The Art Assassin

a nonfiction novel by Albert Wang

Chapter 15: ASSASSINATION: David Andrew Frey, Owner and Curator of culturehall

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Photograph of David Andrew Frey. Courtesy of David Andrew Frey.
Screenshot of culturehall website using Screengrab!. Courtesy of culturehall.

The website culturehall has become one of the foremost meeting places where artists can meet and socialize online within a curated environment. As a “social space” for emerging and mid-career artists, culturehall’s innovative presentation of artists’ portfolios have brought accolades from critics who have been looking for the artists who are exploring the limits of contemporary art.

The founder, David Andrew Frey, is also an experienced conceptual artist who understood the necessity for having an online venue where highly experimental and often non-commercial artwork could be presented to the general public. The website can be seen also as artwork. From its inception in June 2008, the website has expanded into become a critical success while the team expanded to include a new assistant named Tema Stauffer who is a top-notch photographer represented by Daniel Cooney Fine Art in New York. culturehall is based out of Long Island City, which allows the existence of this wonderful playground where artists can meet and join forces. In fact, David B. Smith and I met recently through this resource and are planning some impending collaboration work.

If you have any questions about culturehall, feel free to contact the website at (917) 683-2671 or at help@culturehall.com.

qi peng: How would you describe your curating style and underlying philosophy and approach to how your audience and collectors respond to the artwork that you feature on culturehall? Do you believe that art must serve as a counterpoint to the stereotypes and hackneyed ideas that the everyday media, especially through internet ads and televisions, presents? What is the controversial or provocative artist’s portfolios that you have presented online and how did the audience respond to the artwork being featured?

David Andrew Frey: There are a few facets to the curatorial process regarding culturehall.  Much of this practice is striking a balance between my personal tastes and the mission of culturehall, which intends to serve a larger audience.  My own interests tend to be reductive and more about purity but I do enjoy a broad spectrum of work.

Much of what goes on in the art world does not appear to be of interest to the general media and tends to exist in its own continuum (at least here in the US.)  The overheated art market of the past few years did draw more media attention, but unfortunately that conversation was primarily about money.  And increasingly I think artists are pulling away from the topic of “The Media”.  So drawing up a stereotype today of an artist is rather hard. The only example that comes to mind is Julianne Moore’s character flying across the room in The Big Lebowski.  And I’m not sure how accessible that stereotype is to the general public.

qi peng: Being one of the foremost curators of an online gallery called culturehall, what is the full story behind its creation and inception as a full-fledged website? What were some of the challenges that you had to face from traditional galleries, whose directors tend to dismiss online galleries as being not an effective gatekeeper for good quality art?

David Andrew Frey: The idea for culturehall started after I had finished my studies in Chicago and moved to DC in 2000.  I was looking for a suitable online resource for presenting my work and could not find one.  At that point only a few portfolio communities existed on the web and in general they did not serve professional artists.  So I decided that I would build the online contemporary art community that I had been looking for.  At that point I knew nothing about web publishing and spent the following 6 years working in web development until I knew enough to put the project together.

I would love to dish about epic wrestles that culturehall has had with traditional galleries but so far there has not been any drama. For the most part galleries and culturehall serve different roles.  While both bring art to the public, building an online community is the focus of culturehall.

qi peng: As an artist who grew up in Oklahoma, went to art schools in SCAD and University of Illinois at Chicago, and live in Long Island City with your spouse to work full-time on this venture, what were some of your most fulfilling experiences working for galleries and other art-related projects before culturehall existed?

David Andrew Frey: I have worked for a couple of galleries during my studies but my most fulfilling art related experiences were teaching painting to teens for the City of Savannah and giving private lessons in drawing and painting after finishing up at SCAD.

qi peng: What is the story behind its name?

David Andrew Frey: Lots of coffee and having lived in Berlin.

qi peng: Culturehall receives many submissions via its website from all types of artists who try to become part of its network. What range of stuff have you received and taken a hard glance at? What things do you look for within the submitted photos? Does the resume influence your decision in any way?

