PETER SURACE : 20 Questions

AWD:
You're nearing your 10th year anniversary. What does it mean to be in Chelsea for 10 years?

Peter:
Actually, it was five years in the meat packing district and we pioneered that area, with a few other galleries, of course. Actually, we probably did too good of a job because restaurants and fashion moved in and the rents are at astronomical levels for relatively small spaces. So, almost five years ago we moved to Chelsea. Their was a certain youthful and raw energy being down, in the meatpacking district, but there was no problem getting people there because people liked the meat packing district as a destination was kind of fun being one of the few galleries down there, but it was becoming overpopulated so decided to move. So, this area of Chelsea, although their were galleries down the block when we moved in, it still has a bit of that isolated feeling compared to 22nd and 24th street. So, we like being a little bit off the beaten path.

AWD:
Why did you first get into the art business.

Peter:
I actually sort of fell into it.. I had two parents who were very supportive of what their kids wanted to do, and they were also very proactive in giving us opportunities- in giving us things to do. So they took us to museums, art museums in particular and it particularly stuck to me for some reason. I did museum programs as a young kid, at Moma and the Metropolitan. And I guess my first impression of loving art was when I was in front of Monet’s Waterlillies, which frankly I can’t look at now. But at the time as an 8 year old-maybe 10 it left a big impression on my being around a work of art you could loose yourself in. I think that’s one of the reasons why I have a propensity for larger work in the gallery, because I like the idea of being put into an environment, even as far as your peripheral vision goes, so there’s nothing to the left or right of you that interferes with your enjoyment of the work, and usually when you have a bigger work, that’s the case. That’s the beginning for my love for art. During a birthday or a Christmas holiday, or any excuse to get a gift, I would always want art books, and my parents were not collectors and they weren’t particularly lovers of art, so when they went out to get me books on art, they would come home with Claus Oldenberg’s book in one hand and a book about Rafael in the other, so it got all mashed up together, and I had to figure it out myself a little. I became a great lover of Renaissance art as a teenager, and I think I dragged my parents to every church in Rome looking at frescos, and to every decrepit and torn down monument. They couldn’t get over that I could go through 120 degree heat and be jumping up and down. I would go to monuments with my little guide book folded over showing what it looked like thousands of years ago. And to see what it looked like now I would fold the transparent page over it. They thought I was crazy but they indulged me which was great. I owe my parents, particularly my mom. Both parents where very indulgent with my obsessions with art. When I finally started working for a living I became interested in collecting a little bit and of course like anyone else, your first purchases are hideous, and at least it’s what got you started. Those purchases are in a warehouse, never to be seen again. But there was one artist who sort of opened my eye. He was an 80 year old Woodstock artist called Ralph Wickheiser and he was the first good artist I started collecting. I wouldn’t call him contemporary in any sense but if you look at his later work now, especially the work he did in his last years of his life, in terms of landscape painting, it is very ahead of his time even now, especially as he’s getting into more abstract areas. There are a lot of budding landscape painters that are considered cutting edge are seemingly aware of his legacy. As my eye developed more, my only business partner Alexis Huxney worked for Peter Bloom Gallery, and he would help me to have the courage of my convictions and help me go for more cutting edge art, so I gradually developed much more taste for what you call contemporary art. With his help and my diligence I trained myself. In the meantime I wasn’t in the art world as a dealer. I was a lawyer, which I still am, I just don’t practice anymore. Then I went into PR for many years, then I went into sports marketing and with that background, and the budding knowledge of contemporary art, somewhere a light bulb went off in my head, and said I’d like to open a gallery, it seems like I could do this. But I wanted to go into business with someone who worked in the art world, who had knowledge of it’s workings and I partnered up with Alexis, we eventually founded the Scope Art Fair together, because I loved running a gallery and he loved the fair aspect, we split up the partnership four years ago, and we are still very close friends, and of course I still participate in the Scope Art Fair. But I will say it was a big learning curve. I have no regrets because my knowledge at the time allowed me no other way to do it.

AWD:
What would you do over?

