An Interview with a Dealer: Doug VanTress
Each week CGN interviews a local art dealer to discuss the ins and outs of running a gallery in the city of Chicago. This week we caught up with Doug VanTress, co-owner of The Golden Triangle
Current Position: Co-Owner
Hometown: Flint, Michigan
Previous Occupation: Management Consultant (2 years at Arthur Andersen)
5 favorites from the past week
Restaurant: Hai Yen on Argyle
Shop: Golden Triangle’s new pop-up on State St.
Read: Joseph Roth’s “The Emperor’s Tomb”
Neighborhood: Ukrainian Village (where I used to make pizza)
Music: new Bob Sinclar (very upbeat)
CGN: Tell us about your background and how you started the Golden Triangle?
DVT: I didn’t like my job as a consultant and was unusually receptive to finding something else. My partner, Chauwarin felt the same way and we decided to go into business together. Our first venture was a bust but it led to opening a small shop selling gift items and later that shop morphed into an Asian antique store. Though we didn’t know it at the time, that small shop was an incubator that produced many practical ideas (and cash flow).
CGN: How do you sum up your experience running an antiques business?
DVT: It’s an extremely satisfying line of work because we are surrounded by the best of the past and the people who are attracted to that are incredible. It matters very much who you interact with in your work. My customers are intelligent, creative and open-minded. I learn so much from them. I also learn from the objects and furnishings I sell –they were made lovingly and slowly, mostly by one person for another person. That matters. So I can enjoy the people side of my business for a few hours and then do a material deep-dive, restoring something, studying, tinkering. Or I can do research online. This job is perfect for me.
CGN: Share a typical day in the life.
DVT: Get up at 7:30. Go to work, caiffenate. Check my art-world emails, map out how to deal with a crisis. Every day has one, at least a small one. Then a customer walks in and whatever my plan was, it is upended. We chat about everything. Eventually, I get back to the workshop to observe my team. Actually, I escape there sometimes. My job is to supply judgement –how to solve a problem in the most efficient way possible. Sometimes the problem is one of physics –how to bend a piece of wood, for example. Sometimes it involves aesthetics –how to improve the finish on a piece or bring out its best characteristics. I love this part. Then a lunch at my desk, checking my political news sites (I am interested in the world beyond furnishings!) Afternoons are busiest for customers, both for designers and retail. At some point, I do some paperwork. Maybe make an Instagram post. Then something interrupts… Home by 7, sometimes dinner out. Perhaps a movie or grazing the cable selections with phone in hand. Every night finishes with reading –and not on the phone. Liking the old stuff these days –Balzac, Tolstoy and all that. Fascinated by the French Revolution right now as we drift into our own…
CGN: Most exciting sale you ever had?
DVT: Probably our restaurant construction work in China. Not one sale but a project for over a year. Many cities, wonderfully fast & and a little bit crazy. Business, personal, wining and dining, designing on the fly with a team of eager assistants of every type. Working with a Chinese customer is a whirlwind of activity and forward motion. Things that take a year here, take two months there. And everything comes out just as good or better.
CGN: Share some successes as well as challenges this year.
DVT: We are opening a new gallery complex in Chiang Mai, Thailand. That is my chief challenge. That and figuring out how to sell antiques to the millennials!
CGN: You are a frequent traveler, any recent adventures you care to share?
DVT: Every trip includes some “adventures” or experiences that are unforgettable. I tend to be a visual person and I am fascinated by the effects of the light on old buildings and monuments. I like to ponder the past and bathe in melancholy. And then have a great dinner.
CGN: One piece of advice you would tell your younger self when starting out?
DVT: Don’t over-think, pick the right partner, jump in and do it. Live below your means for a long time. You will miss out on nothing.
CGN: What do you look for in a piece? When shopping for an antique item yourself, what speaks to you?
DVT: I like to see age registered on the piece –plausible evidence of age. Not a complete ruin but old-looking.
CGN: Favorite cultural pursuit outside of the art world?
DVT: Probably good movies or reading old novels.
CGN: What should we expect to see next from the Golden Triangle?
DVT: More contrast –ancient & modern mixed. This is our moment; having access to everything and trying to sort out how it all goes together into a coherent whole. Is coherence even possible now? Let’s find out.
Doug VanTress is co-owner of the The Golden Triangle in Chicago. For more information about the shop please visit: The Golden Triangle