Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal
Ylise Kessler was just as surprised as all her friends when she decided that she was going to be opening up her first gallery.
“About the past 20 years, people have said to me, ‘When are you going to open your own gallery? You should open your own gallery,’ ” said Kessler. “I said ‘no thank you, I have no interest. I don’t want the overhead, I don’t want the headache, I want to be more fluid in being able to travel.’
“And all of a sudden,” she continued, “it just felt right.”
Kessler, who has been working within the contemporary art scene for more than 30 years – the past 20 in Santa Fe full time – opened up her namesake commercial gallery last month on the corner of Guadalupe Street and Montezuma Avenue.
And being around the gallery business for so long – and watching it change – Kessler says her mission is to create a new “paradigm” for galleries.
So what does that mean?
“The physical gallery is just the hub for building … a more fleshed-out program,” she explained.
Besides art exhibitions in her space, there are other projects and programs she plans to organize. That includes pop-up shows in other cities, which Kessler said she will curate based on the arts audiences in each location. She also plans to develop an online presence geared toward younger collectors looking for work via the internet. And Kessler is interested in hosting artist talks, book-signings and educational classes, ranging from “Collecting Art 101” to the do’s and don’ts of how artists should approach getting their work into galleries.
Some of the talks may be salon-style conversations where artists discuss what’s going on in the art world today.
“It’s about broadening what a gallery is now,” she said of her space. “A brick-and-mortar gallery is more than one space. I think this is what it’s turning into. There are art fairs now, and the internet, and it’s not what it used to be. People don’t have to come to galleries to buy art as previously they did. So the more exposure and the more projects I do, I think the more I’ll be building out this brand.”
Kessler has worked independently, and with other galleries in both New York and Santa Fe. She founded Ylise Kessler Fine Art in the late ’80s while living in New York after a transition out of her career in art restoration. Back then, she was an art advisor, which means she built art collections for corporations and private collectors.
She began forming relationships with dealers in New York, she said, and during the summers she would stay in Santa Fe. She lived here briefly right after graduating from Tyler School of Art at Philadelphia’s Temple University. She had a degree in weaving and, for more than a decade after, she restored antique textiles, specializing in Navajo blankets.
In 1999, she made the move to Santa Fe full time. Art advising was more difficult in Santa Fe, she said, adding that collectors here are more interested in finding their own pieces. So she started working for local galleries.
From 2008-12, she was director of the contemporary program at the William Siegal Gallery, which closed in 2017. After that, Gerald Peters tapped her to launch the Peters Projects contemporary art space on Paseo de Peralta. She was there from 2014-16.
Kessler next worked privately through her own company, helping collectors in de-accessioning artwork and curating exhibitions for galleries. Last summer, she organized a show for the then-new galleryFRITZ in the Railyard.
“Which kind of instigated this, because it was so fun to be back out in public,” Kessler said of that project. “I love to look at art and place art, but I love to talk about it and I love to educate people on it or share with people who are educated on it, share responses about how we look at it, or view it, or what it’s about.”
Kessler is interested in showing contemporary work, not narrowing it to a specific medium or type of artist. For her inaugural exhibition, she’s curated a group show of New Mexico-based artists not particularly well-known to the local commercial art community.
The artists include Santa Fe-based Ben Dallas, who is exhibiting a series of acrylic-painted wood wall pieces. Ilona Pachler of Santa Fe mages of historical structures and silkscreened them onto plexiglass. Cedra Wood, an Albuquerque-based artist currently working through the Roswell Artist in Residency Program, has made a series of small paintings of sculptures made from her own hair.
Two of the exhibiting artists recently moved to New Mexico. Jonathan Parker, a multimedia artist from San Francisco, has a series of collage works made from stitched pieces of canvas. Karen Miranda Rivadeneira, an Ecuadorian American photographer who recently moved to Taos from Los Angeles, created several pieces now in the gallery. One of her works, “Matilde and I,” was previously shown in the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.
“There are a few artists that have been shown in every gallery in Santa Fe, and that’s something I don’t want to do because we’ve seen it,” Kessler said. “And I’d like to offer something fresh and unique.”
Two additional artists currently showing in the space, Kessler said, previously lived and worked in New Mexico, and are known locally, nationally and internationally, namely James Harvard, represented by painting and collage pieces, and mixed-media artist David Kimball Anderson, with metal sculptures from his “Bud Vase” series on display.
The exhibition will be up through May and Kessler plans to have the next show up by June. Kessler’s 600-square-foot gallery sits in a long-vacant spot in a commercial building at the corner of Montezuma and Guadalupe. She acknowledged that she isn’t in one of Santa Fe’s major art centers, like downtown or the Railyard.
“But, you know, (longtime gallery owner) James Kelly started in the Railyard before it was the Railyard and SITE Santa Fe (opened) in an old beer warehouse, and that worked,” Kessler said. “So I don’t think it’s insurmountable. But, yes, it’s a concern.”
However, she added that she hopes that with her reputation in the arts community and her plans for ongoing events, the spot will become an arts “destination.”
She hopes to roll out the programming aspect of the gallery starting in May. Kessler said it’s important to her that she has something for a wide audience.
“I want it to be not just for the art-savvy or not just for the uninitiated,” she said about her programming. “I want enough people to come by often enough to make this a destination, that they feel comfortable stopping by, or if they have people in town, (they tell them), ‘Come see this gallery, the dealer is really nice and inclusive, you’re not going to feel weird, you’re not going to be embarrassed to ask a question.’ I hate that. And I’ve always operated that way (in which) everybody’s the same. Everybody’s welcome.”