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InSight Artspace_Catherine Testorf selecting art for client

Beyond the White Box: an interview with Catherine Testorf, Founder and Director of InSight Artspace

Catherine Testorf is Founder and Director of InSight Artspace, a Westchester-based interactive art business established in 2018. She was previously Co-Founder of Sohotel Artspace Gallery, where she introduced international practitioners to the New York art scene. Catherine founded the business after 10 years in Switzerland’s financial industry, where she grew to appreciate art not only as an investment but also as a bridge to cultures around the world. www.insightartspace.com

InSight Artspace was founded on the mission of foregrounding the personal journeys of contemporary artists while fostering a creative and intimate dialogue around their work. The business primarily represents women artists. Bringing together practitioners, collectors and visitors, the business prides itself in ensuring accessibility to art to people from all walks of life. With bold choices to showcase at pop-up fairs and alternate venues such as restaurants and spas, InSight Artspace aims to stimulate new conversations and promote art as an essential component of life. 

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

  1. 1. Describe your business in 5 words:

The phrase “outside the white box format” really corresponds to what I currently do at InSight Artspace, my interactive gallery. And what I mean by the white box is the traditional gallery model that never changes. I believe people have to see art in different perspectives in order to enrich their lives and you can’t achieve that with the same old format.

2. What inspired you to pursue this career?

I don’t come from an art history background at all but from an investing one instead. This was originally more of a curiosity for me, and also a result of a major change in my life. I moved from Switzerland to New York City and that was what brought me to the arts. I really wanted to start on something new – be it a challenge or another way to discover yourself. That was what inspired me, combined with the fact that I took up many art classes and saw this as a way of putting it all together. It became clear to me that I could take my professional background in finance and combine that with a passion. 

Another changing point was when I met someone who asked me to work for him at an established gallery. While I did that for a while and it didn’t work out, that pushed me to open my own business. Before that, I was already doing international shows for artists in New York and knew how difficult it was to sell yourself in this market, as there’s a lot of competition. Considering that, I’ve always done my best to help practitioners as I had a lot of contacts in the arts. At that point, everything seemed very clear and that was when I started my first art business. 

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

It’s really about having buyers who then go on to become collectors. It’s also great to see artists achieve their goals and go where they want to go. I primarily represent women artists, and that was a decision I made after being in the business for 6 years and working with different practitioners. They’re unrepresented in many ways, so I work hard to connect them with new audiences. That’s one of the reasons I chose to work outside the traditional white box format – it’s easier to engage people and ensure that they build relationships with the artists and their careers. 

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

It’s really challenging to make decisions surrounding art fairs. Your passions and personal interests might differ from what the audience is looking for, so you really have to disconnect from that sometimes. At the end of the day, you also have to be aware that all of this is business, and that if have to sell if not you literally can’t afford to follow your dreams. If you don’t have sales, you simply can’t reinvest in your business – that’s a link you can’t avoid. Many galleries don’t survive simply because they see themselves as passion projects rather than businesses. People think it’s great that I run a gallery and that I enjoy what I do, but at the end of the day, it’s a business that’s really difficult to be successful at. 

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

I never really had a mentor who told me what to do, but I believe you need to have a strong business model and be clear about what you’re doing. Due to the competition, you need to be able to distinguish yourself. I’ve had multiple people who’ve supported me and opened doors for me, and they helped me understand how important it is to be different.

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!)

Nobody really told me how difficult it would be to sell art. I thought I could just start my business and grow because I had passion and knew exactly what I wanted. From my experience, I think you need to start already having a base of collectors and a strong business model. Additionally, you need to get people to remember what you have done. It’s a challenge but you need to stick to your business model all the time. You need to reflect every couple of months and think about if it’s suitable for what you’re doing. Of course, don’t continue if your model isn’t working.

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

The challenge lies in managing the online market alongside regular sales. Now people buy and consume art in different ways, but it’s also not enough to have an online business. I believe people are looking for something more these days: they want to experience the art, understand what they buy and for which reasons. Online businesses are tough as it allows buyers to contact artists directly when galleries are also spending a lot of energy and money supporting these artists. It’s a big problem now, especially for emerging galleries. 

On the other hand, things are getting more difficult for physical galleries. You can’t just keep relying on traditional methods; you need to think about the future. I used to have a physical gallery but I don’t miss it. It’s much more interesting and challenging if you move constantly, and you also target new audiences that way. Lots of flexibility is required these days. 

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

6 Third Eye Chakra

‘Third Eye Chakra’ by Dutch-Carribean artist Elisa Lejuez, whom Catherine represents.

It’s hard to pick just one because I truly love art!  However, I have a very strong interest in Carribean art and love it when works have meaning. I love art that’s linked to diversity and identity, and artists from the region have so much energy. They really share their DNA and at the same time it’s like a crossroads of different cultures – it’s a real passion for me. 

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

It’s important to feel and be supported, especially as an art dealer because it’s a very lonely job. Unless you work for a larger gallery and have a team, very often businesses are run by one or two people. It’s great to be a part of an association because you are able to get advice, be informed about new technology, and network with others. You get to learn constantly as well, so you can always do better. 

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

Use the platform to collaborate, and most importantly, to increase your presence in the market. As a New Yorker, an association with international reach allows me to work together with a member in say, Hong Kong and show my artists’ works there. Collaborating with others is a good business concept and I think associations really open doors for me worldwide. If you take the time, you can connect with people from all over. 

www.insightartspace.com

Instagram: @insightartspace

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