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Believing in Art: an interview with Adah Rose Bitterbaum, Founder of Adah Rose Gallery

Adah Rose Bitterbaum founded her eponymous gallery in 2011 with the intention of promoting artists living in the United States. She holds a BA in History from Pomona College and a Masters from the Harvard School of Public Health. Prior to establishing her brand, she was the Executive Director of Studio Gallery in Washington D.C., and was named a Juror for Emulsion, the East City Art Regional Juried Show, in 2015.

Based in the Metro D.C. area, Adah Rose Gallery is committed to showcasing artists from the local community and beyond through a programme of rotating exhibits and talks. The business showcases contemporary works from a variety of mediums, such as paintings, drawings, sculpture, installation, photography and mixed media. Keen to foster new relationships between emerging practitioners and new audiences, the business can arrange for both first-time buyers and seasoned collectors to visit artists’ studios in D.C., Los Angeles, and New York. 

The gallery hosts exhibitions, salons, soirees, Vernissages, music and literary events. The gallery hosts pop-ups in D.C., and regularly takes part in art fairs in New York, Miami, Dallas, and San Francisco. 

Services offered include curating and art consulting.

Stephanie Yeap spoke with Adah via video call between London and Washington D.C….

  1. 1. Describe your business in 5 words:

Contemporary art gallery outside D.C.! 

2. What inspired you to pursue this career?

I’ve always loved art and followed the market closely. I grew up in Europe and my parents took us to museums all the time, occasionally galleries. When I was in college, I was really exposed to Renaissance, Baroque, and 19th Century Art. Attending college in L.A. really opened my eyes to contemporary art, and that was so exciting. Two contemporary artists who inspired me greatly were Richard Diebenkorn and Joan Mitchell.

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

The personal relationships you get to develop are so rewarding! I love artists, they’re always interesting and intellectual. Working with them has really stretched the limits and boundaries of what I think art could be and is. On the flip side, I also really respect collectors and that’s why I have a gallery. It’s wonderful to create art and while that’s obviously the primary motivation for practitioners, it’s also really important for people to buy work and support their careers. Not everyone will buy art, so if you get together and work closely with a dedicated group of collectors, you get to bring them joy. Be it through hanging art on their wall or otherwise, I’m thrilled to play a part in enriching and enhancing their lives. 

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

Of course, it’s selling art. Although people really admire it, there are so few buyers. I always want to tell my artists that people come into the gallery and love the work but don’t necessarily want to purchase it. The challenging part is finding a group of collectors because you want to get people to support the artists and their careers. It’s just like going to concerts for musicians or heading to the theatre for playwrights and actors, artists are no exception.

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

It’s hard to value art, some people think $500 is expensive whereas people think $5000 is. Two gallerists and one collector told me to never apologise for the price of art. You tell someone the price and it’s really up to them to decide if they can or can’t afford it and ask any more questions about it. As a dealer, you provide the price but have to respect what that amount might mean to the person who’s asking.

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!)

If you’re starting out in the industry today, you have to really believe in art, artists, and collectors. You have to know you might not make a lot of money or none at all. But if you truly believe in it, then do it because your passion will really shine through. There’s so much more to owning a gallery: there are opportunities organise talks, curate and jury shows, visit artists in their studio, and hang work in a collector’s house and watch their eyes pop open. So if you love art I encourage you to go into it. However, if you’re interested in running a small business, I’d tell you to pick another industry!

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

The biggest challenge is the rise of the mega-gallery and extremely famous artists that get reported in the press. That’s great but fuels the misconception that all art is between $100,000 to $1,000,000. You can come into my gallery and buy a piece for $100 to, say, $10,000 and upwards, but there is art for everyone. There are so many artists working at outdoor art festivals where you can get art for $25 or $50, so I think the biggest hurdle is getting people in and understanding that anyone can buy art. There are many price ranges and art is much more democratic than you would think. 

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


‘Primavera’ by Sandro Botticelli. Tempera on Panel. Image from Wikidata

Botticelli’s ‘Rite of Spring’ (‘Primavera’) has really stuck with me. It’s so beautiful and I had studied it in art history books. It’s quite an old piece but I think that says something about my passion. It really just blew me away when I saw it in person in the Uffizi!

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

I’m in Washington D.C. so geographically I’m not very close to the New York chapter. I regret I can’t head up a lot because they have wonderful meetings, but there’s one particular AWAD member whom I’ve very close to and she’s the one that brought me into the fold. I’d definitely say it’s getting advice! This is a group of very wise women who have lots of experience and are willing to share that, so you get to learn so much from there. 

From going to fairs where I’ve met other AWAD members and women art dealers, I’ve realised how important it is to network and listen to the stories people tell about the industry. I also love listening to how people talk and take note of the vocabulary they use to think about and describe art because anything they say can help you appreciate a piece so much more. 

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

Obviously, it’s attending meetings and mixing with other members. From there, I believe it’s definitely getting advice and insight from them. As previously mentioned I’m in D.C. so I don’t get to go to many events. AWAD hosts tours for some of the New York art fairs, and I was able to attend Volta during Armory week with them. It was really interesting to hear from members who had booths there talk about their work and to other people. It’s great to get excited about art with them because we all need to refresh ourselves from time to time, and I become so enthusiastic when I hear other members talk about new work!

Instagram: @adah_rose_gallery // Twitter: @adahrosebitterb // Artsy: @adah-rose-gallery

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