In Conversation with Simone Subal

After running Peter Blum’s Chelsea gallery, Simone Subal opened her own self-named space on the Bowery a year ago. I visited her last Friday at the gallery before she heads off to VIENNAFAIR.

Petra Zechmeister: Hello Simone. I didn’t know you are Austrian?

Simone Subal: I am.

P: Since when do you live here and what took you to NYC?

S: I moved to New York in the summer of 2000 and the reason why i came was Paula Cooper. I worked for Paula for several years, but actually i have to backtrack. In 1998, I did an internship at the Guggenheim Museum. That’s when i completely fell in love with the city and thought I have to find a way to move here. I then applied for an internship at Paula Cooper, which I got. I was very lucky because back then we worked on an exhibition with Edition Schellmann. So, suddenly I was in a very different position than a regular intern because of my German. I had much more responsibility and I guess Paula liked what I was doing, so she asked me if I want to join her at the art fair in Basel. There, things went very well and she asked me if I want to move to New York and offered me a job. Never in my life have I said yes as fast as that. Of course – disregarding the boyfriend, family, everyone – of course, I’m moving to New York.

P: Do you consider yourself a New Yorker now?

S: I’m not sure if I am a NYer. I live in both worlds and for me that’s the most exciting part.
I have a strong connection with my Austrian roots and my Austrian way of thinking. It becomes
less an Austrian way of thinking but a European way of approaching the world. And that’s very important for me. I still very, very much miss Austria. It has been an interesting development. The first years living here I was not interested in anything Austrian. I didn’t seek any Austrian friends, I didn’t socialize with Austrians. It was a very deliberate decision.
Now that I have been here for 12 years, at some point I said, “Am I homesick?” It’s interesting how homesickness often goes through the stomach. I often have to make myself a Schnitzel – it’s such a cliché, but i have to.

P: What do you think is the difference between running a gallery here or in Austria?

S: It’s an interesting question because I considered both. At some point I thought it maybe would be a good move to go back to Austria and start my gallery there. I decided against it mainly because I have been working here for more than 10 years and I have all these contacts.
After Paula Cooper I did a curatorial master. A lot of my friends are curators, and it’s a dialogue and conversation I treasure a lot. And, of course, there are many more collectors here.
To a certain degree it would be easier to have a gallery in Austria because so much in NY is about real estate. It is actually very difficult to make a gallery happen with the real estate costs, which obviously are very high here, and to show emerging artists where the price point is quite low.
From a pure business standpoint it’s probably not the best business model, but then my passion and stubbornness are playing against it. It has been actually very good. Last October, I opened my own gallery. I have been very, very lucky in a lot of different ways. Things have been going very well.

P: Within the last month or so, no fewer than four showrooms opened across the Lower East Side. I heard Marlborough Chelsea will open a contemporary project space in a few months around the corner?

S: There will be a more contemporary program from Marlborough that will move on my block on Broome Street. They will be teaming up with Canada Gallery, which used to be on Chrystie’s Street. Nicelle Beauchene Gallery, a very good Lower East Side gallery on Orchard Street, is departing and will gang up with Jack Hanley in the same building. They will share the space, alternating usage of the ground level and upstairs exhibition room.

P: Why did you choose the Lower East Side in the first place?

S: I worked in Chelsea for a long, long time, and to be honest
I felt the need to try something new, to establish myself in a different neighborhood.
The Lower East Side is a perfect fit for me. It is very diverse and doesn’t only consist of different galleries. Chelsea is more of a constructed neighborhood. There, all the galleries are combined and it’s very dense. The galleries are so close, I know from my own experience, you go out and you don’t even have a second to think about what you have just experienced. I like it when I go to a gallery and I walk out and have time to contemplate the exhibition, to make it a more meaningful experience.

P: Your gallery is located on the second floor?
S: Yes, I like the idea that you have to find me. That it’s not in your face, that it is a little bit like a secret. It was a little bit of poker I was playing here and so far – “knock on wood” – it has worked well. It is a bit of a word of mouth situation. “Oh, have you been to Simone’s space already?

P: Why exactly the Bowery?
S: I was fond of the corner Bowery and Grand. It’s probably one of the busiest corner in the city, it’s very loud and sometimes troublesome to cross. Then you come into the space, and you immediately feel that there is a different situation, a different atmosphere which i like a lot.

Another reason the gallery had to be in the Lower Eastside is that a lot of my peer galleries are here. I am very close with a bunch of other galleries, mainly female galleries who have been super supportive. Of course, its a business, and we are very aware of that, but we try to help each other out, whether you need to borrow a projector or even getting people to come over. So for me this is a very important aspect. The comradery and the neighborhood feel.

P: Are you hoping for a similar experience at VIENNAFAIR?

S: In Vienna we are sharing a booth with Emanuel Layr. Emanuel and I will co-present an artist, Julian Bismuth. I opened my gallery with Julian’s work, and we thought it would be nice to share a space and get a bigger booth and to really create a dialogue within it.
Julian Bismuth will be the focal point. It has been so much fun to collaborate, and that’s very much the spirit I am thinking about with the space. We also know that we need our peers, and we need experts in other fields and bring them in. This spirit of collaboration and dialogue has been incredibly important to the way I see the mission of the space.

P: Like the younger generation of artists do now?

S: Absolutely. There is a reason why there are so many shows dedicated to collaboration or collectives, and we are thinking of gallery exchanges too. All different kinds of things.

P: Who else will you bring to Vienna?
S: I will be bringing four artists including Julian. Two American artists we want to introduce to the Austrian public.
Erika Vogt:  She is quite well known here. She is based in L.A. and was in the “Made in LA” exhibition, the first biannual. There is quite a hype around it. She comes from an experimental film background, but she also does some really beautiful drawings and sculptural works. We will bring some of her works on paper.
Frank Heath: Another American artist I showed here last April. He comes from a conceptional background. He works in photography, video, and sculpture. He is very promising.
Sonia Almeida: She is a Portuguese artist based in Boston. She is a beautiful abstract painter.

P: That’s quite a mix!

S: As I want to introduce my gallery, I want to bring a diverse group of artists, diverse media. Half of my artists are American, half of them European. I also wanted that this selection reflects this idea in Vienna.

P: Is there anything you are looking forward to do in Vienna in particular – probably eating a Schnitzel?

S: It’s related to food, too. A very simple Schnittlauchbrot (bread with chives and butter) at the “Kleines Cafe”.

P: I know the place, it seems it’ll never change.
S: Yes, there is no risk of becoming a Starbucks. My father has a design gallery in the Weihburggasse. It’s very close and I feel I grew up in the “Kleines Cafe”. So every time I go to Vienna I have to do it.

P: Will you participate in more art fairs besides the VIENNAFAIR The New Contemporary this year?
S: LISTE was my first art fair, which was last June. In October, I do the SUNDAY fair in London during Frieze. It is organized by three galleries: Croy Nielsen (Berlin), Limoncello (London), and Tulips & Roses (Brussels),
They invited 17 other galleries with a total of 20 galleries showing works. I think it is one of the most interesting fairs, and I am really happy to be in that group. I will show Kiki Kogelnik in conjunction with two videos of Erika Vogt. I bring contemporary artists into dialogue with Kiki’s work, which is on show right now at the gallery. And then in December I am doing NADA in Miami.

P: Wow, there is still plenty to be done this year then?
S: So far I got really lucky. Every fair I applied to, I got in. So now I have to do it.

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