Interviews

Can a Blue-Chip Collector Go Against the Grain?

Installation view of "Bulletin Boards"
“Bulletin Boards” installation view at Venus Over Manhattan, with work by Matthew Higgs, Bjarne Melgaard and Antoine Catala (all photos courtesy the gallery unless otherwise noted)

With the economy slowly creaking back to life and a good deal of speculation about an imminent art market bubble burst, the intrepid collector and writer Adam Lindemann has seen fit to open a brand-spanking-new gallery in the lap of luxury at 980 Madison Avenue.

Why does he think this is a good time to start a new business? And what mojo does he have on hand to make his upstart cube stand out in this neighborhood of older, more experienced gallerists?

On the day before the launch of his second show, Bulletin Boards, I visited Lindemann at Venus Over Manhattan (VOM), the nascent gallery, named for the “Venus of Manhattan” sculpture by Wheeler Williams that dominates the facade of 980 Madison, the Carlyle Galleries Building.

I am early, for once, and Lindemann is late. Gallery Director Anna Furney ushers me into the lovely chill of VOM’s A/C with a gust of energy: she’s happy to be very, very busy. Adam is late, she tells me, but she’ll show me what’s in the gallery so far.

A few of the bulletin boards are either in place or their contents are propped against the wall beneath their future real estate. It all looks at once very personal, very institutional, very avant-garde and very Upper East Side. Anna is happily describing the plans for the opening party, which will sport a DJ and a band. Adam’s first show, À Rebours, started with a dimly-lit absinthe party, so it strikes me that he’s got a hankering for the hip.

When Lindemann is ready to see me, I find him busy, too. Laptop open and typing away and a constantly buzzing phone ready to hand. But he’s made time to speak with me.

“How’s Hypoallergic?” he asks, unmoved by my correction.

“Do you read the art blogs?” I ask him, and he says, “Of course, I write one.”

Adam Lindemann is very self-possessed. Soft spoken and deliberate, he takes his time and uses no exclamation points. I find it hard to get used to the fact that he gives three full seconds of extra thought to the final word of every sentence. Surely no one is that comfortable in his skin. But there he is.

We begin by determining that he’s been open for two months and 10 days. He aims at all times to be that precise. So when I ask him how he feels things are going so far, he seems determined to build me a timeline. He’s on a trajectory that must be described — an easy interview.

*   *   *

Adam Lindemann
Lindemann poses with his alter ego, des Esseintes, as envisioned by George Condo, in the painting “Des Esseintes Contemplating Artiface” (2012; photo via Guest of a Guest)

Cat Weaver: This new show is very different from the last. How did we get here?

Adam Lindemann: The À Rebours show, based on Huymans’s novel, was more like a personal show because I’d been advised that a new gallery traditionally opens with a very personal group show. But I don’t really like group shows, so I tried a more thematic show. It also served as a commentary on where we are in the art world at this time, by speaking through this eccentric alter ego, Jean des Essientes, from the late 19th century, whose motto is to be himself at all costs, and part of that is to go against the grain.

CW: Do you see that as the role of the gallerist or maybe even the art collector?

AL: Well, it was more of a commentary on myself as well as an answer to those people who think of me as a collector and feel that therefore I shouldn’t be a writer. And that now as a collector and writer, I shouldn’t be a gallerist.

CW: It’s sort of that old-school separation of all the roles —

AL: Yes, these absurd, moralistic points of view …  And so the show was about the book, À rebours. It is about writing and this person who is in his own private world and collects art and parties and debauches, for his own personal pleasure, and doesn’t really care what the world thinks. So it was kind of a tongue-in-cheek riddle on many different levels. Most people don’t get it. Or they don’t want to get it. But it was also about that.

CW: Were there concerns about how the public would take it, I mean, if people who hadn’t read the book would get it?

AL: Yes, this was one part, and I feared as well that the works that were chosen for the show might not fit. Because I’d never curated a show before. So, all in all, there were many concerns.

CW: That was another thing I was going to ask you about. What inspired you to start running a gallery — especially at this time when the financial world is kind of iffy, and I guess we’re just coming out of a whole bunch of galleries dying?

AL: Well, you know, I’ve collected for a while, and I always kind of wanted to do exhibitions. And at this point I’ve seen so many others do it.

CW: Was it like, “I can do it better,” or “something more needs to be said”?

