NADA Member Michael Gillepsie, Founder & Director of Foxy Production, on their founding days in Williamsburg, the ongoing importance of gallery exhibitions for artists’ practice, and the business of dealing art.
Interview by Bill Cournoyer, a NADA Individual Member and Founder of The Meeting.
Installation view, Condo New York, 2018 at Foxy Production. Hosting Edouard Malingue Gallery, Hong Kong, Shanghai.
BC: When/how did you know you wanted to open a gallery?
MG: John Thomson and I started doing pop up shows in a storefront on Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg, Brooklyn through 2001-2. It was a pretty freeform endeavor without really knowing the commercial gallery model.
BC: Do you remember the first work of art you ever sold and if so, what was it?
MG: A friend, Daniele Balice, who was working for a nearby gallery, sent Anita Zabludowicz over who banged on the door! I hadn’t met her before, and she acquired a photograph by David Noonan.
BC: I remember the first exhibition I saw at your first space in Williamsburg with David Noonan. Was David your first break out artist?
MG: Yes, David Noonan was our first solo show after starting a continuous program in 2003. Swarms of people were visiting Williamsburg during the Armory Show at that time, and his exhibition received very favorable reviews.
David Noonan in collaboration with Simon Trevaks, Sowa, 2003. Courtesy of Foxy Production.
BC: You have had gallery spaces in three different neighborhoods in New York City over fifteen years. Can you speak about those experiences of being in the three locations?
MG: Williamsburg was a real start up culture, and it was very open to newcomers to the city. It did feel a bit local and cut off from the main drag so we decided to bolt to Manhattan within a few months and found a closet in Chelsea. The door was very narrow, so we had to be extra inventive getting artworks in and out, and on one occasion a visitor with a disability had to be transferred at the doorway from her wheelchair to an office chair with wheels. It took a while, but Chelsea really opened up new connections for the gallery. It was a good place to grow in the heady days of 2005-2007, and we were able to move into a larger ground floor space. We were in Chelsea over 12 years, and it felt for us, that the tide was turning. Having a storefront didn’t seem to mean the same thing given the increase in the numbers of people consuming exhibitions online and with the rise of art fairs. It also felt like the energy was shifting downtown. We are now in Chinatown, and it does feel very different, though its hard to distinguish between changing times and changing locations. Our artists were excited about us moving downtown, and we are meeting new collectors.
BC: Was there an important milestone or turning point for the gallery that you look back on as influential in the gallery’s development? And is there something you are currently working towards?
MG: I think it’s impossible to identify a single moment, but there are many events that seem major when they happen: the first time we sold a work; the first time we sold a work over $10,000; the first time we made a six figure re-sale; the first time one of our artists received a New York Times review, and you, of course, obsess about every word; the first museum solo exhibition. There are also the knock backs too. Like when a colleague came rushing into the gallery saying the stock market had crashed in 2008, and we are all doomed. I actually couldn’t process that as I had no conception of things turning back. Right now we are doing what we always do planning exhibitions and promoting our artists and hopefully some more good milestones are on their way.
BC: Are there collectors who have supported the gallery since you opened and continue to do so?
MG: Yes, we have a small group of collectors from the early days that still collect from us. Though in general it’s not a fixed set of people. We may not hear back from some collectors for a long time and then they re-appear with renewed interest. We are always developing new collector relationships too; it’s vital.
BC: I remember a conversation we had previously about the importance of the exhibition to an artists’ practice. Can you talk about the importance of maintaining a physical gallery space and producing exhibitions for your artists?
MG: Having a space in New York City is a major resource and so we have to stay focused on it, keep it active, and be there when people visit. Even if artists are busy with museum shows, they still want gallery shows. They are specific markers in an artist’s development. Each one is read in relation to the previous show in the same city, two or three years ago, and the one before that.
BC: What kind of feedback have you gotten from collectors about the importance of engaging with the gallery space and your exhibitions, especially with the growth of art fairs and art sites on the internet?
MG: Collectors are keenly aware of the importance of the gallery show to an artist’s career. Much of my understanding about exhibitions comes from collectors and advisors. They will compare solo shows by an artist and notice more than anyone if there is not enough time between solo shows. Even if they are viewing the show digitally, it’s a core reference point for them. It’s also a kind of drop-in center for collectors, either by phone or in-person; a relatively quiet space where it’s easy to have a discussion about art.
Sara Cwynar, 2014, installation view, Foxy Production, New York.
BC: What impact has the growth of social media affected your business and outreach ability to collectors? Is this one of the ways that your gallery has used to increase traffic?
MG: With the growth of social media, digital sale platforms, and art fairs, you are tempted to broadcast to larger and larger audiences. For promotion that makes sense, but with limited time we have to make sure we stay focused on personal dialogues and networks.
BC: What are some of the ways that you are working on to develop relationships with collectors and their patronage, considering the physical and virtual expansion of the artworld?
MG: I think primarily it’s about the gallery’s program. But on top of presenting significant artworks to collectors, we have to involve them in the artist’s process, the exhibition planning process, our dilemmas, and the current context for the artist and gallery.
BC: When you have an exhibition, what steps do you take to ensure that all of the right people—collectors, curators and critics—see that show?
MG: Realistically, the emphasis is on engaging with people online. Given the amount of galleries in the city and the growth of gallery areas, even critics pre-vet shows online. Collectors and curators outside of the City are equally important to us, so its never really a case that everyone must visit in person while the show is up. That said, for everyone engaging with the show online, we need people on the ground generating local buzz, writing or talking about the work. Nurturing a community around each show is part of the plan.
BC: What exciting plans do you have for the fall season?
MG: We are opening with a group show on landscape and violence and then start a series of solo exhibitions: Olga Chernysheva from Moscow, Gina Beavers based in New York City, and Justin Fitzpatrick who is currently living in Brussels.
Michael Gillespie is the Co-Founder & Director of Foxy Production. The gallery is currently participating in the collaborative exhibition Condo New York, hosting Christian Andersen, Copenhagen and Edouard Malingue Gallery, Hong Kong, Shanghai, June 29 – July 27, 2018.
Bill Cournoyer is the Founder of The Meeting, an art advisory firm and private exhibition space in New York.