EK Spotlight: 111 Minna Gallery

The first amazing gallery spotlight we’re shining is on 111 Minna Gallery, a San Francisco institution that has been around since 1993, specifically known for its focus on underground, low brow, edgy and often controversial art. Micah LeBrun, the curator of this laid back gallery, speaks with us about their selection process and the interplay between art as art, art as business, and the internet.

Hey Micah, can you tell us about the vision or philosophy behind the 111 Minna Gallery? Do you think it has or will change over time?

I think Eiming’s original vision was to provide a low-key, warm, non-pretentious and family oriented environment to patrons around art and music. He initially made the gallery a place that felt like home to him and offered that freely to the community. Over time, 111 Minna became a meeting place for local talent that included all types of artists, designers and musicians and would later grow to gain international acclaim among more underground and urban art scenes around the globe. Change is a constant for 111 Minna Gallery. The gallery is a multifaceted business, which has created trends, set standards and completely reinvented itself several times over and it is this somewhat constant transition, which has enabled its survival for 19 years. One thing that doesn’t change is the caliber of art we have a history of showcasing.

What is your definition of art? What about good art? Is there such a thing?

Wow. I personally feel that art at its very root goes beyond a physical manifestation, which one may label as “art.” Art is the decision one makes to create or bring an idea, feeling or emotion to fruition. True artists make this decision every day. They live their lives based on it and are defined by art and in turn they define art as a willing participant or conduit through the very process of creating. Good art is a relative term in my mind and is simply in the eye of the beholder.
What one may deem as, “good,” I may deem as total crap. Art is either personal or its not. You either get it or you don’t. Or in some cases, the artist is or is at least attempting to say something that goes beyond the visual element of whatever it is or that “saying something” or anything isn’t or wasn’t a component in that artists process and therefore isn’t present in the work. And even this mundane scenario may speak volumes to someone. That’s the beautiful thing about art. It’s a constant evolvement and language that we as humans have been able to and continually are
able to experience in so many ways that we don’t even realize just how many.

You represent an eclectic variety of truly incredible artists – are there specific artistic styles or mediums that fascinate you? Is there an underlying theme or unifying element to the art you choose to show?

111 Minna is proud to have supported and showcased so many emerging artists who are now icons in the low brow, urban, street contemporary art scene. We have and do aim to show truly unique artists, be them emerging and on there way to greatness or mid level career artists as well as obvious legends such as Robert Williams, Todd Schorr or Joe Sorren. One unified thread between all our artists is a penchant for technical ability and those whom deliver works which tend to be derived from an, “outside the box” perspective if you will.

Art Blog - 111 Minna Gallery - Empty Kingdom
David Ball, Tumult, 111 Minna Gallery

Tell me about your artists. How do you find them? What do you look for when viewing an artists portfolio?

Fortunately, we’ve been in business long enough many if not most artists come to us, I merely have to sift through the hundreds of weekly submissions to see who fits our program, if any. Otherwise and thanks to the wonderful tool that is the Internet, it’s easy to find what or who we’re looking for. (we know it when we see it) We also receive recommendations from other artists or galleries sometimes or in some rare cases stumble on some artist during a local open studios weekend. Ultimately though the Bay Area is rich with talent and we do quite well sourcing locally, but we also have a history of showcasing artist from abroad like Mexico, Central America, Brazil, Canada, the UK and Europe.

What needs to happen to you internally in order for you to offer an artist a show at the gallery?

Either the owner and founder, Eiming Jung, gives me the nod or as the gallery curator I choose those artists who’s work I personally admire. I’ll use the word fortunate again here because the owner has allowed me to curate what I want. This is good, but everything lies on my shoulders so there’s that slice of responsibility.

What kind of relationship exists between you and your artists?

We maintain excellent relationships with our artists and again, we consider most and are also considered by them, to be family. That’s one of the aspects that is special about 111 Minna. Treat us right and we’ll treat you better. We aim to work with nice, easy going professionals who take their work seriously, but not necessarily themselves. If we come across an artist who isn’t a pleasure to work with we probably won’t work with them again. We appreciate the family that’s been created during our existence and there’s room for so many more members.

Art Blog - 111 Minna Gallery - Empty Kingdom
Rob Reger, 111 Minna Gallery

You’ve carved out a pretty sweet corner of the art market in San Francisco. How would you describe your particular section of the art market? How does it set itself apart from the american, or global art market as a whole?

We are simply a part of a larger whole of galleries and art related institutions and publications which arose to support and be supported by art and artists who either didn’t fit into, didn’t want any part of or were creating work much different than that of traditional, commercial and main stream contemporary and masters galleries.
When most of the world was looking at the birth of graffiti as a public nuisance and writing it off as vandalism, galleries and collectors grew with it, supported it displayed it and altogether created a culture which would allow non-mainstream galleries to survive and even flourish because of it. Then of course museums got on board and called it art and now it leaves the younger generations to come up with something different and hopefully even more “appalling” and renegade.