AL: Well, I’ve written and I’ve collected,  but I’ve never done this part, which is to run the gallery and be the gallerist. So I’m not trying to do it “better,” because there are a lot of good galleries out there, but I’m trying to find the way to do it my own way. The first try showed me a lot about the art world, too. It exposed the art world to me in a way that I didn’t know it.

CW: From a curatorial point of view … ?

AL: Oh, you really see how people play their cards in a way, because you see how conservative they really are.

CW: The artist or your clients?

AL: No, the professionals in the field. Some are surprisingly narrow — or they just like to pretend to be. But news, very quickly, will be old news.

CW: I think they are just learning, in a way, how to deal with technology and young people who don’t see any one role for themselves. You can be an artist and curator, a writer and a curator …

AL: But it’s good. I’ve been to enough cocktail parties to see how things work. So I thought a lot about it a summer ago — about a year ago — that I needed to open a gallery in order to keep my passion alive.

"À rebours" installation view
“À rebours” installation view, with Walter Dahn, “Les premiers jours du Printemps” (1986), center left; John Chamberlain, “Murmurous Moto, Maestro” (1991), center right; Andra Ursuta, “Breath Hold (Discipline and Vanish)” (2010), far right; Jeff Koons, “Violet-Ice (Kama Sutra)” (1991), background, far left

CW: So do you think your gallery might be a chance for you to look at and play with things that you might not necessarily have considered for your own collection?

AL: You know, what’s odd is that some people, including several experts in the field, were under the faulty assumption that this gallery would exist to exhibit my personal collection, when in fact the opposite is true.

CW: I did. I think people think of you first and foremost as a collector, so they haven’t wrapped their minds around you as a gallerist.

AL: Yes, but I’ve bought and sold more art than most galleries, as a collector. And anyone who knows me knows that. When you’re a collector you have all the benefits of that, and then when you choose to sell, you have all the benefits of selling. But when you’re a dealer — when you open a gallery — you, uh, you know — it can be a nice way to lose money.

CW: I would think.

AL: You have to pay the rent. You have to take on all these expenses. But I trust in art, so I’m confident it will all be good in the end.

CW: Speaking of expenses, can we talk about the theft?

AL: Sure. I don’t know. I don’t think they’ll ever find the guy. They don’t have any leads. They don’t know anything. The outstanding question that’s never been addressed is, why would somebody do this?

CW: Isn’t the curiosity killing you?

AL: Well, in the beginning I thought it was terrible. And I was very upset. And I thought it was very bad for us. But in the end, I think it was very À Rebours. And that makes it a facinating experience.

CW: It must have done good for the final days of the show …

AL: Yeah, I mean what could be more À Rebours than the whole Thomas Crowne Affair played out in the show: stealing something just for the thrill of it and then sending it back just to be like, “screw you.” It’s the ultimate act of À Rebours.

CW: And to have your face on the cameras …

AL: Well, des Esseintes is kind of a delinquent. He’s flirting with things in a sort of aristocratic way — with the far edges of social, and even legal, propriety. So I thought that was the ultimate À Rebours act. And what’s nice about it is it was done in such a surreal, Dalí-esque way. Dalí would like it. I think we and everyone else will always remember the show for that.

[Laughs] And you know, some people think I did it myself, as a publicity stunt. Which I think is wonderful. I’m glad that I get so much credit.

Antoine Catala and Gallery Director Artemis Baltoyanni
Antoine Catala and Gallery Director Artemis Baltoyanni prepping for the opening of “Bulletin Boards”

CW: So what’s next?

AL: We just finished this big project, and everyone’s a bit exhausted from that. So I thought that to invite a non-profit to avail themselves of the space and do a benefit would be a good thing.

To invite Matthew Higgs, who is so respected and has done so many great shows (and he’s such an interesting guy), and then have him select the 20 artists is — well, I really liked that idea. And then he pitched me on the bulletin board concept, which I thought was wonderful because everyone exists on the same playing level. Like every artist, whether they’re known or less known, they come in with the same starting point. Then we get to see how each one’s vision is different. I think it’s really fun and exciting.

What I also like about it is it will bring in a lot of young people. And that’s one of the things that I’m interested in, particularly here on the Upper East Side, because this is not the traditional neighborhood where you would have a lot of young people, a lot of excitement like this. You’d think you’d have to go to Chelsea or the Lower East Side for that.

CW: You’re looking for that energy, that kind of feedback …

AL: Yeah, the point of this show was to do a good thing for White Columns and to bring energy and excitement to the space. I’m pretty sure it’s going to do well. I think the party is going to be very celebratory, and more. But it’s completely different from the last show.

