SK: Linda, I think some may be surprised to know that Chicago’s Linda Warren Projects actually started as Linda Warren Gallery in 1997 in your home in Los Angeles while you were still working in the film industry. I am picturing the gallery, a swimming pool, film stars, producers, and a house on the hill. Would you fill in some of those details without crushing my romantic notions too much?
LW: For me, it was extremely romantic. But not in the manner you describe. It was a house on a hill, in Silver Lake, without a pool, but a view all the way to the ocean. It was a multi-level art deco’y fixer-upper that I bought at the lowest point in the market (1994) from an 85 year old woman artist, whose husband, also an artist, had just passed away (Lolli and Oscar Van Young). I was very into painting myself during those years, and the house, full of hundreds and hundreds of their paintings, was so enchanting…. I fell in love. I had looked at over 100 homes at that point. But I knew when I first saw it, that this was it. I slowly spent every penny I had to turn it from a terrible fixer-up to a very mediocre and funky but functioning and awesome home for me. When I sold it in 2000, the value of the house had doubled. But I know the new owners thought it was still a fixer-upper. And it was.
I had no idea that I would ever turn it into a gallery. I was in the film business, working in production (ultimately becoming an Associate Producer on the last few big-budget films I worked on), and that was how I made my living. It was a sort of brutal experience – almost every film was a ringer doozy pain in the ass – and it was just not my passion at all. So in 1997, when a good artist sculptor friend, Dale Edwards, was evicted from his studio and needed a place to store 100 or so pieces of work, I agreed to place them all over my house. I was trying to help him out. But the next thing you know – my film friends started coming by and buying his work. And then another couple artists thought – well, if you’re selling Dale’s work, you can maybe sell mine. And they brought it over to my house, and in fact I did sell their work… again, just to friends stopping by. I knew I could be a good conduit to this sort of thing… but never did I believe I could do this for a living. So I slowly, without leaving the film industry for good (they were to be my clients, of course, and also my real income), converted that house into a very meandering, well-lit gallery, displaying over 100 pieces at a time and rotating and opening new shows all year round of artists from around LA and well beyond.
Yes, some film stars and producers and agents made it up there – but also big collectors – like Peter Norton. And finally, I was successful enough at selling art that I really didn’t need to work anymore in the industry.
SK: So, shortly after this you moved to Chicago and now, with 8 1/2 years as a gallerist here, you have proven that this city is a place to have a growing, successful gallery. Many people have the perception that the major Chicago collectors only buy in New York, but you have found a way to sell emerging art here, and with admirable success. Does your business model include collectors based both in and outside Chicago?
LW: Yes, I have a strong collector base from all over the United States, as well as a bit abroad. As I generally don’t participate in too many art fairs, I have to assume that the broader success of my business stems mainly from the fact that I show some pretty fantastic artists, as well as from word of mouth, and that my website (while in need of a major overhaul and update) is thorough and direct. It shows as many as ten artworks by each artist, and it lists prices. This uncommon practice of having the prices listed on the site lends both a transparency to the business, as well as an immediate awareness of the viewers as to whether or not they can afford the work. I also know that my belief in my artists and my passion for what I do plays a part in the success of my business model. I am confident in the value of the artists I work with, and I think collectors ultimately know how to find the galleries and artists that resonate for them. They are smart seekers and finders.
SK: In November 2011, you inaugurated your new location at 327 North Aberdeen – a much more expansive space – and you brought some innovative nomenclature into this new space. Case in point: the “X” and “Y” names of your two gallery spaces in the Linda Warren Projects.
LW: The “X” and “Y” idea came from multiple ideas. First, my desire to not diminish one exhibition space to the other as superior or inferior, which calling them A and B or 1 and 2 might do. I also liked that x and y are used in a range of mathematical applications, and thus they, as subtext, suggest the existence of another realm of thought – coordinates to explore two-dimensional and three-dimensional ideas. If people reflect on space and time in the context of looking at the work while being in the gallery, that is a huge plus.
SK: Would you also address your changing Linda Warren Gallery to Linda Warren Projects with the inauguration of your new Chicago space?
LW: The word “project” better describes the growing scope of my business and vision for its future. Since its inception, I have seen my business grow to now include the fact that I am an Art Consultant working on some large corporate projects. Though I never thought this was something I was much interested in, it has turned out to actually be very rewarding both creatively and financially and something I hope to continue doing in the years ahead while still, of course, running the gallery. I am also trying to launch this year a nonprofit called Higher Art, Conscious Corporate Collecting. This project will seek to find and cultivate the talent of young artists of all ages (not yet in college) by selling their art to businesses and corporations. The money from the sales of the artwork will go back to the artists’ schools to assist in the support of their art programs. Or the kids who are creating this artwork will hopefully get involved in deciding where this money should go. Maybe not to their own school but a different school that is in need of the finances. Validating their talent as young artists and empowering them to realize their own ability to facilitate change and become philanthropic themselves is a part of the vision. All of this is in the present, but hopefully more projects that push the importance of art and the artists who are creating it will emerge in the future.