David Andrew Frey: The applications we receive are varied and come from all over the world.  Culturehall serves early to mid-career artists, so unfortunately what is submitted for review is not always compatible with the community.  At first glance some work obviously does not fit, but it generally takes more research than just looking at the submitted images to come to a decision. Often I look around the web for more information about applicants.  Resume generally does not have much bearing on this decision.

qi peng: Considering that looking at photographs online on a computer is pretty different than doing the traditional studio visit to an artist’s home, what are the main differences between both approaches? Do you feel that you can do a fairly solid job of curating based on this approach? What are some examples of the talents that are upcoming artists who will make it to the larger art market someday?

David Andrew Frey: I agree that viewing content online vs. meeting the artist and experiencing the actual work are quite different.  For what culturehall is trying to accomplish I think the online review method is appropriate.  Regarding talent, I would stand behind the work that is featured on the culturehall homepage and in the Feature Issue Archive.

qi peng: You run a featured issue called “featured work from the community” which highlights some of the rising stars who are relatively unknown within the larger art community, what criteria do you use to determine who gets featured during the miniature exhibition? Do you feel that it’s difficult to decide since there are so many wonderful works that would be left out? In what ways do you think that approach be more democratic than some of the more traditional curated exhibitions in physical spaces?

David Andrew Frey: I simply present the works that I find most intriguing.  Each group has an idea or thought that holds the set together in some larger way and often it is a process to finalize a “Feature Issue”.

I do think about democratized systems related to curating, collecting and viewing but this particular action is not involved in that conversation for me.

qi peng: What are some of your upcoming plans for developing culturehall into a more prominent art venue, a place where other curators and gallery directors can mine for new talent to show in ambitious projects, etc.?

David Andrew Frey: There are a lot of ideas in the ether but nothing concrete at the moment.

qi peng: With the sponsorship of the Fountain Art Fair, how has this partnership benefited your online venture as well as the “underground” art fair that happens in New York City and Miami each year? Any plans for culturehall to expand into new directions that you dream of?

David Andrew Frey: David Kesting and John Leo have been very proactive in putting together a truly authentic alternative venue.  Fountain NY 09 at Pier 66 turned out to be a great space for the event and I’m looking forward to culturehall being involved with Fountain in the future.

qi peng: Would you like to share your favorite music, movie, objects, artists, recent exhibitions, galleries, televisions shows, sports, or other cultural artifacts with fans of your work? What things do you enjoy about the things that you have chosen as your favorites? Are there any restaurants or hangouts around New York that you wish to recommend us?

David Andrew Frey: I really enjoyed the Kippenberger retrospective at MOCA. The show felt very complete.  Some of the combinations of works as installations was a bit confusing, but this was definitely the best show I’ve seen at MOCA in quite awhile.  I also really enjoyed Volta NY this year.  While it is quite a gamble for galleries, the solo show format really makes the fair into something much more interesting than the usual cubbies of product.

I have a few recommendations for New York:

Menchanko Tei (Midtown) – This ramen joint is a great place to stop and recharge after a visit to MoMA.  I think the 55th street location is a little better than the Grand Central location but they are both great.

LIC Bar (Hunters Point / Long Island City) – The last bar on the Hunters Point stretch of Vernon Boulevard. Great atmosphere, a nice selection of English and Irish beers and the backyard is a perfect place to enjoy a nice afternoon or evening.

Peter Pan Bakery (Greenpoint) – It is probably a good thing that I don’t live closer to this establishment. I’m not a big doughnut fan but these are amazing.

qi peng: With culturehall being able to feature a wide variety of genres from video art to large-scale installation projects to traditional graphite drawings, do you think that other directors from galleries that have a physical location or large non-profit venues will appreciate the the diversity of the international art world that you feature? What are some of the challenges of an online artist registry/gallery to get more respect from those who prefer to view artwork physically in a white box gallery space?

David Andrew Frey: In general I think it is of value to have a broad representation of work.  One of the advantages of an online environment is the ability to present a larger quantity of work.