Then in September we’re going to do a one-man show. It’s going to be a primary show of a young artist — a sort of early mid-career artist who hasn’t shown in New York in three years. So it’s all about trying to come up with programming that somehow is a bit surprising.

[Note: Can Hyperallergic readers guess who Lindemann will show in September? He told us, but we’d love to see if you can guess.]

CW: You seem to really hate convention.

AL: I want to try to stay outside of convention, but I want to say “try” because this is an effort, and eventually every gallery will revert to the mean at some point. Every gallery is the same in that we try to bring people in and develop a clientele. But I just want it to be very varied; therefore we have a thematic historic show, then a non-profit show, then a primary show. In November we’re doing an historic show of a dead artist — a retrospective one-man show. And then in January we’re doing a primary show of an emerging artist.

Work by Adam McEwan in "Bulletin Boards"
Work by Adam McEwan in “Bulletin Boards” (click to enlarge)

CW: So you’re interested in emerging artists. Do you collect emerging artists?

AL: A little bit, yeah. I mean when I really get excited I will definitely get involved in an emerging artist, but I don’t have any rules.

CW: No rules at all.

AL: No. As a matter of fact, I think part of the MO that we’re trying to establish in this gallery is to bring some energy and focus on parts of the art world that have not been exploited or … what I would say, compromised. I’m trying to deliver something that at least appears to be fresh. I’m trying to keep it exciting and fresh, really for myself.

CW: To keep your interests alive. So do you think the gallery will feed back into your own personal aesthetic?

AL: I think so. It’s like my collecting days are somehow eclipsed, and I’m onto the next phase. It’s not that I don’t have a collection, but that’s what I have for personal reasons. Here in the gallery there is sort of a living, ongoing program, one that will change every six weeks. And I think that will change me. But we’re specifically looking at projects that we can work with. I’m looking at what’s available to us, and I’m trying to come up with what’s dynamic. Hopefully we’ll be able to find our thread.

CW: What about the gallery’s development, where’s it all going?

AL: We’re not huge by any means. We’re not in any of the art fairs.

CW: Are you going to be?

AL: We’re going to try. But there’s all sorts of rules that are immediately put in your face …

CW: Is it like a mark you’ve made it? Why do dealers and galleries feel they have to be a part of it?

AL: Well, I don’t think it means you’ve made it. I thought, at the Basel fair last summer, that one third of the galleries should be gone. I think the art fairs could be much more dynamic than they are. But because of the way they’ve been built, it’s likely you see the same galleries every year, and sometimes even the same art!

CW: Kind of like a strip mall …

AL: It’s become like that, but the audience loves it and galleries must go to the audience — the mountain will not come to Mohammed. I’d like to be in the art fairs for many reasons, but mainly because there are a number of artists we want to work with who will only work with us if we are in the art fairs.

CW: Oh, really?!

AL: They want to sell their merch. You know, if you go to a big artist and say, “We’d like to work with you,” they’ll say, “Well, you don’t give me distribution. You’re a new gallery.” Yeah, we’re a new gallery with 7,000 feet on Madison Avenue. That’s a little different than being just a new gallery. In my mind I’ve been doing this for over a decade, so it’s not that experimental. These choices have been made with quite a bit of knowledge, and I benefited from all the collecting and the relationships that I’ve had.

CW: Do you see Venus Over Manhattan taking on the role of nurturing, building careers — sort of old style?

AL: I don’t really think I need to be someone else. We’ll find our own way. If an artist is working with us and they’re happy, and we’re happy, we continue. I’m often surprised that more artists don’t do it that way. I’m surprised that the artists themselves are not more independent.

CW: There are a lot of people who hate the business end of things and only want to do the creative part.

AL: That’s what Brice Marden told me. And then you have Damien Hirst.

CW: Do you fear being labeled as the 1%, or catering only to the 1%? I think that wealth and success bashing are becoming more popular as the economy worsens. Do you feel any of that?

AL: I’m allergic to hypocrisy, so I try to tell it like I see it. There’s no point in tailoring my writing or my shows to one percent or another. I do my best to keep the quality high, and we will try to have the best programming we can manage. Ultimately, that’s good for everyone.

Bulletin Boards, guest curated by White Columns, will be at Venus Over Manhattan (980 Madison Avenue, third floor) through August 24. The gallery is open to the public Monday through Friday from 10 am to 6 pm.

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