IN DIALOGUE WITH VETERAN ART DEALER JOSÉ FRIERE
José Freire has been nurturing Team Gallery since it was founded in 1996 with former partner, artist Francis Ruyter (formerly known as Lisa Ruyter). They moved to SoHo from Chelsea in 2006 and never looked back. Freire expanded the gallery in 2011, opening a West Coast site called Team Bungalow in Venice Beach. Always one to step outside of the box, Freire plays by his own rules and is lauded for it. With an impressive stable of artists including Paul Mpagi Sepuya, Pierre Bismuth, Dawn Mellor and others, there is always a reason to visit Team. Currently, an exhibition of new photographs by Ryan McGinley titled Mirror, Mirror is on show through September 29 in New York.
Katy Diamond Hamer: Team Gallery has become a staple in SoHo as so many other galleries come and go. Can you talk about your experience in the neighborhood as it’s changed?
José Freire: The gallery has been in SoHo for a dozen years; however, we’d moved here from elsewhere. We inaugurated Team in Chelsea, where we remained for the first ten years of our history. At that time, there were less than ten galleries in the neighborhood and it felt completely desolate. As our program developed, and the gallery had its first successes, I felt that the gentrification in Chelsea (one of the ugliest I’ve witnessed in a long life as a New Yorker) had an alienating effect on the very notion of the creative. In my opinion, the streets there still feel grey and lifeless. I made a decision to move to SoHo so that visitors to the gallery could sandwich their art time between shopping and eating; roaming streets that felt convivial. At the time, SoHo was a true art hub and home to the Swiss Institute, the Drawing Center, Artists Space and, of course, such SoHo gallery stalwarts as Jeffrey Deitch and Ronald Feldman. Although some of those spaces have left the neighborhood, there has been an influx of art spaces to the nearby northernmost streets of Tribeca—Bortolami, Ortuzar Projects, Postmasters, and Alexander and Bonin are all close by. And more are set to join them.
KDH: You recently garnered attention after publicly announcing to Artnet that you would no longer participate in art fairs. I found it to be such a bold and brave move. What has the experience been like since then? Do you feel as if the model is becoming outdated and overtly hierarchical?
JF: Lately, I’ve been thinking of Team as the equivalent to a small film production company. It’s more difficult to launch an indie hit in the era of the tent-pole and it seems to me that situation is equivalent to that of trying to run a gallery with an independent character in an increasingly corporatized art world. The look of an art fair, gallery after gallery crammed into identical, small booths, is just not particularly conducive to discovering artwork.
KDH: A few weeks ago, the gallery offered a series of artworks for sale through Instagram. I love thinking of social media as a way to not only create buzz around a particular artist and artwork but to also candidly allow it to be acquired, exhibiting price, etc. With works by Ryan McGinley and Sam McKinniss, did you create a frenzy amongst collectors?
JF: That was a bit of temperature-taking. If there was any shortfall to posting full caption information for works on sale, it came from making the prices public; not a mistake I’ll make again. If a select few are interested in an artwork, they can easily inquire as to the price. Instagram is perfect for introducing new work and for modulating interest, but an Amazon-style approach to selling art just doesn’t work. It’s good for starting a conversation but not good for sealing the deal.
KDH: For me, Team is a SoHo destination and a highlight. What is it like being there on a daily basis? Do you have a favorite, secret place where you go to seek solitude?
JF: You know, there’s a very private space in the back of the gallery, which includes a small outdoor patio. So solitude, you could say, was always built in. What I love about the neighborhood, is that it has so much character; affording every luxury of living in a big city but still retaining some aspects of a small town. It’s so easy to take a client or an artist out for lunch at any number of restaurants within a four-block radius.
KDH: You recently exhibited P, a single, large-scale, 2018 painting by LA-based artist Parker Ito. I’m a fan of air and space in art venues and found this to be such an exciting, bold move, especially as P truly filled the gallery all on its own. How did this show come about?
JF: It was Parker’s idea. He has been quite adamant about altering the complacent nature of much gallery-going; always making interventions, sometimes small, sometimes large, to the spaces in which he exhibits. In the case of Team, sealing up a wall that is always open and hanging only one work. He had spent well over a year making a single painting and felt that isolating it would encourage viewers to delve deep into its mysteries.
KDH: Your vision as a gallerist has been so influential over the years. I remember seeing work by Cory Arcangel, Banks Violette, and Ryan McGinley for the first time at Team. How did you find these artists? What is your selection process like?
JF: The three artists whom you mention were all added to the gallery in different ways. Cory was referred to me by an artist, I’d seen Banks in a two-person show at a Brooklyn non-profit, and Ryan had been curated into a group show at the gallery by Bob Nickas. Each of them, however, was an instinctual choice; there was no period of deliberation necessary. I knew immediately that I wanted to work with them.
KDH: I love how you have such a fresh and candid way of speaking about art, the art world and the market. Have you always been this way, or would you say that a particular —refreshing— openness has been easier to access over time?
JF: Unfortunately, I appear to have been born this way.
KDH: I can relate. The fall season, also known as ‘Back to School’ in the art world, is fast approaching. What are you looking forward to? Do you have any insights to share with our readers?
JF: For readers who are not aware of this, we always consider the art year in the same light as an academic year, starting after Labor Day and ending in the summer. This season, in addition to refraining from art fairs, we’re also trying to change the way the gallery is programmed. For example, our “season-opener”—a stunningly different Ryan McGinley show—will already have run June and July. We’re also going to open New York shows on days that famous out-of-town art fairs start their runs. We’re letting our main gallery shows run long and we’re going to use a small rear gallery as a way of keeping things fresh. For example, showing a single work, or body of drawings for a single week, or a month, completely out of sequence with the main gallery’s exhibition program.
Words Katy Diamond Hamer
Photography Emma Fernberger/Courtesy of Team Gallery