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 Dan Addington, owner of Addington Gallery.
Current Position: Gallery Owner
Hometown: Denver, Colorado
Previous Occupation: Graphic Designer and Illustrator
5 favorites from the past week:
Restaurant: Lady Gregory's
Shop: Martha Mae: Art Supplies & Beautiful Things, Andersonville
Book: Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson
Music: As a guitar player, Lindsay Buckingham is an artist I revere. Same with Richard Thompson. Aimee Mann's latest is currently on heavy rotation at the gallery.
CGN: Tell us about your background and how Addington Gallery came to be?
DA: The story of Addington Gallery probably goes back to grad school, where the truth about my identity as an artist took shape, and where I also discovered the joy of going to art galleries. I largely learned the latter from Barry Blinderman, director of Illinois State University. I worked for him, and he would frequently bring his staff and students to Chicago to introduce us to the gallery world. Barry was bold and enthusiastic and always on the lookout for an experience. We were ushered into back rooms and heard professional stories that we would not otherwise have had access to.
Once I moved to Chicago, I found some of the galleries to be quite generous, giving their advice, offering me jobs and looking at slides of my paintings. The curator at Betsy Rosenfield Gallery recommended I show Gwenda Jay my work, and she gave me my first gallery show in Chicago. I met more gallery owners, and soon Eva Cohen offered me a job as director of her River North space. When she retired, I became the director at Gwenda Jay and later a partner at Gwenda Jay / Addington.
During this time I was fortunate to recieve support and advice from gallerists like Roy and Ann Boyd, Ann Nathan, Ken Saunders, Byron Roche, and many other gallery owners who have been very supportive since. I know that this encouragement helped give me the confidence to open Addington Gallery in 2007.
CGN: Share a typical day in the life of the gallery.
DA: One thing I love about working in the gallery and also about being an artist is that no day is really typical. Yes, there is a lot of administrative work to do, but each artist and client I work with is unique. I'm meeting new people all the time, and they each require sensitivity to their own situation. When I'm in the studio, each painting can take me on a different journey, and the potential is there to learn something new each time. There's a lot of crossover between these two pursuits.
CGN: Most exciting sale you ever had?
DA: That's a tough question, for many of the reasons I mentioned - each sale has its own story and unexpected things happen all the time. The best part of each sale is meeting the client, and teaming up with them. Some enter into the process as problem solvers, some enter into the process as explorers. In all those cases, I'm a partner with them through that process. I watch some collectors fall in love with an artwork right before my eyes. It's a process most artists don't always get to see. It really does bring me joy!
Conversely, it almost breaks my heart when I see people fall in love with a piece, profess that love out loud, and then for whatever reason, walk away from it. Many of my clients recount stories to me about artwork they regret not getting. So, I'm always happy when people follow their instincts. I haven't really answered your question though, have I? Well, I want to say that the last sale is always my favorite! I know that sounds like a cop-out, but it's totally true!
I loved placing a sculpture in the beautiful high rise apartment owned by the mother of a very well known Chicago filmmaker. Her stories were fantastic! I've enjoyed selling work to professional athletes, newscasters, and politicians. All good experiences. OK, I know a story where the client confirmed that it was ok to talk about the sale publicly. It was a real treat to meet Juanita Jordan, Michael Jordan's mother, and help her pick out work and install it in her and Michael Jordan's Highland Park home – that was a championship experience.
So, huge, one-time sales are great, but I find the most important deals have been those that have lead to friendships as well as a real appreciation for, and even dedication to, the gallery, our vision, and the artists we represent. The collectors who stick with us and discover new artists with us – they aren't just buying art, they are letting us walk with them on a real journey. It's really about art over the long term, and that's the most gratifying part of this process.
CGN: What are some successes as well as challenges you have faced this year?
DA: I've noticed an interesting and increasing trend in the last year, maybe a little longer. Many people who bought artwork from the gallery years ago, whom I had not seen for awhile, or who just weren't steadily collecting, have returned to purchase new artwork. It's been great to see how some of the goodwill from those early encounters has brought people back in their own time.
This is true of artists too. In addition to clients, the real success of this gallery for me has been the artists I've been able to meet and work with. I love talking about art - all aspects of it. It's one of my favorite things, and I get to do it with a great range of artists who are each dedicated to this pursuit, and who express that dedication in very individual ways. It has changed me and made my tastes much broader.
This year I had a number of opportunities to curate exhibitions outside of the gallery, and to participate with other institutions jurying shows and presenting new artists. I also spent time at a number of colleges, speaking both as a curator and as an artist, teaching workshops and participating in critiques. These "extra curricular" activities have become a very important aspect of my vocation for me. I love getting to contribute to these students' experiences in the same way that visiting artists and curators did for me when I was in school.
CGN: What do you want to tell a young person considering this business?
DA: Find good mentors. Learn as much as you can from them. Know art history! Especially post-war to the present. Yes, being successful in this business requires you to be a businessperson, but it really means you should have a curatorial vision. This is the difference between selling art like a commodity on-line, and curating a space that offers the viewer a unique and knowledgeable experience with the artwork. Of course, the challenge is to make those things work in tandem. You have to wear a lot of hats. There are a lot of good artists but not a lot of accessible galleries. If you have a vision, pursue it! You are needed in this culture.
CGN: Favorite cultural pursuit outside of the art world?
DA: Of course, my favorite thing to do is spend time with my family. I love to travel, and I have a wife who is a great artist and teacher who also loves to travel and see new things. I love spending time and going places with my 10 year old boy. I love to play guitar. I have been in bands since I was a kid, and I play whenever I can with other musicians who challenge me, so I am always learning.
CGN: What should we expect to see from Addington Gallery in 2018?
DA: I'm thrilled about this year's schedule of exhibitions! We are going to see powerful new work from established artists, as well as exciting work from artists who are new to the gallery. I want this gallery to always be a place of welcome and renewal - new work, new ideas, and new visitors as we continue to advocate for our artists and present their ideas and vision to the community.
Dan Addington is the owner of Addington Gallery in River North, Chicago. For more information about the gallery please visit: Addington Gallery