Peter:
Because I think the way to do it is to be a director for an excellent gallery, do that for 4-5 years then open your own gallery, you
already have a built in client base, that you can take with you. You have the support of the gallery, hopefully that you left from, you have mentor that’s hopefully supportive of you opening your own gallery. That’s the ideal way to do it. I did it much differently, despite whatever background I might of had. Nothing prepares you. You start your client list from scratch, you get artists from scratch, and it’s a great learning experience. It’s not the most difficult thing I’ve done my whole life, but it was the hardest. And I think owning your own business is hard, but if it were easy it wouldn’t be any fun, so. I’ve learned a lot and I’m still learning.

AWD:
Have you ever been tempted to make your own art?

Peter:
I have made my own art and it hasn’t been seen by anybody and that’s how it will remain.

AWD:
Really?

Peter:
I do it for relaxation. I draw with colored pencil and make abstractions, usually this very rounded undulating forms, and their fairly bad but It’s relaxing for me, and that’s why I make them. They’re not very good but they’re fun to do.

AWD:
If you were to enter the art market today would you do it any differently?

Peter:
Not at my age now would I do it any differently, if I were 20 years younger, I would work for a gallery. I started from nothing with my own money from scratch, you take nothing for granted that way.

AWD:
How do you feel about the Contemporary art world. Do you feel the same about it now as when you first began?

Peter:
When we opened the gallery, the market for contemporary art by emerging artists between 25 - 35 years old was really not a great market. And I remember, I felt for the first 3 years of our existence their wasn’t many galleries opening up that did what we did, and all of a sudden, I’d say 5-6 years ago it became explosive. I think the problem when anything explodes into the scene is it takes a life of it’s own and gets out of control. I think in some respects there are too many artists and there’s a lot more artists and a lot of them are being pushed to show too early in there careers. And sometimes waiting is better. We sometimes wait from 8 months to 2 years before we show an artist. We are nurturing of them, though. One of our strengths is we have an eye for what’s good and we can see the potential of the artist and tell them to wait when they are ready. Some of the artists pushed and we agreed to show them when they were in graduate school. That’s not too many cases. Other cases we make the artists wait.

AWD:
What’s the danger in showing an artist too early?

Peter:
The are not developed enough to show their best work.

AWD:
Do you think it also has the potential to stunt the work?

Peter:
It depends on the artist and how they deal with the marketplace. If they don’t let it go to their head it can be very encouraging. If the feel that they made it once they had their first show, they might be afraid to change and grow further. Alright, they like this work, why would I change it now? I know I’m simplifying it, but I think there’s the fear that if you made it when you were very young and not fully developed it could stunt your development. But if you are a smart artist, you say alright, I was lucky with this first show, but let me keep my eye on the prize and realize that I have a long way to go.

AWD:
You defined emerging art by age, between 25 - 35.

Peter:
Most of our artists are between 25 - 35. We don’t have an age limitation in either direction, it just tends to be that way. I think we’ve helped to move a lot of artists from the emerging to the non-emerging category. I hesitate to use the word mid-career artist. I don’t believe you enter the mid-career category once you leave the emerging artist category. Mid-career implies a level of accomplishment, that takes years to develop. Once you have your first Museum show, you might still be emerging at that point. I spoke to a museum curator that said once you have your first museum show, you’re no longer an emerging artist. I don’t think it means your a mid career artists. Johnston Foster had 6 museum shows, two of which were solo shows. I still consider him an emerging artist because he’s actively and energetically developing his craft. I think of a mid-career artist as somebody who’s achieved a certain age and a certain level of growth where it has slowed and have settled in sort of an iconic status that is not static but not rapidly changing either. So, that’s my philosophy. I think there’s too many people that think they are mid-career artists. I don’t think you necessarily want to be a mid-career artist at age 25 or 35.

AWD:
Then it’s over at age 50.

Peter:
Then your a dead artist on 50 on that basis. For the first time next season we’re showing Ralph Wickeiser. I feel that Ralph Wikeiser has so influenced how I’ve looked at color, composition and drawing, that we are giving him a show through Walter Wikeiser Gallery and hopefully in a context of a gallery that shows emerging artists his work will be looked at though the context as someone who is very influential today among young artists. It’s ok that an 80 year old dead artist work can still be considered vital. His work was virtually unknown before his son began to show is work. It’s hard to believe because he didn’t go with any trends, and that what we feel like as a gallery, we don’t go with any trends, our artists don’t go with any trends, we show what we like. Often we show what other galleries pass over. We’re the lucky ones, we get to grab them.

