Advanced captalism has never exactly been a friend of the artistic lifestyle. Lately the idea of the ‘day job’ has become not only practical but mandatory, as the tightening economy continues to squeeze workers into a hand-to-mouth routine. But while we find ourselves viewing the world through a dim, ‘who has time for art’ lens, David Zwirner gallery continues to fly in the face of such pessimism with a new summer show, “People Who Work Here”, featuring original works by the gallery’s employees. The show is curated by James Morrill and Chris Rawson, co-directors of the Brooklyn-based gallery Rawson Projects, and employees at David Zwirner themselves. We spoke with Chris Rawson about the origins of the show, concepts of work and play in art, and the uncertain future of arts funding.
Bullett: How was this show conceptualized?
Chris Rawson: David Zwirner invited us to do a summer show. They wanted us to do a staff show for awhile now. David feels that there are a number of artists who work for him currently, so the timing works because of that. There was kind of a critical mass. There are sixteen artists in this show, quite a number of artists who work for the gallery who also lead a rigorous studio practice outside of their day jobs. And that’s really what the show is meant to highlight: those individuals who, like us, as employees, wear two hats. I think that’s why they invited Rawson Projects to curate this show, knowing that we have another role than just working here.
Have most of the artists had active solo careers or is it a debut for some of them?
It’s a little bit of a mix. Sam Martineau, for instance, we’ve shown his work at our gallery in Brooklyn. It was our first show with him in Brooklyn and we’re doing another one this fall, for our two-year anniversary. He’s had a number of shows as well and solo projects. For the most part, a lot of the artists who work here do have careers outside of the gallery. We did an open call for submissions and I think we noticed a lot of relationships between different artists’ works who I’m pretty sure they weren’t aware of each other’s practices, who don’t work together or share a studio. We just noticed some similarities in genres. The more we learned about each individual’s work informed the decisions we made and how we installed the works. Curating this show was much different than a curator’s experience usually is, which is selecting from all of the artists in the world. Instead we were sort of given that group of artists. What the show then became was our attempt to articulate trends in artmaking, not only here, but at this age in general, this show’s going to be a reflection of what’s going on now in New York.
When do you think that bohemian idea of the starving artist went out in favor of this idea of being an artist part-time?
Chris: I think it’s circumstantial—some people chose to maintain their practice that way, and that some people chose to have a day job and supplement their practice with another source of income. I don’t know, throughout the history of art, if there’s ever been a paradigm shift between those two modes, I think they still exist.
Ben Thornborough (Press Officer at David Zwirner): It’s also just a reality. New York is such an expensive city that in order to exist here you have to have some sort of income. The idea of the starving artist is very romantic and 19th century. But I think the show says something more–that people who are artists are working in galleries and not just at Starbucks. They’re working in a place where they can interact with things they’re interested in.
Chris: Where they can interact with objects and ideas. For me it’s a really fruitful environment. I’m not an art handler here, but seeing the work installed in these spaces and different galleries brings me joy, it’s a great way to educate yourself about what’s happening in contemporary art, especially working in a gallery like this one. I think people pick up on that. I think that’s what draws artists to working for a place like David Zwirner. I think it can really inform what you’re doing outside of your day job.
I was at the Alice Neel show at David Zwirner and it made me think about her career, how she was able to support herself as a full-time artist because of government-funded art projects that were set up after the first depression. It’s like, why don’t we do that? It makes so much sense to me.
Those were different times. I only can hope that at some point in the future there’s another institution that would provide some resources. That was a great period for American art especially.
I’m really interested in this idea of day job vs. night job. In publishing, there’s this assumption—a true assumption—that everyone who works in publishing is working on their novel, and it’s not seen as a good thing. But I feel like that’s obviously not the case in the art world.
I’ve worked for other galleries and it was the same there. I think it’s known that a lot of people who work in galleries maintain a studio practice outside of their day jobs. And David’s been very supportive of our gallery—we never felt like it was something we couldn’t be forthcoming about, it was understood that it’s a weekend-only gallery and that we do our jobs when we’re here and that it’s a separate thing. What’s great about this is that it’s an acknowledgement on his part that there’s a tradition of artists working for other artists, artists working for galleries—so I think that gesture is great on his part, to acknowledge and support that, to hand over a space on this scale. I think it really shows a dedication to his staff. To acknowledge that that tradition exists, and that there’s a talented group of people working here.