Home Interior Design Art dealer Monya Rowe talks about the “naivety and chutzpah” that has made her New York gallery a star for 20 years

Art dealer Monya Rowe talks about the “naivety and chutzpah” that has made her New York gallery a star for 20 years

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  1. Gallery owner and dealer Monya Rowe knows nothing is promised, at least in the New York art world. Fluctuating tastes and trends, exorbitant rents, market bubbles and bursts are the simple facts of life in the city’s gallery world. Over the years, Rowe has faced them all, coming away with some lessons and even more tenacity.

This year Monya Rowe Gallery, which built its reputation on an unexpected group of mostly female artists, celebrates its 20th anniversary and continues to build on its successes. Last month, the gallery moved to a new, expanded space in the same building on 30th Street in which it has been localized since 2018.

“The new space is on a different floor and is about three times the size,” Rowe said. “I wanted the artists I work with to have a bit more freedom to exhibit larger works and show more with each exhibition.”

Cindy Bernhard, Staircase (2023).  Courtesy of Monya Rowe Gallery.

Cindy Bernard, Stairs (2023). Courtesy of Monya Rowe Gallery.

Holy Smokes,» an exhibition of works by artist Cindy Bernhard, inaugurated in the new location. Bernhard’s iridescent, nocturnal paintings have something ceremonial about them – the saucer-eyed cats with shiny, thick coats that haunt these canvases are accompanied by luminous mirrors seemingly taken from fairy tales, as well as candles incandescent, which are apparently metamorphic in their melting forms. One could imagine the show as a kind of ritual mass, blessing the space.

The odd exposition suits Rowe, whose keen eye has been his guiding philosophy. This week, the gallery will open »Duality: the real and the perceived», a summer group exhibition that brings together a selection of works by artists from the gallery, including Anastasiya Tarasenko, Aubrey Levinthal, Larissa Bates and Bryan Rogers, as well as artists with long-standing relationships with Rowe, and some new acquaintances. .

Rowe is a rare bird in the art dealer world, as one of the few female gallery owners whose spaces in New York have endured over the decades. Add to that the fact that Rowe focused primarily on female artists and the pool becomes even smaller. And the fact that it is entirely self-funded puts it among a handful of its peers.

“I’ve always sailed towards figurative art and that hasn’t changed even when it seemed like everyone was showing abstraction,” Rowe said, of his gallery listing. “The list leans more heavily towards women, even from the start, but it’s not deliberate. I choose work that I consider good and meaningful, not based on gender. Maybe one day things will work out reverse and people will ask a gallery why it shows mostly men. We’re not there yet.

A street view of the original location of the Monya Rowe Gallery in Williamsburg, now demolished.

A street view of the original location of the Monya Rowe Gallery in Williamsburg, now demolished.

So how did she manage to stay in business? Rowe attributes a kind of blind tenacity to the gallery’s formation and success. The Australian-born dealer got her start in the art world later, only entering the sphere professionally when she was 30. “I was getting depressed working at meaningless jobs that I didn’t care about and I knew I had to find a job that I could do and didn’t hate doing every day,” Rowe recalls, “I always been into art and I really just kind of decided I was going to be a dealer In retrospect it was kinda crazy because I didn’t have any money or connections but I had an ego big enough to think that I should be the one making the decisions combined with a lot of naivety and chutzpah.

The beginnings of his career were neither glorious nor glamorous. After finding work as a gallery assistant, Rowe eventually opened her own space in South Williamsburg in 2003. “The first space was in an old bakery that was being converted into artists’ studios. I asked the owner if I could have a gallery there,” Rowe said. “It was $500 a month and it was freezing. I installed a buzzer at the entrance to the building and had to physically get up and let people in every time. I remember one time someone injected heroin on the front porch. The building has since been demolished and turned into luxury condos, Rowe recalled.

Aubrey Levinthal, Cafe (Barista) (2022).  Courtesy of Monya Rowe Gallery.

Aubrey Levinthal, Coffee (barista) (2022). Courtesy of Monya Rowe Gallery.

During this time, the budding merchant tried to build her reputation by organizing exhibitions in spaces around the city. “The second show I hosted was at White Columns that Ken Johnson from New York Times wrote about it in 2003,” she recalls.

Rowe quit her job as a gallery assistant shortly after opening her space and took a 9-to-5 job outside of the art world. “I wanted to be seen as a merchant, not a gallery assistant,” she explained, “I worked 7 days a week for about a year. 5 days at my day job and weekends At that time the galleries were open in Williamsburg on weekends, so people would go to Chelsea on weekdays and Williamsburg on weekends.

The Monya Rowe Gallery’s first exhibition, a group show of works on paper, was reviewed by Roberta Smith, who called the space “probably the smallest white cube in the New York art world.”

Polina Barskaya, Before Bed in London (2023).  Courtesy of Monya Rowe Gallery.

Polina Barskaya, Before going to bed in London (2023). Courtesy of Monya Rowe Gallery.

Less than a year after opening, the gallery moved to a space on 26th Street in Chelsea. Then, in 2013, the gallery moved to Orchard Street on the Lower East Side, where it operated for two years. In 2015, the gallery racked up three consecutive reviews in the Time, but later that year Rowe closed up shop in New York and moved to St. Augustine, Florida.

Artist Angela Dufresne reflected on the start in a trial as a sign of the difficult road facing self-made resellers operating outside the mainstream market. The exodus was short-lived, however, and in 2018 the Monya Rowe Gallery returned to New York and moved to its current Flower District building, in a former fur storage and manufacturing factory.

Rowe is particularly loved and respected by her artists, who have kept her coming back. During her career, she gave her first solo exhibitions to artists such as Dufresne, Josephine Halvorson, Vera Iliatova, Jacolby Satterwhite and Devin Troy Strother. “It’s important that the work is good, but also that I connect with the artist on a human level and that we respect and appreciate each other. It’s a marriage in some ways,” she said. “I was naturally beating to the beat of my own drum, so I guess that’s how I run the gallery.”

Bryan Rogers, Diving Right (2023).  Courtesy of Monya Rowe Gallery.

Brian Rogers, Diving right (2023). Courtesy of Monya Rowe Gallery.

Unsurprisingly, its collector base spans a wide spectrum, from big names to first-time collectors. “Some gallery visitors have never purchased a work or even thought about it, but come away with a work. It’s always exciting because it sort of demystifies what the members-only front galleries exude. “, she said.

Rowe credits the gallery’s endurance to a community of artists, collectors, fellow gallery owners, writers, and art-loving visitors to the gallery who have kept things inspired. She also chooses to focus on herself rather than looking outward. “I make decisions based on what’s good for me and the artists, not trends or what other people are doing,” she noted. “I also think it’s generally just a healthy way to live. The art world has a way of infiltrating the psyche in a negative way. It’s easy to start comparing yourself to others, and it’s never a good thing to do.

Rowe said she still had moments of doubt about the future of the gallery. “This company is a roller coaster. I can’t imagine owning a gallery without really loving what you do. It is truly a labor of love. A healthy dose of courage also helps,” she said.

But humility is not necessarily a bad thing. Looking back 20 years, the advice she offers is succinct: “Don’t let a little bit of success go to your head,” Rowe said. “This applies to artists and gallery owners. Success comes and goes very quickly in this profession. The art world gives and the art world takes away. Relationships last.

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