The Art Assassin

a nonfiction novel by Albert Wang

Chapter 44: ASSASSINATION: Sequoia Medley, Associate Director of Projects Gallery

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Photograph of Sequoia Medley. Courtesy of Facebook
Photograph of Projects Gallery in Philadelphia. Courtesy of Projects Gallery

After entering and exhibiting at a curated group show at the Projects Gallery entitled “Guilty Pleasures” a few months ago, I was fascinated by how the gallery I was working with was able to fulfill its philosophy of show works that manifest a “figurative expressionism” basis. I decided to chat with Ms. Sequoia Medley about how the gallery functioned and some of its features for its mind-blowing shows that have tested the limits of somewhat traditional Philadelphia tastes within art.

Some of this groundbreaking work includes the erotic embroidery of Orly Cogan to the postcolonial mixed media works of Frank Hyder to the mixed media sculptures of Tim Tate that combine glassblowing and miniature television screens.

So if you have any questions about artwork that is being featured at the Projects Gallery in Philadelphia, feel free to contact Ms. Medley at sequoia@projectsgallery.com or at (267) 303-9652.

And now for our feature presentation: here are THE ART ASSASSIN’s details of the “assassination”:

qi peng: What is a typical day at the Projects Gallery like? What responsibilities do you have as the associate director of the Projects Gallery?

Sequoia Medley: As the associate director I am responsible for the day-to-day operation of the gallery. I arrive at the gallery a little before noon every day the gallery is open, and additional days if we are doing installation or there is a large project, such as publishing a book. First I turn everything on, tidy a bit, check the e-mail and respond to any burning issues; press requests, client inquiries, saving the files and images I have requested from artists. I greet visitors as they come in, giving them an overview of our current exhibitions and offering insight into works they seem interested in, as well as answering any questions. Between visitor interaction, I craft press releases, update the website, design announcement cards, digitally photograph work, photo correct, prepare consignment sheets, email. I also handle art that is coming or going, prep for upcoming shows or art fairs, plan timelines, send work to the printer, anything that needs doing as it needs doing.

qi peng: What is the origination of the name “Projects Gallery?” For me, there are connotations of the gallery being a type of laboratory for the arts, a space for a strong dose of perimentation with figurative work. Would this impression be correct?

Sequoia Medley: I was not part of the gallery when it first came into being, but my understanding of the name is something like this: the gallery opened in 2004 under the name Hyder Gallery, with the three exhibition spaces; the Gallery (the front room), Projects Gallery (the rear room), and Sotano (the lower level). Hyder being the gallery director’s married name, as well as that of one of our represented artists, her husband, Frank Hyder. Several exhibitions were held in each space, so when the owners decided to change the name later that same year to avoid the percept of being a vanity gallery, they changed the name to one of the existing spaces. The name Projects Gallery was meant to imply both then and now a space that is open to artistic exploration rather than the static space of the typical four white walls. By the time I arrived in 2006, we were Projects Gallery.

qi peng: What sort of music do you enjoy playing during gallery hours and receptions? How does it create a mood for visitors and collectors to enjoy the work on the walls?

Sequoia Medley: During gallery hours when visitors come in I switch to a Pandora Radio station I created called “music for art galleries”. The seed music is ambient and sleepy Americana singer/songwriter artists like Ben Sollee, Couch, Death Vessel, Iron & Wine, Jens Lekman and Nick Drake. This makes the right sort of relaxed atmosphere for whomever comes into the gallery. I want visitors to feel relaxed when they come in and take the show in at a leisurely pace, to take the time with each piece. I like to think music can influence that. I like Pandora because it provide the variety for me, but within the confines so I know I wont get something too shockingly loud or inappropriate lyrics. I may like certain artists but I know they don’t make a good background for art appreciation, and you never know the attitudes of potential clients, so I err on conservative. Usually the subject matter of the art is challenging enough. For receptions we’ve done a number of things; classical or oldies for some shows, Latin music for shows that focus on our Latino artist, live bands for rowdier communal events, and for some of our “edgier shows” (or ones where the director is out of town) a friend DJs. Openings are more of a party; you want all sorts of people to come in, mingle, and stay having a good time, so the music should foster that, but at a decibel that allows conversation.

qi peng: With the recent downturn in the American economy, have you seen much of a change in how the galleries been able to interact with their audience? Can galleries afford to take a risk in curating riskier or more controversial exhibitions during this period?