AWD:
What is your primarily goal, is it to nurture artists, is it to be influential?

Peter:
It’s to nurture artists and have them be influential on later generations. Our job is to nurture. I have no interest in promoting myself as a celebrity, because I’m not a celebrity and I have no interest in being a celebrity, nor do I have the ability to be a celebrity. I stay in the background. It’s all about promoting our artists. I think Johnston Foster is one of our artists that other artists look up to. He has also brought other artists into the gallery, and actually helped us refine our vision of the work we show and helped us maintain that vision. So he’s been an influential artist already just in terms of how this gallery is perceived and the art we show. We have a statement on our website and it’s not just fluff. We like to show work where the artist hand is visible, and the craft and the skill of the artist is aparent on it’s face but it’s not about the process, it’s the process of supporting the content of the work. So you have an artist that doesn’t paint, but uses paint, and you have an artist that sculpts but doesn’t use tools other than his hands and finds stuff in dumsters and alley ways. The use of the hand is very important. The work we show is never slick, it’s never sleek. It’s what we prefer, we like the craft as much so far as it supports the content of the work. It’s just not interesting technique for technique sake. It’s how it reflects the artist’s personality, how they grew up and hope they utilize what’s around them. The work is often personal but relates to a broader audience.

AWD:
I assume this represents your opinion of what art should be.

Peter:
Different galleries have different ideas what art should be. What we think art should be is it should reflect personal values held by the artist that other people can relate to. It should reflect interesting unique or unusual technical ability or accomplishment. Interesting processes to make the work in support of the work. Craft is an important element because it gets to the soul of the artist.

AWD:
Do you feel like there is tension between artist and curator when you curate a show?

Peter:
I tend to go work that fits our vision, but it’s intuitive. After 10 years I know what works in the gallery and what doesn’t. It’s interesting how the diversity of the artists we show fits our vision. People know a Rare artist when they see one. There’s a richness of content and technique. Not afraid of color. We aren’t married to a particular style.

AWD:
What do you personally get out of running Rare?

Peter:
I get deep satisfaction in helping our artists grow, become more widely recognized, and frankly I’ll be honest with you, when we make a sale it’s the biggest thrill in the world, because we’ve convinced someone of our vision. It really is a high. I have no problem in saying that because the money supports our artists and supports the galleries ability to move forward. The most important factor is to convince somebody of what you are doing. If someone puts a work of art in their collection, it means we’ve done our job.

AWD:
What does it mean to be an artist that has longevity?

Peter:
It means that you don’t over price the work. An artist career isn’t three of four hot years of everyone clamoring for the work. Then they ride out the rest of their careers in semi-celebrity. A career is 30-40-50 years and you always want to see they are going on an upward swing, not going upward sharply and plummeting down. You have to be fair to the artist in terms of how you price the work but you also be fair to the market. I think is what’s going to happen is when the market takes slight downturns here and there and there are readjustments, what those readjustments mean is that work is overpriced and people say if I can by a $90,000 work by a young artist or a $90,000 work by a more established artist at some a light bulb is going to go off in some ones head and say, “Wait a minute.” If a Damian Hurst is 9 million dollars, I can go buy a great Matisse drawing instead. This ultimately hurts the emerging artist market. Because as more people thing the work is overpriced they move away from it. It becomes an object only connoisseurs can afford, and an emerging artist should be widely collected. Yes raise prices, raise them reasonably, don’t create artificial demand. There’s always going to be demand for artists who only make 12 pieces a year but raising the price just because of low supply is no excuse. I don’t know of any good artists that are making 50 pieces a year and I don’t think you should try to satisfy the demand, let people wait. You don’t have to fill demand in one or two years. The way collectors collect today is most of them don’t collect with any depth so if you fill the artist demand in a couple of years, chances are collectors will move on to the next flavor. That gives the collector a chance for a collector to get a second piece without the price raising so much that they are priced out of the work. In spite of what the demand is don’t be selfish in the price increases and don’t try to fill the demand all at once then you cut off demand in the future. Secondly, work with artists you like to work with. Ones that will come to the openings, befriend the other artists an not be competitive but find competition within themselves. Also, make good work. We stay with our artists. Many of our artists are on their 3rd and 4th shows. We tend to use the project room to try out our artists but want to give them an opportunity to show. Many times we take the artist and move them to the main gallery and other times we won’t but we’ve given them a start. That’s why it’s a project room, it’s a petri dish.

