ArtSlant’s Michael Shaw sat down with dealer Parker Jones in his new space in Chinatown –which was in the process of light renovation - just prior to Jones’ trip to New York for the Armory Show the following day.
Michael Shaw: So let’s start by tracing your gallery history going backwards - You’re now on the verge of opening your own gallery in Chinatown; your last position was director of Black Dragon Society [a half-block away from his own gallery, Parker Jones, in the former David Kordansky space on Bernard St.]; prior to that you were assistant and associate director at SandroniRey Gallery [when they were in Venice] What were you doing before that?
Parker Jones: I was in school. Studying Art History and English/Writing and being an artist. My background is in art history and performance art (that’s the art I did).
I actually had the idea to have a gallery, strangely, very early in life- because I had a friend who from kindergarten, his father had a gallery in Seattle - Wynn gallery, a commercial thing. I think he does prints now. But it was an entirely different sensibility for a kid, to go into a home…there was a whole room you weren’t allowed to go into. And so at 5-6 years old: “’You can’t go in there.’ ‘Why’ not? You mean like macaroni necklaces? What are you talking about.’” It was this idea of this other kind of environment- so that put it in my head, and it kind of stayed with me.
I drew my whole life…. And then in college I got into writing more, and then rediscovered my interest in art, through art history…and I started making art again- but coming out of school I realized I didn’t want to be an artist.
Performance art kind of helped usher me out of this idea of being a studio artist.
And there are endless quotes from everyone from Andy Warhol to you name it about life is art and art is life…and what way you fit yourself into this whole dance- that is your last and only performance. I figured I didn’t need to be depending on my rendering skills to feel like I was satisfying my creative tendencies.
So I moved to LA, had weird off jobs for a few months, and then I got a job at Sandroni Rey.
MS: What school did you go to?
PJ: University of Colorado, Boulder- B.A. in art history.
The art history- I kept running across land art and environmental art, and that quickly became my focus, which was serendipitous because Boulder is equa-distant to: Lighting Fields, Double Negative, Spiral Jetty, Star Axis…it’s right there. So I created an independent study and I finished up my degree where I drove to visit all the major earth works that are still there, documented them in their current state and built up the University’s slide library, creating all these before and after conversations…’here it is in 1967- here it is now…’
Mindy Shaperp, Mosaic drawing, white, 2007-8, spray paint and acrylic on paper, 99 x 82 3/4 inches; Courtesy of the artist.
MS: Back to Sandroni Rey, then; it sounds like it was good timing.
PJ: Yeah- it was perfect timing. For lots of reasons- one I needed a job and two it was just before they…it was good timing for me because I got really good experience dealing with the gallery on a very bricks and mortar level, because it was just myself and the two owners. And it was up to me to make sure that physically the plant itself did not fail. And I think that’s really an important thing to learn about galleries: it’s a shell; there’s a shelter aspect to it that’s really important- there cannot be a leak…you cannot have ants. And being on [near] the beach it was adverse conditions…like Jerusalem crickets wandering into the office.
When you move one wall in a gallery, it changes completely: the volume, the site lines, the light, so you know, it’s good experience.
They were really generous in letting me curate in my office. I did four show- four solo shows. Mindy Shapero’s debut show; Matt Greene’s debut show; Michael Wilson…
MS: That’s a pretty auspicious start.
PJ: It was cool. You know: it was like the reception area at the same time, so people walked in and they were immediately confronted with two shows kind of going on simultaneously- one literally going on inside the other. But it was good energy for the gallery, so... I think the gallery benefited from having this duality, and the artists on both sides of the walls did as well.
‘Parker’s Office’- that was the name.
MS: So then, it was about the time that SandroniRey was moving to Culver City that you left the gallery for Black Dragon?
PJ: It was just before. They had a curator named Sheldon LaPierre- talk about good timing- that was the best thing about it: I got hired before they hired him, so I was there for the entire duration of his stint at the gallery.
He curated the first show in the United States of the Leipzig painters…
He brought Hernan Bas to the gallery, he brought Iona Rozeal-Brown to the gallery…he brought an entirely different aesthetic and energy to the program, which was great. And Kristin and Tara were thrilled with it.
