Interview with Art Dealer Charles Guice

Interview with Art Dealer Charles Guice

D&B: Tell us about the trajectory that led you to become a contemporary art dealer.

CG: The trajectory that led me to become a contemporary art dealer is a relatively easy one to follow. I was always interested in art; my parents collected and, even as a child, I went to a museum at least once a week. As it happened, my father’s avocation was art. He drew, painted, played guitar, sculpted and photographed. He even learned to play the cello in his mid-life, which he continues to play now aged 80.

I also drew, played musical instruments and photographed from an early age. I was encouraged to go to art school when I was younger, but I eventually did my undergraduate work in Psychology, English and Sociology before obtaining my MBA.

As an adult, I held senior and executive management positions in the healthcare industry, which afforded me the opportunity to collect, chiefly photography, but also sculpture, painting and works on paper. Eventually, however, I became disenchanted with the healthcare industry, and decided that I wanted to work in a field that I loved: art.

I developed a business plan—I’m an MBA after all—as I knew I would need to establish myself in a field that already had plenty of competition. My niche at the time became one of the areas that I was most interested in seeing addressed; the lack of work by black artists represented in what I called the “vernacular of photography”.

Priya Kambli
Me (Flour) from the series Color Falls Down, 2011
Courtesy the artist and Charles Guice Contemporary, New York

Obviously, there were blacks working in photography, but their work was often not featured in museum exhibitions, at gallery shows, or in publications. For example, I was often surprised at the number of people working in the arts who had never heard of Roy DeCarava, or knew little of his place in the history of photography, or at the lack of work by black artists at the major photography art fairs. It’s not that the work was under-represented; there was often no representation outside of ethnically specific fairs, such as the National Black Fine Art Show in New York.

Eventually, I became known for the contemporary work I featured, and that became an issue in and of itself; my artists and I were being ghettoized. So, slightly ahead of my original schedule, I began representing non-black artists. (One humorous example of this is that several months after a client met one of my first non-black artists, he remarked that, up until that moment, he had thought that the artist in question was black.)

Since it had always been my intention to expand beyond black artists, I welcomed the change. But it was an essential one as well, given that it fit within my own belief that art has no gender, ethnicity or skin color. This career often leaves me feeling like a kid in a candy store. I’ve had the opportunity to meet, interact and become friends with some of the greatest contemporary artists in the world, and across a number of disciplines. I’ve authored articles and texts and served on several important boards. I’m the director and chief curator of Photo Miami (currently on an extended hiatus), and was honored to be a founding member of the nominating committee for the Aperture West Book Prize.

I’ve also been an invited juror and frequent portfolio reviewer at En Foco in New York, Review Santa Fe, Atlanta Celebrates Photography, photoNOLA in New Orleans and FotoFest in Houston, and recently served as a curator for Discoveries of the Meeting Place at the 2012 FotoFest Biennial. As with any occupation, it has its peaks and valleys, and there are plenty of things I’d do differently with the gift of hindsight, but it’s been a truly wonderful experience.

Marisa Portolese
Father and Child from the series Antonia’s Garden, 2011
Courtesy the artist and Charles Guice Contemporary, New York

D&B: Can you talk a little about diversity within the contemporary art market… Do you think it’s harder for artists of color or women to sell their work?
CG: I often feel there’s very little diversity in the contemporary art market; it still remains extremely difficult for both artists of color and women to exhibit and sell their work, compared to White men. While art magazines and journals tout the “emergence” and “strength” of the African-American art market (particularly in February) or, on other occasions, the Latin-American art market, the number of exhibitions featuring non-Whites or women in the major U.S. museums is a fraction—again when compared to White men.

Howardena Pindell actually did a study about ten years ago, and then again more recently, documenting the lack of representation of artists of color and the figures are staggering, even today. Clearly, there are a number of successful non-White artists in the contemporary art market. But if you look at auction results and the list of the top ten highest selling artists, they are noticeably absent. I’ll offer two examples just in the photography market that I would argue are telling: compare the prices for work by Roy DeCarava and Carrie Mae Weems to that of Ralph Eugene Meatyard and Cindy Sherman.

A colleague who recently worked for a major U.S. museum related a story that, for me, still points to a significant part of the problem. The head of one of the museum’s departments was commenting on the building of an African-American museum in the city. She said, in so many words—and I have no reason to doubt this recounting—“at least now we don’t have to worry about devoting space for black work.”

D&B: What kind of artists do you represent? 
CG: I represent emerging and mid-career contemporary artists working in lens-based media.

Marisa Portolese
Tormenti di Spirito from the series Antonia’s Garden, 2011
Courtesy the artist and Charles Guice Contemporary, New York

D&B: When considering an artist, what do you look for? 
CG: When considering a new artist, I look for a number of things. In traditional photography, I look for a developed sense of style. I like narrative work, in all its forms, and I also really like conceptual work. I like, in your words, to see a trajectory in an artist’s work. Sometimes, I can suss that out from a single series, Priya Kambli’s Color Falls Down, for example, but I usually favor artists that have completed multiple bodies of work.

I knew immediately that Erika Diettes’ work was special, and hers has become even more complex just in the two years that we’ve worked together. Erika’s work is coherent and developed in a way that you generally see from an artist twice her age. And she’s currently working on a new body of work that I honestly believe will establish her as a major force in the contemporary art world.

I felt the same way about Max de Esteban’s work. Max operates on multiple levels, and once you have a chance to realize what he’s doing, you begin to understand why he was a Fulbright Fellow. Max is smart and it becomes readily apparent when you look at his work.

Another great example is Marisa Portolese, who I’d known for a number of years, but the work she’s been producing these last five is some of the best I’ve seen of hers. Antonia’s Garden, her latest series, is so rich that you want to come back and view it again and again.

And Lucía Herrero is so new she isn’t on my website and I haven’t had a chance to promote her, but she has an incredible eye. Once again, I knew immediately. So, it’s not one thing in particular, but it often comes down to what’s more than likely a combination of factors. The most important, however, is that I have to love the work!

D&B: What are your art hunting grounds – online and/or off? 
I have a variety of hunting grounds for art: museums such as The Art Institute of Chicago, The Metropolitan Museum (New York), MoMA (New York) and El Museo de Arte Medellín, annual exhibitions and biennials, like Documenta and the Venice Biennale and, of course, gallery shows.

I regularly visit museum websites, too, not to mention a number of art and photography blogs, such as artinfo, fototazo and yours, Dodge and Burn. But I can’t stress how important portfolio reviews have become to me in finding new talent. FotoFest, Review Santa Fe and photoNOLA are all “fertile ground” for seeing work by potential gallery artists.

Read part II of my interview with gallerist Charles Guice.

See all photographer interviews on Dodge & Burn and also check out the recent interviews with gallerists and a photography consultant.

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