Written by Deianira Tolema
Since its inception in 1985, Kohn Gallery in Los Angeles has become one of the most important sites of contemporary art in the city, founded by former Flash Art editor Michael Kohn. In 1986, the gallery mounted an exhibition of Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Boxes, just weeks prior to the pop icon’s death. The gallery includes notable works by Richard Prince and Wallace Berman, bridging together artists from different generations and different coasts, together with New York-based artists like Christopher Wool, Richard Tuttle, Mark Tansey, Kenny Scharf, and Keith Haring. Today, Kohn Gallery boasts not only works by important late twentieth-century artists, but also a roster of emerging and mid-career artists as well, such as Simmons & Burke, Ryan McGinness, Rosa Loy, Dennis Hollingsworth, Mark Ryden, Tom LaDuke and Troika.
In an exclusive interview with D/railed’s editor-in-chief Deianira Tolema, Kohn Gallery’s Josh Friedman discusses the challenges of staging an exhibition today, including the challenges, pitfalls, and what young curators should avoid when preparing for exhibitions.
Deianira Tolema: Can you please introduce yourself to our followers and tell us more about Kohn Gallery?
Joshua Friedman: My name is Josh Friedman and I work at Kohn Gallery in Los Angeles, CA where I’m am currently curating my first exhibition, Engender, opening on November 11. Gallery owner Michael Kohn opened the space in the 1980’s. Over the past 30 years, the gallery has presented historically significant exhibitions in Los Angeles alongside exciting contemporary artists, creating meaningful contexts to establish links to a greater art historical continuum.
DT: You represent some of the most famous artists in the world, including Will Cotton and Mark Ryden. What advice do you have for today’s young artists and dealers?
JF: My advice for young dealers and artists is take advantage of being young. You have more of a direct line into the times we live than anyone. Really understanding what people are thinking, feeling, and doing right as it is happening. Make as much use of that as possible.
DT: What role do galleries have, in the contemporary art world, now that artists have finally figured out how to promote themselves on their own?
JF: New technologies and social media platforms have definitely changed exposure and communication for artists. It’s much easier for an artist to promote their work today than it was 60 years ago, which is great. That being said, promotion is just one part of the equation. Visibility and marketability of an artist go way beyond social media promotion. Having a presence at art fairs, collector placements, and institutional exposure are important factors that affect the longevity of an artist’s career. It’s important to have a professional with knowledge of the art market to assist with making informed decisions to help achieve long-term success and nurture talent.
DT: Can galleries help artists figure out how to analyze today’s society for the generations of the future?
JF: I think galleries can give platforms for such analyzation, they can definitely support it, but as far as the actual analyzation, I feel that is more something for an artist to go through themselves. For me, great artists are the ones who have the ability to not only capture the times we live, but capture it through their own very personal lens. It is both a very specific and a very relatable depiction, but one that should be discovered and visualized by the artist.
DT: Please tell us more about your current exhibition, Engender: where did you take this idea, and what is it about, exactly?
JF: The idea for Engender came about pretty organically. On a more visual level, I was initially interested in how contemporary artists working today were really treading this line between figuration and abstraction. I wouldn’t say this concept is entirely new to art, but I was continually finding that the way these artists were implementing it in their practice, and furthermore, their reasoning for doing such felt so very different and new to me. Studio visit upon studio visit it was so clear that the underlining concern for so many of these artist was gender. Not being constrained to binaries that the world has constructed throughout history, and really thinking and seeing gender in a way that is beyond visual and conceptual restrictions.
DT: How do you choose your artists in general, and how did you pick the artists selected for the Engender show?
JF: I spend a lot of time researching and looking at artists, pretty much everyday— that’s always been incredibly important to me. Seeing as much as possible, visiting as many studios as possible, and speaking with as many artists as possible. I find this helps me better pin point exactly what I’m looking for, as well as what I am not.
For Engender, it became clear quite quickly that you cannot properly discuss this topic without showing many different voices and approaches to it. Gender is not something that can be classified into one or two categories, but exists in many layers of our lives. It interacts and means different things for every single person. My hope with this show is to really capture that dimensionality. Every artist selected were chosen for their unique skill and strength in speaking to this topic.
DT: Any future projects that we should be aware of?
JF: I’m currently working on a solo show and a two person show towards end of 2018 and 2019.
DT: Please ask yourself a question, and give yourself an answer.
JF: What was your most recent art-related embarrassing moment? Splitting my pants at an art fair yesterday.