How has the internet in general influenced the direction of the art world? Any predictions about the art world in the future?

Although kicking and screaming the art world hasn’t really had much of a choice but to get in line and shape up due to the internet making information available to not only the masses, but more importantly, clients. Main stream gallerists can no longer pad their stories of significance related to the artist they are trying to sell or the cost of the actual art. Sure, you can find lies on the internet, but there are many hard truths to be found there as well. One of the benefits for artists is basic exposure on a global scale and this is may be even more profound based on any one artists ability, desire or utilization of such a toll especially through the development of social media networks. The web within the web… People are learning much faster than before, but what’s scary to me is the probable disconnect it tends to create between people, reality, the environment and our fellow man.

Predictions about the art world??? Geez! Not a prediction, but a desire maybe… I may get shot for saying this, but as an artist I’d personally like to see the historically appropriate relationship of gallery-artist-patron give way to the development of relationships between artists and consumers and for the public to know that it’s okay to support the artists directly and acquire works directly from the studio and therefore hopefully have a much richer experience by being able to meet the artist and possibly learn about the process of them creating what that patron is interested
in. Galleries mainly act as middle men and aren’t necessary in the process of – creating or acquiring art. I am, however all for museums and other establishments, which act as host for the public to be able to view art, but commerce doesn’t necessarily need to be a part of the equation. “The Art World” continues to be one of the biggest money making industries of all time, but artists are usually getting screwed one way or the other..

Art Blog - 111 Minna Gallery - Empty Kingdom
Lango Oliviera & Henry Lewis, Neon Knights, 111 Minna Gallery

A lot of your artists maintain an independent online presence. Has the role of galleries changed now that artists are showing, sharing and selling online? Is there any advice you would give artists trying to balance this online presence with gallery representation?

It’s become essential for artists to try and do all they can to further their careers on their own, aside from any gallery or representation and why not. If you’re an artist who’s represented by a gallery that brings you an endless stream of clients and therefore income, wonderful, but many artists don’t have this luxury. Competition is stiff out there for artists trying to make a living so most have to get it when and where they can.

Advice… Maintain a sense of self worth and standards when dealing with galleries or the possibility of representation and make sure you have a freedom clause when it comes time to sign a contract. I think it’s a bad thing to offer a gallery exclusive rights when there’s the rest of the big ol’ world out there.

Do you think artists ought to act like a business? How would you describe success for an artist?

Artist’s should act in whatever manner best suits their real personalities, but handle business, meaning be a pro, and at all times. I believe that success for an artist simply lies in the fact that they believe in what there are doing. Money doesn’t enter into this for me. I’ve seen and known artists bringing in millions, but hate what they’re making and are completely disconnected from it. In my mind, art in its purest sense is an extension of ones emotion and true self. If any artist can be in sync with this as they create, then that’s success in my book.

There is always that schism between the need to show work you feel is fundamentally important and the need to show marketable work in order to keep the gallery open – how do you toe the line between the two?

I’d rather take the risk and hang a strong show. If that step is important to an artist we believe in and admire and may assist them in their path and possibly their career, then that’s a win. I’d be lying if I said that balance isn’t important in business though. The best of both worlds is blowing the doors off of something new and cool and all parties involved coming out ahead financially. I guess the rarity of this is what makes it truly special once it happens.

Art Blog - 111 Minna Gallery - Empty Kingdom
Andrew Hem at 111 Minna Gallery

What is your opinion of art blogs, and the new wave of art crtics and writers who have found a voice online?

It’s usually a good thing for people to have an outlet so hopefully it’s a healthy one. People will always want to discuss, label, debate or criticize art so a great thing about more renegade bloggers (if they can manage to have their voice heard) is that discussions can be had outside of the normal houses like Art Forum, Art News, etc. Can’t say the same for Yelpers though. I find most of them to be most annoying.

Could you explain what you believe makes an incredible show or collaboration? Over the years, have you had any favorites?

Presence. When it’s apparent that an exhibition bares the stamp and the soul of the artist or artists who created it.
Some favorites and influences of mine whom have all shown with 111 Minna Gallery over the years are: Alonso Smith, Joe Sorren, Eric White, Tiffany Bozic, Doze Green and I was most recently impressed by the collaborative exhibit last July with RISK & COOZ, “That Was Then, This is Now.” It was boss.

Define success for 111 Minna Gallery.

We’re approaching our 20th year anniversary in September 2012 and in the owners words, “Always Change.”

We know you guys have a pretty sweet show opening today, can you tell us a little about it?

Alec Huxley!!! A beautiful show by this gifted, self -taught painter and amazingly painted in four months time! Trust me when I say that this is an artist that people will say, “I wish I bought his work when…”

Alec Huxley at 111 Minna Gallery opens April 6th – April 28th!

Art Blog - 111 Minna Gallery - Empty Kingdom
Alex Huxley, All the Go Inbetweens, 111 Minna Gallery