SK: What is your philosophy in representing a large roster of artists?
LW: The term “represents” really doesn’t describe the nature of the relationships that I have with some of the artists who are listed on my website. I have worked with many artists in the past – some, who had solo shows at the gallery, but are not necessarily going to have one in the near future. However, I can sell and promote these artists’ work in other ways. And there are other artists, who do not appear on my website roster, who will be having shows in future. But that, too, for me doesn’t mean that I necessarily represent them. Some artists I work with demand a lot more effort and time than others – they have more shows lined up in other galleries, and we do a lot more to help them to expand and navigate their careers, including large-scale commissions and licensing agreements. I think it feels more accurate with these people to say I do “represent” them when I start participating in other aspects of their career outside of the gallery confines and they have also had shows in the gallery. Not every artist that I work with has the same opportunities as others. But my dream would be that ultimately everyone becomes tremendously successful.
SK: Your aesthetic has a wide scope – from work of Conrad Freiburg, Emmett Kerrigan, Matt Woodward, Lora Fosberg, Juan Chavez, Alex O’Neal, Chris Cosnowski, Tom Torleumke, Ed Valentine, Nicole Gordon, Brenda Moore, Peter Drake, Carson Fox, Jon Waldo, Joseph Noderer, Paula Henderson – just to name some of the artists that you work with. Is there some common essence in the work (and/or artists) that you look for in putting together your roster?
LW: The roster has evolved as a consequence of both my own personal aesthetic as well as my personal and professional relationship with each artist. I like work that is content driven, that is visually compelling and unique on a visceral level, and that has a high concern for craftsmanship and a value in beauty. Some is very quirky and humorous, some very dark and somber. I like a lot of work that is narrative driven. I love great painting, installation and sculpture. Basically, I like work that has the ability to immediately engage the viewer with a sense of awe and wonder, and curiosity, respect and concern for what the artists are trying to explore and communicate. All of the artists you mention, and others that you haven’t who I work with, all do that for me and continue to do it in almost everything they create.
SK: With the remarkable growth of the Fine Arts in Chicago, ironically it seems that quality Chicago-based art criticism is contracting. One can see this in the reputable dailies and the absence of, say, a model like the Atlanta-based Art Papers Magazine or the Miami-based ARTPULSE Magazine. Do we need a writing model that is parallel to your gallery model–something Chicago-based that targets both local artistic talent and talent beyond Chicago? What would you say to those critics, editors, and publishers weighing the potential of locating in Chicago?
LW: Yes, 100% absolutely, of course. The artists and galleries in Chicago are currently experiencing an enormous hole in the world of local art criticism. It is like driving around a huge metropolis and not finding a single McDonald’s. Yes, we have a few printed publications that do gallery exhibition reviews: New City, Time Out, and slightly: the Tribune. I have no idea what’s going on with the Sun Times, as I don’t read it nor has anyone been in my gallery for quite some time – so I wouldn’t know. And there are some blogs that are doing a bit of that – like this blog, Bad at Sports, and Paul Klein who really goes out of his way to look at what’s out there and gives things a thumbs up and a bit of encouragement. But you would hope that after the blogs say, “You should check this out or that out,” that someone will actually come and check it out…and then write. But the local options for where writers can place their stories are so narrow. The writers have to reach out and advocate for this city in more national magazines. Show them what is going on here. Champion the art scene here. Artists have to get reviews to build their resumes and credentials. Critics need to do that. They need to give the validation, help put things in context for the viewer, explain why something is good or why it isn’t.
Chicago is a huge city with a lot of talented fine artists who deserve to be recognized. The MFA program at the SAIC just got moved in ranking from third best in the nation to 2nd best. Do we want all these great artists coming out of there to leave? How can artists thrive in this community if there isn’t hardly anyone in the local media paying much attention to them? If we aren’t doing it for ourselves, it is no wonder why it’s so hard to get a national publication to pay much attention. I think that a model that targets local artistic talent and talent beyond Chicago, in the same publication, seems like the best approach for everyone’s benefit. I’m sure there would be a local readership for this. But I get it – it’s not just subscriptions that are needed; local galleries need to support publications with advertising dollars. I am willing to do that. I do do that. And I guess that is one of the biggest issues. So galleries need to invest in this. And if they do, they will attract more reviewers from national art magazines…and then maybe, hopefully, people will realize that it would be viable to have a more constant presence reviewing the art scene here. I would say it has to be a community effort to support this – the galleries and the institutions in Chicago and art critics need to come together and raise the awareness further about what is happening locally.
SK: Thank You, Linda.
Stephen Knudsen is a Writer/ Critic for ARTPULSE Magazine, New York Arts Magazine, The SECAC Journal, and many other publications. He is a Professor of Painting at Savannah College of Art and Design.