AWD:
What’s the best strategy for artists to approach galleries?

Peter:
Here it’s an open door, drop off a CD and we’ll look at it. The best way we have is artist referrals. As an artist going out there it’s hard because a lot of galleries won’t take new work. Some of them are so established they’re just being fair. It’s better to be honest, if your not going to look at it say so.

AWD:
How do you explain the current boom in the art market?

Peter:
It’s very complicated, I’m not sure why. I’m happy there’s a boom but whenever something comes up it eventually comes down. So I hope that it doesn’t precipitously fall, I don’t think it will. I think there are too many people invested in the success of the marketplace compared to the 80s, I don’t think the powers that be - curators, dealers and collectors are going to let the market fall. There are so many people invested in the art market that they would pull together and support the artists at auction because they don’t want the price to plummet because they own the work. I also think it’s like dollar cost averaging of stocks. If there are some people dumping work there will be those people who are not because there are so many more players. Auction houses aren’t trying to flood the market. There was a while when you saw the same artists at auction, but now it seems a bit more diversified so it doesn’t seem like people are trying to dump the same artists all the time. It’s become a more sophisticated business for better or for worse but hopefully for better.

AWD:
What is the role of Contemporary Art is society?

Peter:
I think it’s to make artist’s lives better, I really do. It’s what float you boat or invokes a certain mood.

AWD:
Do you have a goal for the gallery you haven’t reached yet?

Peter:
I’d like to work fewer hours but I’m a workaholic, so that isn’t going to be possible. I’d like eventually a bigger space, so we can do bigger solo shows, to increase the project room. I’ve always had this dream of having a building that was a contained neighborhood where artists would work, they would have their own fitness center, living quarters, studios, bookstore, residencies. A self contained building in Chelsea that would have 10 or 12 floors. The ability to tie into not-for-profits more. I would try that sort of socialist cooperative experiment. I think it could work, creating a sense of harmony and the sense that an artist can work and be free of the burdens of everyday life which often interfere with their ability to do work. I don’t know if that will be a reality but that is something I’ve always thought very seriously about.

AWD:
Do have a particular show at Rare that stands out.

Peter:
We only show what we like, and we hand pick our artists. There are no extraneous factors for them being here. I can’t fake it, I
couldn’t sell it if I didn’t believe in it.

AWD:
Is it competitive to find good artists.

Peter:
As far as I’m concerned we find the good artists. We’ve rarely had a problem getting the artists we want to show with us. We’re not in competition with anyone because we have a unique vision so we generally get the artists we want. Artists like showing with us. We often take artists other galleries overlook. They’re not overlooked because they’re not good, it’s because they don’t fit into another galleries vision, but they fit into ours. Often we give artists their first solo show ever.

AWD:
Do you have a second favorite gallery.

Peter:
There are a lot of galleries I love. I like Gavin Brown, I think his shows are always poetical and beautifully installed, and simplicity personified. I’ve always loved what Hudson does at Feature. I think Paula Cooper has one of the most beautiful elegant galleries. Daniel Riech, I’m always a big fan of what he does. Frederick Friezer, I think of all the galleries I’ve seen, maybe their vision is the closest to ours. Those are some of my favorites.

AWD:
How about artists you would like to show.

Peter:
Of course there are many great artists out there but they’re already showing with good galleries already.

 

 
"GQ" from "Infestations" series by Catherine Chalmer


"Wolf-Boy, a Day in the Life," by Joel Stohr

"Dipstick," by Peter Simensky

"Malicia," by Fernando Mastrangelo


:"Nothing Earthly Now," by Jean-Pierre Roy


"Falling Water, [Small]," by Donnovon Barrow


"What the Flock?!," by Johnston Foster

"Chapter 43: Heaven and Earth," by SunTec Chung

"Mothers," by Nicola Verlato