Sheldon decided to move back East, and I left soon after, I felt like I had learned everything I could learn at that point.
I was still there (at S-R), and I was over here in Chinatown, at Hop Louie (an established local artist watering hole), having a drink with a bunch of artists, a couple of them were painters at Black Dragon Society, and I mentioned that I was looking for a director spot, and they said that Black Dragon was looking for a director, so they spoke with the owners, Roger Herman and Hubert Schmalix, who contacted me, and we met a few times and we shook hands.
MS: The Black Dragon sensibility, at that time and for most of its run, seemed to have these characteristics: UCLA, painters, and also a very painterly sensibility, or in the case of sculpture, a very visceral sensibility. Would you agree with that or maybe want to add to it?
PJ: That’s pretty accurate. That wasn’t my background at all, and that’s kind of what interested me most about the opportunity. Most of my knowledge was in contemporary art history, not contemporary art as it is… I had only been working at a gallery three years, I was still getting familiar with the landscape. And sculpture and environmental work and performance work- those were the languages I knew the best.
It all overlaps but painting is its own language…
Roger and Hubert were both curating in a gallery that…in a way that no one else dared to. They started in 1998 showing what they wanted to show….There was still a fear I think, of breaking the taboo of identity politics in art. Galleries were quick to identify themselves as a ‘project space’ and have this sort of non-committal approach…your token video artist, and your token photographer….
And they (Black Dragon) just started putting up salon-style shows with figurative work in this almost grotesque manner- figurative work of young artists. And also kind of younger than what was acceptable for showing at the time. So they broke a lot of boundaries without even thinking about it…it wasn’t self-conscious at all. They were instructors so they were just showing their students…and their friends. They were showing their own art. It was this totally free approach, and that seemed really interesting.
It was a chance to get educated in something that…you can look at slides of paintings, you can visit museums, you can read about it all day and night. But to work side-by-side with painters, and be in the studios of painters is a completely different kind of education. That was incredible, and that’s why I did it.
MS: To what extent did you put your own stamp on the program?
PJ: When they brought me in, the discussion was that they didn’t want to run the gallery anymore…they wanted me to take over, immediately, from Day one. I was there everyday, they were there only on Saturdays- we decided they would come in on Saturdays so there was a familiar face around on the day most people visit galleries, just for a while so that the artists didn’t worry that the gallery was changing hands or anything…but they really wanted to relinquish themselves of any responsibility.
And I made it clear to them that I wanted to curate, I wanted to bring new artists on, so that was something we were both happy with.
Tia Pulitzer, It's not you, it's me; Courtesy of the artist.
MS: So what new artists did you bring on?
PJ: Well, we curated, the three of us; there was never an artist that only one of us wanted. It was always very democratic. so the artists that were added after then, which I was a part of the decision-making process, were Gustavo Herrera, Bart Exposito, Phil Wegner, Charles Karubbian- who they had showed in ’98 or ’99 but hadn’t shown there in a while, so the three of us decided to pick him back up. Giuliano Patcholi. Julie Kirkpatrick. Tia Pulitzer. Skyler Haskert. Thomas Trosch- we did a show of 3 of his paintings from the mid-90s.
MS: What’s the story with Black Dragon? Did they sort of decide, ‘we’re done?’
PJ: Well, we agreed at some point that they would hand the gallery over to me entirely. At the time when were having all these conversations – you know it was just the three of us for the first 2 years – there had been another owner of the gallery, legally…
And so there was one more person involved in the decision-making. It got to the point where, with Roger and Hubert, like “Ok, we’re done.” But the (other) owner didn’t want to leave. So I had to make the decision whether I wanted to work with the other owner, and I decided I didn’t. So the only way to be on my own was for Roger, Hubert and I to give (the other owner) the gallery, or to dissolve the gallery. So we just decided to dissolve it.
MS: So that sounds like a best-case scenario, in retrospect, because you’re starting fresh, and so on.
