In 2015, the Jenn Singer Gallery opened in one of New York’s most picturesque neighborhoods – Gramercy Park. Upon opening her doors, Singer, a gallery owner and curator brought a unique approach to the art world. Trained as a dancer, Singer’s exhibitions are thoughtfully choreographed, inviting, and provocative. We had the opportunity to talk with Jenn and discuss her work as a gallerist, her passion for curation, and the Jenn Singer Gallery’s latest exhibition – Emily Weiskopf: Pixan Paths // Higher Roads.
How did you grow into art curation and eventually into directing your own gallery?
I’ve always been surrounded by art in one way or another – first as a performing artist, and then about ten years ago I transitioned into art consulting with several different galleries, first on the West Coast and then back in New York. During the depths of the recession I was lucky to find a job at a gallery on Madison Ave, as no one seemed to be hiring. It was there that I had my first chance to curate a pop-up gallery in Bloomingdales. I was given a lot of freedom and responsibility to direct the pop-up and loved it. After a couple of years with that gallery, I was hired by a contemporary gallery in Chelsea and worked closely with the owner. He taught me a lot about the business of art and we installed shows together. I learned so much of what to do and what not to do from him – and he valued my feedback and input into the process of curation and exhibition planning.
As a result, he instilled a lot of confidence in me, though I never thought having my own gallery was attainable given the realities of New York real estate and the intimidating overhead. However, in November 2014, I was getting my hair cut next door to what is now Jenn Singer Gallery and asked my hair stylist about the tiny vacant space next door. It all bloomed from that moment in his chair, as I visualized the gallery – it actually seemed possible. The space is less that 200 square feet and presents its own challenges as I curate shows. It’s been fun playing with those limitations. I try to get a sense of the narrative and energy of each artist’s collection of work and let it flow from there. As I install, I try to let it breathe and want the space to feel expansive even though it’s so small in size.
Your website mentions your passion for and commitment to dance. Does your experience with dance inform how you curate?
I’ve been dancing since I was five years old and studied with incredible instructors including Paul Mejia and Suzanne Farrell at the School of American Ballet and at NYU Tisch School of the Arts where I graduated with a B.F.A. Dance will always be a part of me and it’s my home base when I need to center myself – ballet class is more therapeutic for me now than it was when I was performing, though (confession!) I haven’t taken a ballet class since opening the gallery.
During a brief stint of living on the West Coast (a much needed a break from New York at the time), I was offered a part-time job at a wonderful gallery representing California artists in Laguna Beach. I’d studied art history for fun, and always had a secret fantasy about working in a gallery surrounded by art all day. My first day there, I sold an oil painting and fell in love with the process – watching people fall in love with art; knowing that an artist was going to get paid because of people’s desire to live with their art – it was a beautiful thing given that my background was dance (an expensive art form to train in and one of the least supported).
It was an incredibly natural transition into the visual art world. Opening receptions feel like performances to me – I have to be on and I want the audience to have an experience and leave wanting more. I believe the discipline and commitment it took to become a dancer helps me every day in the business of art and keeping the gallery running. And, the exposure to classical music, artistic scenery, beautiful choreography, costuming, etc. from such a young age helps to inform and guide me as I choreograph my exhibitions and put all the pieces together.
From Miriam Cabessa’s evocative paintings to Delphine Diallo’s photo collages, your current contemporary artist exhibition is largely populated by an incredibly diverse group of women. As a woman in the arts yourself, do you receive any pushback from the decision to feature mostly female artists?
No pushback at all! In fact, I’ve only received positive feedback about my female-centric program. I am not anti-male and will not leave wonderful artists that I want to work with off the list just because of their gender, but I do love that I represent so many fantastic, talented female artists. It’s important to me because there is still so much discrimination and misogyny in our society. When I was looking at artists for the gallery, I couldn’t believe how many amazing female artists I’d happened upon that were not represented. It’s personal because when I look at the list of the top-selling artists, biggest galleries, most successful working choreographers, etc, I see a lot of men. I just want to see things a bit more balanced out. A little more yin and a little less yang, if you will.
Pixan Paths // Higher Roads, Emily Weiskopf’s solo exhibition, opens April 30th in your exhibition space. What initially drew you to Weiskopf’s colorful abstractions?
When I initially met Emily in her studio, I was immediately drawn to her use of unconventional, industrial materials – abstract works on aluminum incorporating roofing paint, gravel, tar, enamel, and plaster. She was about to undergo major spinal surgery, as months earlier she was involved in a nearly fatal car accident. Her story, strength, passion and obvious talent sold me on working with her – and her work sold itself.
Why is curation so important to both the artist and the collector?
I see the curator as one who helps interpret and convey the artist’s message to the world. Artists put so much passion and energy into their work – it can get very cerebral and can be very personal. To help decode that for the viewer, allowing room for their own interpretation of the work, is my job. I can speak about the work in a different way than the artist, revealing tidbits, secrets, insights and glimpses into the soul of the artist that the collector wouldn’t otherwise have access to.
Connect with the Jenn Singer Gallery and see their latest exhibitions: