Interview: Catinca Tabacaru: Q/A with an Admirable Gallerist

By: Feb. 28, 2017
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Catinca Tabacaru: Q/A with an Admirable Gallerist

By Barry Kostrinsky

Through a series of questions with the founder of Catinca Tabacaru Gallery, a relatively young Catinca sheds some age old wisdom and her vision that governs her gallery in the heart of the LES at 250 Broome street. I learned new things about an old friend that makes me understand better how she has come so far so quickly in the art world and just how impressive she is. Taughted as a gallerist to watch in the past she is now a gallerist to be heard and followed. She relaxes and answers in a very personal way a few important and a few silly questions about the art world and her practices.

1. As a gallerist what do you see your primary roll to be?

Catinca Tabacaru: Make it possible for the artists to do and make what they imagine.

2. How does the sale-ability of art influence your decision to exhibit an artist?

CT: It doesn't influence it at all. At still less than 3-years old as a gallery, I'm interested in putting on the best shows I can. This is a long game and the profile and portfolio I build now will reflect on us for many years. While it can sound scary to put on a show that doesn't sell in reality, different shows serve different purposes: Some bring money, some bring fame, some build community; most bring a combination of several elements. My job here is to put the shows in an order that allows them to buttress one another.

3. What personal characteristics if any do you look for in the artist you exhibit. Does personality come into play or is it all about the art? is there a separation?

CT: If I'm not enjoying having dinner with an artist, we won't be doing business together more than once. The love has to be there both personally and professionally. A better question is what happens when you love the human and not the art... that's a much uglier situation and I'm sorry to say I've lost a few dear friends along the way.

4. Artists can be eccentric, difficult, challenging, or to put it more bluntly, assholes, ego-maniacs and losers. Have you been burned by any of your artists?

CT: Barry, stop reflecting! ;) Empathy is the key. I'm not exactly a walk in the park either so who the asshole is depends on the day. We all need different things to make this interconnected business work. The best relationships are those where we each understand the other's needs, strengths and shortcomings and are willing to play our part to make the other whole. In all fairness, I'm very lucky. The gallery's players choose to be a family and we make great efforts to be good to one another. When outside assholes come through, they are quickly recognize and eliminated. They don't have time to build too big a fire... God, please let me be able to say these words in 10 years. Amen.

5. Justin Orvis Steimer, one of the artist you exhibit, photographed above by Elene Damenia was in Venice for the 2015 biennial. Admire Kamudzengerere, the artist in your current solo show , "I am Till you run." is pictured below and has just been included in the Venice Biennale, the Super Bowl of art. Will he win, how did he get to that spot, what was your roll and are Biennials exhibits the best side of the art world or spectacles of the worst sides of her?

CT: My god you know how to string 7 questions into one. A friend (who may or may not be a Shaman and thus always right) once said to me: "Don't worry Kitty Kat, nobody else has a Justin." The Venice Biennial is an amazing feat for the art world. How magical to see so much GOOD art all in one place. It's our beacon of hope and if you hated 2015 because it was too violent, you're an idiot.

6. How do you define art?

CT: Art is the cheat sheet by which the aliens can understand human civilization

7. Do you go by your inner gut reaction when seeing an artists work or is it a carefully weighed decision, or a mix of both.

CT: Gut first and last. The mind is in the overanalyzed middle that must exist in order to arrive at the last.

8. A well known small art critic with an enormous shadow does not go on studio visits and does not want to hear artists talk. Is Jerry nuts? What do you usually look for or listen for during a studio visit

CT: I think Jerry trusts himself to simply know if something is good (in his view). He learned that his inner voice is the most accurate critic. I don't have Jerry's experience yet so it's still helpful for me to hear what is going on in an artist's mind and space so I can build different bridges for understanding the work. It might simply be that I love narrative so I really get off on intention. layers and conceptual nuances.

9. If you were hungry for eggs and by mistake were given pancakes would you give the server an exhibit based on her conceptual strength to transform eggs? Is conceptual art ruling with an unfair and impartial hand in the art world through it's intellectual appeal?

CT: I don't think conceptual art is ruling the art world. I think the art world has become too sophisticated to allow for art without concept. Aesthetics has become a concept and are considered as such...

10.If you were on a trip to Europe and the US disappeared where would you live? Would you open a gallery there?

CT: Paris. Yes.

11. If you were two feet tall would you like smaller art? Would monkeys paint portraits of other monkeys? How is art specific to our interests and desires and how can it achieve universality.

CT: I don't think the first two questions are good examples of the third. If I was smaller but dreamt of being big, I might like big art more because it properly portrayed the size of my personality. Obviously monkeys would paint portraits of monkeys, but they would also paint bananas and humans. Personally, I buy art that speaks to me on an emotional level. It can do so through its subject matter, its aesthetics or its concept. I show art that I believe matters to the world, whether to a large or small group. I don't think any one artwork can be universal... but the concept of art is.

12. You have traveled much and I am a firm believer in expanding horizons and leaving our base surrounding to see wider. How has your mind expanded from your global travels and how has it influenced you in choosing art and artists.

CT: I remember being a teenager and saying something like: traveling offers new lenses through which to see the world. The more lenses you have the better you can understand any one situation. I stand by my 17-year old self.

13. Do you snore?

CT: Of course not! Do I look like I snore? (This will always be my answer, regardless of any alternative truth that may be rumored or proven with undeniable recordings).

14. What is your least favorite side of the art world?

CT: I don't discuss the dark side.

15. If you could punch me for one of the question I asked which one would it be?

CT: I certainly won't be breaking my pretty little hands on your face. I have three rooms and two installation to handle at Spring/Break during Armory Week... I need all the hands I can get!

16. Who do you consider your influencers from the past and who are present day peers that you respect among the gallerists in the art world, questioners excluded?

CT: I look to: Boesky, Brown, Dee, Fuentes, Kasmin, Lelong, Lutea & Pop, Maccarrone, Manne, Needleman & Tischer, Preston, Pulimood, Shafrazi, Wolff, Zimmermann...

17. Is Surrealism a dominating force in contemporary art and the artists you engage? Or what earlier movement in the history of art would you say best reflects your program at Catinca Tabacaru gallery today.

CT: I'm into surrealism the way Rachel Monosov does it; into Naturalism the way Joe Brittain does it; into Spiritualism the way Justin Orvis Steimer does it.

18. Grilled cheese on white toast plain or with tomato?

CT: There's no place for tomato in grilled cheese. It makes it all soggy. Now, truffle oil is a MUST.

19. If the mass of all the protons and electrons weighed less than most physicist thought would the world change? How does our understanding of reality affect reality?

CT: I believe we drastically affect our reality. But this is a very long conversation.

20. Do you feel marginalized by being labelled a beautiful woman and has that lowered your standing among the mostly male crowd in the art world? Have you been objectified as just a pretty gal? Is this similar in the legal profession.

CT: No. I don't think anyone who has met me thinks I'm just a pretty face. I also don't think most people label me as a beautiful woman. I'm thinking more dangerous black leopard, no?

21. If you had to link the art world to another field which would it be?

CT: Anti-discrimination efforts. Art is an equalizer. Nothing about where you come from, what you look like or any age/gender stuff applies to how good of an artist a person is. I think the very rich, beautiful, etc. can be humbled by art, while the downtrodden can be empowered.
Photo of Catinca by Dara Diskavets
IG @catincatabacaru | Twitter
Admire Kamudzengerere: I'm gonna... you. Till you run.
Through March 19, 2017