PJ: Yeah. For me it’s always been a very personal endeavor. It’s not like running another business. It’s not widgets. You’re a microphone for these other artists, you’re an amplifier. Just by shaping and broadening someone else’s voice, you’re part of that creative process. You’re kind of the last step in helping the show come together….and the presentation of it. And the contextualizing of it between the studio and the public. It’s something that if you have partners involved, doing that with you- you really have to in synch. Roger and Hubert and I were in synch, pretty well, as far as showing the kind of work we were showing…but I had started to kind of- my interest in taking this insight I had taken from another part of the art world that I had gained working at Black Dragon Society, I wanted to now take my other experience and bring it together. And it was right at the time that they wanted to just go and be painters.
That was always the reason they wanted out…
Gerald Davis, Der Wichser, (1 of 2), 2007, Prismacolor on paper, 50 x 38 inches; Courtesy of the artist
MS: Do you have a set group of artists for your coming venture, or is it sort of in process, or both?
PJ: That was an interesting thing to discover: I don’t have an idea of what my gallery will look like- the gallery will answer that question I guess, by the shows I do. I’ll be answering that question in real time for myself as much as for anyone else. There’s seven former Black Dragon artists that I’ll be working with:
Gerald Davis, Charles Karubbian, Steve Cannady, and Heather Brown- all four painters that kind of come from a similar tradition. That was important to me to keep what I feel like is a bit of a historically important group of artists together, because they do matter to each other. And then Nick Lowe and Ry Rocklin. Nick kind of fits into that group as well, and then Ry Rocklin and Phil Wegner are the other two.
The most exciting thing is I’ll be able to show work I haven’t been able to show in the last five years…I’ll probably be showing artists I haven’t shown before right off the bat.
MS: Have you been working with those artists at art fairs already?
PJ: I have. The artists I’m taking to the Armory: Joe Deitch; Rachel Rosky; Adrian Paules; Ry Rocklin.
MS: You’ve been to how many art fairs now? 3,4,5?
PJ: This (the Armory) will be my third as Parker Jones.
MS: So how are you finding the climate compared to, say, a year ago?
PJ: So far it’s OK. It’s not as great as it was. It’s not as good as it obviously was. But, if I take into account what I’ve taken to these fairs, and what my expectations were, I’m happy. I took a 10x13 foot collage, by Nick Lowe, that’s not cheap, and it’s a work on paper- it was an expensive work on paper. And a museum bought it, and that was in Miami. And then I had two big paintings of Phil Wegner and I sold one of them. So two out of three ain’t bad. I didn’t shed too much blood, which a lot of people did.
Art LA I did a one-artist presentation, which is always a big gamble, because you’re just not appealing to as broad of a range of people.
That was Joe Deitch. I sold the biggest piece in the booth, and many future sales were generated from that already.
It’s not the blood bath I thought it would be, but I’m not open [yet], and it’s really hard to know what the temperature is if you’re not rotating shows every six weeks and calling your collectors every six weeks. So get back to me about that.
MS: Are the art fairs a way to recruit new collectors? Is that one of the main goals?
PJ: Yeah. They used to be. Well, I’d say it’s one of the main- one of the main benefits is, yes, meeting new collectors, but the other one is also introducing new artists to people- new to them. And those may be new people, collectors you already work with, so, it’s making new introductions.
MS: And obviously having access to an international audience…
PJ: Yeah- the Armory is a really important fair for an L.A. gallery, I think, because it’s halfway to Europe. And coming all the way across the continental US is just something Europeans avoid if they can…I think the Armory is where they hope to get a sense of what’s going on in L.A. galleries without having to make that extra voyage.
Until now NY has been the center of the world in terms of where collectors come from, but from what I hear about New York that’s not the case anymore. It sounds awful. Galleries are doing- it sounds like there’s just no one buying art, which I don’t know if that matters for the Armory, because it’s an art fair that’s visited by collectors from all over the world, but of course still there’s a larger percentage of New York collectors there than from anywhere else, but if they’re just like- because you know, it’s the center of the financial world.
MS: to what extent did your Black Dragon reputation or background help with getting into the Armory?
