exhibitions.

HM: In your opinion, among the investors who put their money into contemporary art, is the business of art investment a somewhat exclusive domain, or, overall, does it share the playing field with other investments (commodities, the bond market, stocks, venture capital, etc.)?

JS: Art is much more sexy, provocative, and thoughtful in its humanness than any other investment. But in my heart of hearts I don't consider any of this a speculative financial investment but an investment in one's mind and spirit. To each their own.


Hans Michaud is a freelance journalist in New York.
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