Sequoia Medley: Luckily, our audience interaction hasn’t been affected by the downturn. Much of our sales come from the internet and art fairs, and we’ve had the same level, if not more, of visitors to the gallery space. Personally, I think this is actually a great time for galleries to exhibit more controversial work, which we were attempting with both our February shows, and were a little surprised at the relative tameness. Courting sales is rarely successful; rather, if you believe in the quality of the work, an audience will too. With the market cooling off and more well-to-do collectors putting their accounts on hold, this is when younger first time collectors will start looking at and buying their first works which will be the base of their lifetime connection with art. Riskier art gets more press, press gets new feet in the door, new visits to the website, this is the perfect time to show emerging and controversial art. People buy art they respond to, that they can’t stop thinking about or looking at.

qi peng: What is your favorite online resources for checking out the latest art news scoop? Do you have any favorite tales from the Projects Gallery you wish to share with the fans here? What are some hobbies that you enjoy outside of your work in the gallery?

Sequoia Medley: Being a Philadelphia Gallery, I read Libby & Roberta’s artblog daily (http://fallonandrosof.blogspot.com/), as well as the Daily Campello (http://dcartnews.blogspot.com/). I also like Joanne Mattera (http://joannemattera.blogspot.com/) Artlog, and Artinfo.

This Valentines day was a Saturday, our busiest day for foot traffic and we had just received a wonderful review by a local paper. At 3 pm the restaurant across the street came to us in desperation. They had a problem with their exhaust and although they could cook the food they couldn’t control the temperature and the space was swelteringly hot. Valentines being an important day for restaurants, they couldn’t close shop so they wanted to use the gallery space for seating. Their whole restaurant was booked solid for the evening, the first seating beginning at 4. Neighborhood businesses should help each other out, so we said yes. So crowds of people were coming to see the shows while waiters were dashing about the gallery trying to set up tables and chairs and serving areas. I had to disconnect my work station, move ceramic sculptures to the lower level, all while greeting people and apologizing for the chaos but encouraging them to take in the show as best they could.

Outside of the gallery, I am very interested in cooking and exploring Philadelphia’s wonderful culinary landscape.

qi peng: As the associate director for the space, what input do you have when curating and coordinating future exhibitions with Ms. Meyrick for the Projects Gallery? What are the major challenges in achieving what you both envision?

Sequoia Medley: I have both a lot of input and very little when it comes to curating. I am always expected to give my well-reasoned opinion but it is ultimately up to the director in terms of who should be included in any given show. From there on, I am usually the contact person in terms of coordinating exhibitions. But I am encouraged to pitch show ideas, come up with arrangements when work arrives in the gallery, and always argue my point of view.  I wouldn’t say there is a major challenge in achieving a vision, because the vision always changes by the time the work arrives and you see it in person in the space. We never plan that “this will go there” until we are physically holding and looking at the work, seeing how it speaks to other works, where it can have a strong voice. And although we quibble, we’re both very good at compromising. We always put aside ego and personal baggage and do what’s best for the work.

qi peng: Do you have any advice for up and coming BFA and MFA graduates who are graduating from art school and are starting to hunt for galleries to show their work? Do you think that there is an over-saturation of artists within the system with a lot more good artists than what galleries can handle?

Sequoia Medley: I think the art schools unfortunately produce a lot of people with degrees in art who aren’t really prepared or interested in being full time artists. But for those who are, I have lots of advice. First: research. There are many different kinds of artists and many different kinds of work. I’m always puzzled when I receive submissions with a form letter claiming work is perfect for the gallery when it’s clearly not. I put a lot of work into the website, and you clearly visited it to get our address, why didn’t you bother to look at the art? I hate when I get submissions of hard-edge minimalist work; we show figurative expressionist work! Almost all of our artists are mixed media, why are you sending me your lovely classical watercolor landscapes when no one we work with makes anything like that? There are galleries for all kinds of work; target your submissions. Find a gallery that actually is a good fit for you. Be able to explain how you would fit in.