The issue of parity between the virtual and the physical experience of art is really not my interest right now.  While I am obviously very excited about what can be done with the Internet as a medium, for most artwork the optimal experience will continue to be physical for a long time.

qi peng: What is your assessment of curated online gallery that market and sell the work of emerging artists such as Collegeartonline (CAO) or Ugallery? Do you have any advice for young artists who are finishing up their BFA or MFA degree and working on finding opportunities to share and exhibit their new works?

David Andrew Frey: The past two years have given rise to a new and more interesting crop of online services for artists.  CAO and Ugallery continue to evolve and I think for some artists these will be great resources.

My only advice for anyone who is attempting to promote work is very simple.  Have professional documentation of your work and be professional and consistent in the way you present yourself across all mediums.

qi peng: With the recent downturn within the overall economy, do you feel that culturehall will have an advantage and stronger financial leverage to work on projects that would be too risky or expensive for the traditional galleries to embark on?

David Andrew Frey: The rigor of most galleries is consuming enough that there is a good chance that their focus will remain where it currently is.

qi peng: Any plans for culturehall to host physical exhibitions of artwork in experimental places such as Artists Space, Cue Art Foundation, or Rental Gallery (Lower East Side) that allow for third party venues to feature selected work?

David Andrew Frey: I am interested in being involved with physical exhibitions but at this point culturehall is not actively seeking these opportunities.

qi peng: With an element of playfulness within the concept of culturehall as a repository of wonderful works, is there a literary or cinematic structure to the underlying architecture of the website and its driving concept?

David Andrew Frey: The web has an amazing ability to stitch together complicated and disparate relationships.   Art definitely holds a variety of complex relationships and culturehall is a tool for this exploration.

qi peng: In what ways do you hope that culturehall can change the way that the game of how artists get recognized is played through networking and altering the dynamics of the curator-collector-artist relationship triangle?

David Andrew Frey: I hope it opens up opportunities for everyone involved in that model.  I also hope culturehall can serve the greater public by presenting an alternative way of exploring contemporary art.

qi peng: With the recession in place within the New York art world, what are some of the golden opportunities that you are hoping to pursue during this difficult time? Do you think that you can present something which is so innovative that it would be nearly impossible to execute in other venues?

David Andrew Frey: The next 12-18 months look to be extremely difficult for everyone in New York.  There have already been a spate of gallery closings and the expectation is for many more.  With the various budget shortfalls (both governmental and corporate) it is going to be a difficult time to get people to invest in the arts.

qi peng: What is your favorite online resources and art magazines or journals for checking out the latest art news scoop? Do you have any favorite tales from culturehall you wish to share with your fans and column readers here? What are some hobbies that you enjoy outside of your work in the gallery? How does culturehall interact with its audience in the internet world? Do you feel that selling artwork will be more aligned with Internet-based sales or the white-box gallery physical setting?

David Andrew Frey: Producing culturehall has been all consuming and I have not been seeing and reading about art as much as I would like.  After spending a lot of time in front of a computer I just enjoy exploring New York City.  The parks are great, especially Socrates Sculpture Park.  Pretty excited about the first section of the Highline, which is due to open this summer.  An elevated park in the city should be pretty great.

qi peng: Do you have any favorite artists, music, movies, books, sports, and other cultural artifacts that you wish to share with fans of the website or readers here? What are the reasons for choosing those things?

David Andrew Frey: Maybe it is the economy but I’ve been getting into zombie flicks lately.  It’s pretty amusing how the current crop films like “28 Days Later” refuse to acknowledge that they are zombie flicks.

qi peng: What would you consider to be your crowning success of culturehall so far? What makes you proud of that achievement and how would you plan to continue it? What can artists do to help out each other?

David Andrew Frey: I have been most pleased with the high level of work that is being shown on culturehall and I would like to encourage more discourse between artists.

qi peng: Is there anything else that you would like to share with culturehall fans and the column readers here before we leave?

David Andrew Frey: In these trying times please continue your support of the arts.  Many of our finest institutions are in trouble and your support can be as simple as going to your favorite museum.

For more gossip or dishing me the art scoop: E-mail me at qipengart@gmail.com
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Written by qi peng

May 12, 2009 at 1:29 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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