|Leah Oates: Did you know when you were little that you would open a gallery? How did it all come about?
Marisa Sage: I’ve only ever really had two career goals. One was to own a gallery, and the other was to be Wonder Woman. Due to a rights issue, I decided it would be best to focus on the gallery idea first. My interest in curation began at the Venice Biennale in 1999, where I was inspired by Ann Hamilton, Gary Hume, the Arsenale, and just the general level of the curation from pavilion to pavilion. In 2000, while taking a thesis course in New York I visited LFL, Zach Feuer’s original gallery. He let a whole set of students rifle through his flat files.
Marisa Sage, founding owner and director of Like the Spice Gallery, interviewed by Leah Oates
Leah Oates: Did you know when you were little that you would open a gallery? How did it all come about?
Marisa Sage: I’ve only ever really had two career goals. One was to own a gallery, and the other was to be Wonder Woman. Due to a rights issue, I decided it would be best to focus on the gallery idea first.
My interest in curation began at the Venice Biennale in 1999, where I was inspired by Ann Hamilton, Gary Hume, the Arsenale, and just the general level of the curation from pavilion to pavilion. In 2000, while taking a thesis course in New York I visited LFL, Zach Feuer’s original gallery. He let a whole set of students rifle through his flat files. He introduced us to his artists, and was incredibly open and passionate. That was when I decided that opening a gallery was what I was going to do.
When I first returned to live in New York City I was fired up, but I’d planned to teach for a bit and save money. Halfway through my very first interview it hit me that I simply couldn’t keep working for other people while I had a dream of my own. I stood up, walked out, and sat back down to write out the framework of my business plan. And now I’m doing interviews, and we’ve got our third anniversary coming up!
LO: What do you think the function of a gallery is, beyond organizing shows?
MS: I can only really speak for my own gallery, but I know I try to keep everyone in mind. There are a lot of people who pass by our doors every day, and some of them peek in shyly, and then seem surprised when we invite them in to take a better look. Art has a reputation like opera; lots of people think it’s only for the rich and snobby. It’s a good feeling to prove that’s just not the case. I think art should be open to everybody, because otherwise, what’s it good for? Oh, and of course, the vital part of running a gallery is promoting the work of artists that I love to anyone who’ll listen.
LO: Why did you select Williamsburg to open Like the Spice Gallery?
MS: Williamsburg is an exciting area in a very strange sort of balance right now. It’s exciting to see the longtime residents who stop by and tell us how dangerous it used to be, and it’s fun to see the newly arrived renters and owners discovering all the little hangouts. We’ve met more than a few new friends because someone just walked over to see why there was a big party happening across the street. And it’s great to be in the middle of so many artists as well. Not to mention the hard-working members of the WGA, who are always willing to help me when things get rough. Some of the galleries here, including Pierogi, Momenta, and the long-term resident artists of the neighborhood have truly inspired me.
LO: Please tell us about the artists you are working with now.
MS: Our previous show was Allison Edge, who does fantastic work, and has a very special way of capturing the feel of light in her paintings. Our current show is Reuben Negron, and his mix of drawings and watercolors are attracting attention. Some days we’ve had people looking through the doors before we even open them! Following Reuben, we’ve got a group show called Off the Clock that takes a look at the work of artists who have at some point made a living by working for other artists, whether as general studio assistants or in some cases actually producing the art for their employers. That includes Rachel Beach, Jason Bryant, the fantastic Jenny Morgan, and Allison and Reuben, plus others.
LO: You have shown your artists in several art fairs. How did this go for Like the Spice, and what realistically should a gallery and artist expect from an art fair?
MS: Expect great things! Then you’ll get them! Realistically, you should expect to get back whatever you put into it. I believe that good art will always float to the top by itself. The hard part is just getting the right people to come and see it. My staff and I work very hard to get the word out, and make sure our artists get seen, so we’re generally quite pleased with the results of our art fairs and events. And we’ve learned that some of the most important days can be the days just after the event! Something that I think people tend to lose sight of is the incredible advertising potential of art fairs. Whether or not you make that big sale, you’re getting your artists’ work in front of many people who might never have seen it otherwise. And that, to me, is completely worth it.
LO: What is your advice to artists on how to be represented? What do you look for when you are deciding to work with an artist?
MS: What I look for is a sign that the artist has a full understanding and mastery of their field. Obviously there’s always plenty of room for growth, but each of our artists have “that piece” which can grab the observer and demand their attention. To me, it doesn’t matter what style you work in as long as you’re able to show that you understand it fully, and that you can build on what you’ve learned. Watching our artists grow from show to show is a wonderful part of the job.
I also think it’s important to be personal when approaching a gallery. Come to openings, talk to us, and show us that you have an awareness of work that we show. We do have an open submissions policy, and our staff works very hard to look at every portfolio that comes in, but there’s nothing worse than getting a submission from an artist who is clearly doing a mass-send and hasn’t made any effort to get to know the gallery, or evaluated whether their work is appropriate for us.
LO: Who are your favorite artists and why?
MS: This is always a tough question to answer. Of course, on one hand are the artists that I represent—I show their work because I love it, and because it affects me in a profound way. As for non-Like the Spice artists, here are my top ten in no particular order (after number one—because Vik Muniz is definitely number one).
1. Vik Muniz
2. Ann Hamilton
3. Carrie Mae Weems
4. Gillian Wearing
5. Janet Cardiff
6. Gary Hume
7. Gerhard Richter
8. Vito Acconci
9. Sophie Calle
10. Frank Stella
LO: What are your thoughts on the economic state of the art market?
MS: I don’t think about it. I just keep working like there’s no tomorrow.