PJ: Hard to say; I’m sure the fact that I’ve done the fair for…four years prior, and I’m in good standing with the fair- they’ve always appreciated the booth I’ve put together, so…they were well aware that I wasn’t going to be bringing artists from Black Dragon Society, and I was a new name, new address…they knew all of that. I think they were comfortable accepting me but knew that it was a different thing.
MS: Have you always anticipated that when you got a new space that it was going to be in Chinatown?
PJ: No. About a year and a half ago I bought the building next door. And that was just because I knew it was coming up for sale, and real estate is something I’ve wanted to invest in for a while because it’s a little more stable an investment than a lot of things, and I just wanted to be smart with my money so that eventually I could use that for a gallery. So I bought the building without any intent of opening a gallery in it; Black Dragon Society was not on the road to closing; then BDS was going to close, and I thought this was the time to open a gallery, and I thought, ‘I’ll just do it in my own building, that makes perfect sense,’ so I was going to open here out of logic more than anything.
But the idea of building out a space: paying for drywall and track lights and all that became unappealing, if I could avoid it.
So I had been looking at spaces all over, because there are a lot of built-out spaces in Culver City that are coming up, for lease, but the rents are still far higher than Chinatown, so trying to set myself up for survival more than success, I just thought you know what: this became available, and the rent is quite different than what you pay for footage in Culver City, you know, and it’s a turnkey gallery, so I took this space.
MS: So as you’re heading to the Armory (tomorrow), how much time will you be devoting to other business, studio visits and so on?
PJ: I’ll be going to some studios when I’m out there, but it’s important opening the gallery right away – and I’ll be by myself – to be in the booth as much as possible, because you never know who’s going to walk in and when.
I’ll be pretty dedicated to being at the fair everyday, all day.
MS: And having done that before, just out of curiosity how exhausting do you find that to be?
PJ: It’s pretty exhausting. What’s exhausting about it is really hard to put your finger on…it’s a combination of late nights, the parties, and you’re just sitting there- you’re on for eight hours. And you’re in a recycled air space- a trade fair, essentially. Standing for long times, and it kind of wears you down. And especially because it’s in New York in March, and it’s 29 degrees today…so add that to the whole--- it’s a drag.
MS: If L.A. has become an art world unto its own, or people look at it in a different way now than they used to- if L.A. dealers continue to show X amount of NY artists, does that slow things down for L.A. artists?
PJ: I’m afraid to even talk in terms of New York and LA artists. Because how many artists that live in New York right now are just terrified, because no one’s buying art anymore, so there income has been completely shut off. And they need to chop their overhead by like 70%. How do you do that? You don’t do that in New York. You have to move- where do they move? They’re going to move to L.A.
So the flux of artists from LA to NY and NY to LA, and I really feel like it’s going to be strongly from NY to LA in the next few years because of the financial situation. It makes it even impossible to like…so many of the artists out there were schooled out here. And Rachel Rosky and Adrian Paules were schooled out there and now they live out here. Artists bounce back so quickly almost it seems in between the two, I kind of feel like that delineation is going to start to disappear. Artists who have been considered New York artists for the last several years are probably thinking about moving to LA right now. My feeling is that LA is only going to become more important to the art world because it’s where an artist can go and live and have a studio and do it all for a fraction of the cost of most of the city.
Adrian Paules, Folded Drawing 6 (Clown to Clown), graphite on paper, 11 x 14 inches, 2007; Courtesy Adrian Paules
MS: What artists are you excited or enthusiastic about?
PJ: Adrian Paules, he’s a sculptor and I’ll be having a solo show of his work. Joe Deitch I’m really excited about. I don’t have a solo show scheduled with Joe, but I interested in his work. I did a solo show for all intents and purposes at Art LA.
These are some of the LA artists whose work I think is the most exciting right now.
MS: And finally, are you looking to narrow down your opening date in the next month or so?
PJ: This (510 Bernard, the space he’s doing a light renovation on) fell in my lap. I wasn’t expecting it. So I didn’t have a first show already like organized, curated, planned…so as soon as I got the key that was the same day I was thinking about what show it would be. The first show…within the next month, month and a half- end of March, first half of April, somewhere in there.
ArtSlant wishes to thank Parker Jones for his assistance in making this interview possible.