HAVE ART. I’ve gotten many walk-ins and dozens of e-mails from artists fresh out of school who don’t have any art to show me. How can we show your work when your whole body is assignments and you have nothing you’re working on? We sold one emerging artists work and he had nothing else to give us, even though people were interested. Be prepared. We don’t accept slides, but we always are willing to look at websites or cds of images. There is no excuse for not having digital photographs of your work. You must have something to show me. And if your work is very detailed oriented, or the media doesn’t come across, take detail shots! Lots of them. Experiment, find the best way to show as best as possible what your work is. Most of our artists’ work does not photograph well; it all looks better in person. And let us know material, scale, anything that is important to the reading of the work that might not be evident just by looking.

Also let the gallery know who you are; have a current CV. Let us know where you’ve shown, any awards. If you don’t have a showing history yet, a letter of introduction explaining your influences and direction helps us understand your work in context. I think a website is very important for showcasing your work, but it can’t be static showing the same thing three years in a row; you need to be able to update it and refresh it with news and new work.

Listen to the gallery. We do not review work in front of you, don’t ask us to. We only review digitally initially, don’t bring in work in person. If you get a rejection letter, read it. Sometimes there is advice to improve what you’re doing or a suggestion of a gallery that might be a better fit. Artists constantly come into the gallery asking how to get on our walls. I explain we are not actively seeking submissions but we accept and review them twice a year. But almost no one follows through and sends a submission. If you were willing to walk in and talk to me, why don’t you follow through with the advice I’ve given?

I think more important than creating a really good targeted submission is making sure that you keep working and making new art. Be an artist first and make good work, produce and grow, then try to find a place to show. Apply for juried shows, group shows, send links of your website to blogs and critics. Get your work out there, but watch out for only showing the same thing over and over and over. The audience gets bored. And keep galleries updated as your work evolves and you create new bodies of work. If your old work wasn’t a good fit, don’t keep trying to push it. But your new work might spark an interest.

qi peng: What is your opinion about online galleries such as Collegeartonline (CAO) or Ugallery? In what ways is their curating style different than that of the Projects Gallery? Any opinion on online artists registries?

Sequoia Medley: I think these are good ideas in theory but poorly applied. It is very difficult for me to cull through the junk and find the jewels, and time to do so is a luxury I don’t have. The sheer size usually means a compromise on quality of the image, and with the volume of artists shown, I skim, meaning I will probably miss seeing something that otherwise I would respond to. Even though CAO is curated, it doesn’t mean it’s curated for a gallery as an audience, it’s curated to be encompassing to the students and show a wide range for different viewers who want to buy straight from artists. Catch-all websites for art are just too encompassing to be a useful tool for me, because although difficult to articulate, Projects Gallery has a specific aesthetic focus and it is difficult to align with the mass of art presented.

qi peng: What are some of your future dreams for what the Projects Gallery that you wish to see?

Sequoia Medley: All I wish for the gallery is it’s continued success in finding the right home for the work of our artists, and to continue to be able to present them to a wider audience. I would like the gallery to discover local emerging artists and help establish their careers. It’s harder work finding buyers than art appreciators.

qi peng: Considering that your gallery will be attending the 2009 Bridge Fair in New York, what is the sneak preview of things that we are to anticipate in your booth over there? Do you have any cool art fair adventures that you wish to share with us?

Sequoia Medley: Alas, I don’t get to go to the art fairs! I get to run the gallery while the director is away. It will be First Friday that week, so it’s important to keep the doors open while people are out and about in an art viewing mood. Please do come visit our booth, #26 at the Bridge Art Fair, New York. The fair will take place March 5 – 8 on The Waterfront 222 12th Ave. You can expect a wide range of our represented artists, focusing on our love of mixed media and unusual material techniques.

qi peng: Do you have any favorite galleries or exhibitions that you wish to share with the readers here?

Sequoia Medley: As I don’t get to go to the art fairs, I also don’t get to visit the competition often.  I like space1026, copy, the crane arts center, bambi, silica. I miss spector and black floor.

qi peng: Any final words for fans of the Projects Gallery that you wish to drop here?

Sequoia Medley: I am trying very hard to integrate the gallery in new media and social networking tools. You can friend us on facebook, become a fan of the gallery also through facebook, or follow us on twitter. We will also soon be announcing another open call to artists, Philadelphia locals only unfortunately. But we were so happy with the quality of work submitted we plan to try to integrate more open call shows into our schedule.

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 2:30 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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