Years after finishing an MFA at MICA, Erin Cluley opens her own gallery in Dallas and sets the tone with two solo shows of Baltimore artists.
Cara Ober: First of all, congratulations on opening your own commercial space in Dallas! Can you tell BmoreArt’s readers a little about the gallery’s mission and the kind of work you are interested in exhibiting?
Erin Cluley: Thanks, Cara! My goal with the gallery is to maintain a provocative program of exhibitions working with emerging and mid-career artists. Currently the artists I am working with are based in Dallas and the East Coast (Baltimore and New York) working in a variety of media. In conjunction with exhibitions in the gallery, I plan to work with artists to negotiate and produce works in the public. I strongly believe that public projects are not only great for the community but help to put the artists’ work in a larger context.
CO: After graduating with an MFA from MICA’s Hoffberger School of Painting in 2005, you lived at the residency at The Creative Alliance in Baltimore and pursued your painting. You also took the position of Gallery Director at the C. Grimaldis Gallery in Baltimore from 2005 – 2009. What made you want to represent artists and sell art, after finishing your MFA?
EC: After finishing my MFA in 2005, I heard a position with C. Grimaldis Gallery had opened up. Grace Hartigan was still living at the time and she had been my director in the Hoffberger program. Knowing Grace had been with the gallery for many years, I went to her and said — put in a good word for me. She resisted and told me that I needed to focus on my painting. My response to her was — I need to pay the bills! Whether it was her good word or my good looks, I got the job and it really was a perfect fit. I quickly found that I enjoyed the business side of the art world and I was good at it. I took advantage of Costas’ knowledge of the business and approached the position head on working with artists and building client relationships.
CO: What made you leave Baltimore and move to Dallas? When did you leave Baltimore and what have you been doing in the Dallas art world since then?
EC: A combination of things led me to move back to Texas from Baltimore. My sister was pregnant at the time with my twin nieces and I had been thinking about being closer to family. I also felt like, in a way, I had outgrown what I was doing professionally and wanted more. My thought at the time was that I would move back to Texas, get a job in the industry to learn the lay of the land and then open my own space.
As naive as the plan may have been at the time, it has actually come to fruition! Upon moving to Texas, I was searching for jobs in Austin, Houston and Dallas and ended up with a job at Dallas Contemporary where I would work for the next 5 years, ultimately as the Director of Exhibitions. Dallas Contemporary is a non-collecting art museum with rotating exhibitions of local, national and international projects. Settling into the non-profit world was challenging but rewarding. I learned A LOT about the inner workings of an arts institution and was fortunate enough to travel which exposed me to the culture of art fairs, biennials and major museums and galleries. I worked on exhibitions with Julian Schnabel, Rob Pruitt, Jennifer Rubell, Juergen Teller, Shepard Fairey, Erwin Wurm, Richard Phillips….to name a few.
CO: How did you decide to open your own gallery?
EC: The idea of opening a gallery has been in the back of my mind since I moved to back to Texas but for a period of time I thought I might stay on the museum path. Having built important professional relationships in Dallas and some things aligning for me personally led me to begin seriously thinking again about opening a space. The energy of the arts is really great in Dallas right now and the people and community are very accommodating.
CO: Since opening this September, you have exhibited two solo shows by two Baltimore artists – Rene Trevino and Jimmy Joe Roche. What made you want to exhibit these artists in Dallas and why did you choose them to ‘define’ your programming, rather than artists from Texas?
EC: First and foremost, I approached all of my artists because I believe they are making smart, exciting, GREAT artwork. I had no doubt that I wanted to work with René Treviño. At the same time I visited René in Baltimore last year, I went to the BMA and saw the exhibition of Jimmy Joe Roche’s work. I got in touch with Jimmy during that visit and we discussed the possibility of exhibiting in Dallas this year. It happened that the timing worked well for both of them to open during the gallery’s inaugural season. I knew I wanted to work with René for the gallery’s first exhibition. René’s works is bold and carries impact, it is conceptual and at the same time is made with an expert level of craft and he exhibits his work in both traditional and nontraditional ways. In a way this sums up and does “define” what I hope to maintain with the gallery’s program.
CO: There are a lot of gallery directors and professional curators with ‘secret MFA’s.’ How do you know when it’s right to focus on representing other artists, rather than your own work? How did you know this was the right path for you and do you still make visual art?
EC: Having studied painting and having worked as an artist still informs my work at the gallery every day though I haven’t made work in about seven years. At the time when I transitioned out of a studio practice, I thought a lot about and questioned my role as the art dealer versus the working artist. I felt very strongly about the artists that we were representing at Grimaldis. Many people maintain a healthy career of working in a gallery or institution and also maintain an active studio practice, but I felt like I needed to make a decision to be one or the other. Whatever role I was to choose, I wanted to dedicate myself completely to it.
CO: What are you most happy with or excited about, in terms of running your own gallery? What do you want your programming to bring to the larger culture of Dallas?
EC: My hope is to build a presence for my artists in Dallas and to use this as a foundation to boost visibility and help them maintain active careers. Though running a business and keeping up with an ever changing industry has its host of challenges, having the opportunity to design programming made up of an exciting group of artists in a fantastic space is, to put it bluntly, pretty f*cking awesome.
CO: Congratulations again! And thanks for helping to put Baltimore artists into the consciousness (and market) of Dallas!
Erin Cluley Gallery website: http://www.erincluley.com
*Photo credits: Gallery shots by Kevin Todora / Cluley’s portrait by Jenifer McNeil Baker
More images from Jimmy Joe Roche’s Exhibit:
More images from René Treviño’s show: