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November 22, 2016

Visiting Lecturer: Paulina Bebecka

Visiting Lecturer: Paulina Bebecka

Photo by Rob Muller/CIA

Postmasters Gallery director looking for art of the moment

Paulina Bebecka, the gallery director at Postmasters in Brooklyn, N.Y., visited the Cleveland Institute of Art in October 2016. She spoke about the contemporary art scene and her work with +ArtApp, a collective working to add an Art category for apps in the Apple App Store. Bebecka grew up in the suburbs of Warsaw, Poland.

Can you tell us a little about your background?
I’ve been at the gallery for nine years. That happened when I graduated from the American University of Paris with two degrees, international economics and international business, and then asked myself “What am I doing and what will I do with it?” I applied to the Sotheby’s Institute of Art and then got an internship at Postmasters. And that’s how it happened. I had the internship, and then [after earning a master’s] went back to work for the same gallery.

What had you expected to do with your business degrees?
I thought I was going to work in finance, or work in a bank or something like that because I’ve always liked math. I really like economics. But what I really liked about economics was that it was the study of human behavior. It’s an anthropological kind of thing, I think.

What sorts of things did you study at Sotheby’s?
I was in the contemporary art history. We were studying what’s been happening in the past 50, 70 years.

What’s it like to be a gallery director?
It’s a lot of fun because it’s at Postmasters. We work with an amazing array of artists who work in so many disciplines. All the work that we’re showing is pushing some kind of experimental boundaries, and it’s very related to right now, to our world at the moment we’re currently occupying.

That’s why abstract work is not necessarily our main domain of interest. My boss says it’s not about following the art market, but showing an interesting proposition, or the alternative — to push the market, rather than just say, “Oh, I’ve also got a red painting.”

What do you look for when you do a studio visit with an artist?
First of all, I look at whether the work interesting. Is it interesting to me, is it interesting to others in terms of the conceptual ideas? Why does it exist right now? What’s the urgency?

For example, we just had a solo show of this this couple, Jennifer Catron and Paul Outlaw. They are graduates of Cranbrook. I love them to do death, I think they’re extraordinary artists. They work with humor in giant scale. Everything. For the show they made a boat ride into a jungle.

Both of them are super highly uber-intelligent with great art historical backgrounds. You could write a [PhD thesis] on one piece of their work.

Do you feel that there’s pressure to sell work?
Absolutely. We have to sustain our organization so that we can sustain the artists’ practice. So we can all benefit from that, meaning we can always enjoy the art.

What’s the market for the kind of work you present?
The pressure is there. We really have a small organization, so the overhead costs are there, but we do everything we can so we have the liberty to propose as extraordinary a project as we want to. But we don’t select the work to show with sales in mind. We put a boat in the show, and that hasn’t sold. It takes a very special kind of collector to not only show the work to, but who will want it as part of their collection.

There are some that go beyond the norm, go beyond the investment of the art, go beyond the purely selfish “I want” of ownership. There are collectors who are true patrons of art. We love them, because that’s what we feel art is about. It’s not about the investment value, even though it is a commodity of some sort.

What’s the goal of +ArtApp?
Apple doesn’t recognize the fact that art can be an app. It’s not like games, where there are millions of apps. But nevertheless, art is an important thing, and art-related apps – there are plenty of them, and that includes museum guides, art news. It’s just not adequately categorized. Some are in Lifestyle, some are in Education. It all makes sense as part of that, but it doesn’t explain the whole issue.

We formed this organization to push Apple to make the category, but also to bring the conversation to the forefront, to talk about the fact that art can be an app.

As someone who cares about serious art, do you think there is a way to convert people to partake in art the way they partake in the entertainment industry?
Well, I’m not going to force anybody. But I think with the art app, it’s a very good step to make people aware.

For me, it’s the most interesting thing to bring in audiences to the gallery who have not been to the gallery before and discover this world of imagination. I did this event a few years ago it was a street dance battle. We had that battle happen in the gallery and had a show of art all around it. A lot of young kids came to the gallery from 12 years and older. That was a really exciting moment for me, to see the gallery filled with young people. On the one hand, they were there for the street dance battle, but already they were in a different context, surrounded by art and kind of curious about what’s going on.

These are really great ways of introducing art to other people, but people have to stumble upon art themselves.

But in terms of young collectors, there is an extraordinary part of the population that loves art, and is ready to support it in some way but they’re not necessarily sure how it works. These people are really exciting to work with.

What advice do you have for young artists emerging into the world as it is now?
There are a few things. [First], it ain’t gonna be pretty. It’s not going to be easy to break through, and to not give up but be realistic about expectations. It’s so rare that someone out of undergrad gets a solo show right out of the gate. Get as many eyes on your work as possible, but keep your identity and keep your work your own.

And experiment all the time. Don’t be afraid to experiment, because that’s the only way to make strides.

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