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Off the Beaten Track: an interview with Gallerist Ivy Brown

Ivy Brown established her New York City-based gallery in 2001 with the vision of representing and exhibiting contemporary art of all mediums. She has an educational background in fine art sculpture and art therapy as well as over twenty-two years’ worth of experience in marketing and commercial services. www.ivybrowngallery.org 

Housed in the unlikely Meatpacking District, Ivy Brown Gallery was founded as a community space dedicated to spirited creative expression. Committed to foregrounding the relationship between art and humanity, Ivy curates thought-provoking private and public exhibitions throughout the city. Bringing together emerging and established practitioners from around the globe, the gallery prides itself in being the nucleus of many enduring friendships among creatives. 

Services offered include: residential and corporate consulting, commissioned site-specific artwork, curating public and private projects, worldwide shipping and venue hire. 

The gallery stages exhibition programs, events, and pop-up gallery exhibits.

Stephanie Yeap spoke with Ivy Brown via video call between London and New York City…

1. Describe your business in 5 words: Creative, rewarding, challenging, inspiring, and never-ending! 

2. What inspired you to pursue this career?

Actually, I didn’t intend on having this career and running a gallery. Instead, this was what my previous career had morphed into. I was initially a photography agent and stylist, dealing with sets, hair and makeup. So I had a rep agency and worked in fashion, advertising and music a lot of the time. This was meant to be a creative playground for those artists. However, as that industry changed, the art world became more relevant for me and I slowly moved into that direction. 

3. What’s the most wonderful thing about the profession?  

Working with artists is definitely the most rewarding.

4. And let’s get real… What’s the most challenging aspect of the profession? 

Sales and social responsibilities. With the latter, you’re meant to be out at openings and constantly meeting people and making contacts, which can be really exhausting on top of everything you’re doing. Sales are an obvious challenge because you want all the artists you represent to make a living and you want to do so as well. 

Being based in the Meatpacking District makes things a little harder because we aren’t in a traditional gallery area. I live and have my office here too. I turned what were my living and dining rooms into a gallery, and made it an extension of how I live and work. Financially speaking, it’s also less of a burden than taking on a second rent.

However, since we’re not in a traditional gallery neighbourhood, there are ups and downs. The Whitney is now 3 blocks away, and it’s hard to say if that’s helped me because people are mostly become to the area just to see that, and maybe the Chelsea Market or the High Line. We offset this through having events and inviting people specifically, and not expecting that we’re going to get a lot of walk-ins.

5. What’s the best piece of professional advice you’ve been given? 

The best piece of professional advice given to me was from AWAD members, actually. It was mainly about joining various online sales platforms, such as Artsy and 1stdibs. I really did not know how important that was because I hadn’t worked for another gallery before or known any other gallerists. Doing that was a tremendous help to me and my sales. 

6. What do you now say to someone who is just starting out? (Maybe it’s that one thing you wish someone had told you!) 

Stay organised! It’s really important. I’d also say to someone just starting out in the industry the same thing I’d tell an artist, which is to find your own visual voice. Whether you’re a curator or gallerist, you have to know where your passion is, what it is that you like, and be able to focus on that. Understanding your aesthetic is key. 

For example, my current intern asked me, how do you choose an artist? Well, it’s really what I like! I know the artists are from all over the map and different types of media, but the consistent thing for me is that I like works that are off-beat and that I’m able to relate to and feel passionate about. 

7. What challenge is the industry facing that art dealers need to address?  

The art industry, like many others, is really an ever-changing marketplace. You know, it’s constantly in flux and there are so many new ways people are approaching in the art world, all of which directly affects running a traditional gallery. It’s very expensive to participate in fairs because on top of paying for the booth, you have to pay for accommodation, shipping, and insurance. Most importantly, you have to stand out to buyers too. 

Secondly, there’s a lot of pressure to stay on top of the different ways the market is organising itself. There are so many various configurations in the industry that challenge the traditional gallerist and curator now, such as artist-run co-operations or artists running their own pop-ups and fairs, so it’s definitely important to know what’s going on around you. 

8. If you had to be one work of art, what would you be – and why? 

Mobile c.1932 Alexander Calder 1898-1976 Lent from a private collection 1992 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/L01686

Mobile (1932) by Alexander Calder (1898-1976). Image from http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/L01686

The first thing that came to mind was an Alexander Calder mobile. He makes these large mobiles that move with the air, and I love the clean lines, the playfulness, and sheer mobility of them. 

9. What do you personally believe are the best advantages of being part of an association like AWAD, and how have you benefited? 

I would absolutely say the support and collaboration. Being able to talk to other professionals in a similar position, to learn what other members are doing and understand that certain problems aren’t solely affecting you, is helpful. We’ve done shows with each other, and there’s been a lot of crossover in showing artists from other member’s gallery. We’ve really been able to collaborate with and help one other. 

10. How can you make the most out of being a member of a professional network? 

I’d say to really get to know the other members and participate in the organisation as a whole. For example, if you’re interested in a certain topic and know a speaker, you can suggest to bring them in for the monthly AWAD lectures. Everyone works on different projects all the time and it’s really wonderful when members pitch in and help out with the programme. 

www.ivybrowngallery.org // artsy //  1stdibs.com // 

Instagram @ivyjeannebrown // Facebook @ivybrowngallery  // Twitter @ivyjeannebrown

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