For artist-turned-gallerist Scott Ogden, the curatorial journey has always been led by the heart (with support from the head). “I first start by looking for art and artists making works that I personally would want to live with,” Scott explains. He began collecting art during college in the early 90s, and opened SHRINE gallery in Lower East Side Manhattan in 2016 during a lull in his own art practice. Now, almost five years later and over the initial start-up hurdles, Scott finds the curatorial challenges of presenting work in interesting and thought-provoking ways as satisfying as making work himself. His long-standing love is with outsider and vernacular/self-taught artists, which makes up roughly half of his gallery programming. The other half focuses on emerging contemporary and underrepresented artists, with the occasional intertwining of the two. Scott takes great care to create a sophisticated and contemporary digital and physical aesthetic for SHRINE, which allows him to spotlight and elevate the work of self-taught makers in a fine art context. At outsider art fairs, Scott has presented work from the historical Friern Hospital Collection, produced by mentally ill patients without any formal art training or even the awareness of art at all. The artworks reveal a creative output that is completely unfettered in its directness with a complete lack of inhibition. This freedom and naïve nonconformity runs through the work of many of the artists in the SHRINE stable. It’s a special eye that can recognise the latent potential of the untrained artists and separate the amateurish from the unconstrained. And Scott is a master of this.
We’re thrilled to have been able to work with Scott as guest curator for this issue of ArtMaze Mag. He brought his characteristic excitement about discovering new artists and industry expertise to bear in what we think is a fabulous selection.
AMM: You were born in Oklahoma City and raised in Texas. You gained your BFA from the University of Texas in Austin and an MFA from Queens College in New York. Were you raised in a creative household? Can you tell us about your earliest memories of making art?
SO: I actually was not raised in a family that made art or expressed much creative energy, but I was always told about my father’s mother, who was a painter but sadly destroyed much of her work in a backyard bonfire. I never met her, but as an artist I can relate to not feeling satisfied with my work. Still, I would have loved to see what she had imagined and made.
AMM: When did you open SHRINE and what is the back story that led to this? How did you get into curation?
SO: I opened SHRINE in January of 2016 and had never really felt aspirations of being a “gallerist”. However, I had collected art, mostly in the Outsider and self-taught vein, since college and was perhaps inadvertently putting more energy into that than making my own work. And I was feeling very uninspired in my job/career at the time after having been doing it for a long time. It was actually a good friend who suggested that I open a gallery when I was abstractly looking for a big life change. Somehow it was a perfect fit for what my life needed.
AMM: Opening a gallery in New York has its challenges. Do you recall the advice you were given at the time? Did you have a lot of support and mentoring? Were many cautious in their response to your new undertaking?
SO: I think it is extremely daunting for anyone to open any kind of business in New York City. And for me, I had never worked at an art gallery before, outside of as working as an art handler/preparator, so I really had no idea what it would entail. The first two years were fairly brutal, and I often found myself often asking aloud to myself for help… But as I got going, like anything, it started feeling easier and slightly more stable, where I would no longer have to send out prayers for rent. Collectors are great, and along with the artists we show, are at the core of what we do. So many people new to me made purchases and trusted in what I was doing. It was humbling and hard to let them know that they were actually keeping SHRINE afloat those first couple of years. I also think it helped that I had the niche of focusing primarily on self-taught and Outsider art.
AMM: What is your understanding of the role of curator?
SO: To me, when I am putting shows together and curating, I first start by looking for art and artists making works that I personally would want to live with. Finding individuals and objects that move, in whatever way, is the most exciting part of this, and then getting to be playful (and thoughtful) about how they are presented is giving me the same creative satisfaction as making my own art.
AMM: How important is social media in your work as a gallerist and curator?
SO: Simply put, I do not think I would still be in business without Instagram. It’s the only social platform I use daily for the gallery, and it has allowed me to get the word out that I am here, meet artists, find collectors and even reach out to people who would never look at an email from me but somehow are open to messaging on the app. It’s not perfect by any means, but it’s free and such a powerful tool for artists and galleries.
AMM: What are some of the ways that curating challenges and satisfies you creatively?
SO: You’re telling a story with art made by other people, and I love it when curation allows for new or expanded ideas about these artworks. How art is placed and installed created new dialogues with the other works they are near and interacting with. I think it’s a creative act as powerful as making art.
AMM: What does your working day look like?
SO: Always different… Emails, lots of emails, posting on Instagram, researching and writing about whatever show is new, keeping track of inventory, invoices, sending out previews, writing to artists. There is never a shortage of things to do and stay on top of.
AMM: How would you describe the space and atmosphere of the gallery? What is the culture and aesthetic of the gallery?
SO: I try to make it sure approachable and fun. We don’t play it very “cool” and instead make sure to say a proper hello to everyone and let them know we’re here for questions or to further explain the art on view. Really, I just want the space to feel open and inviting.
AMM: We’d love to hear more about the area in which your gallery is located; how does the environment inspire and influence the way in which SHRINE is developing?
SO: It’s a truly wonderful part of Manhattan where we are located. There’s no perfect name for it but the neighborhood is called Chinatown, Lower East Side, Two Bridges etc. There are so many cool galleries near here, really great bars and restaurants and sky. There are few if any tall buildings around here so you get to see and feel the sky. It all feels like a New York from another time.
AMM: What do you hope visitors feel when they enter your gallery?
SO: Excited, curious, inspired, like they should go home and make some art!
AMM: As a film maker you created the documentary ‘MAKE’ in 2008 which delves into the lives of four American self-taught artists. We would love to know what inspired you to tell their stories and in what ways do their journeys reach out to us all? Do you believe that access to art for all is important at the times we live in?
SO: ‘MAKE’ was another inadvertent project. I had found out about all of these amazing artists and their works, and I was just completely blown away. So I started shooting video footage eventually and also researching where archival material might be hiding. Eventually, when my co-director Malcolm Hearn came on, we realized these individuals who had never met still had lives and art practices that touched and made sense together. The rest is history, as they say. What was incredible was to see these four artists: Prophet Royal Robertson, Judith Scott, Hawkins Bolden and Ike Morgan, creating such unique and highly personal/idiosyncratic art with the barest of means. It is just so inspiring and changed me as both an artist and a person. And yes, I love the idea of everyone having access to both making and seeing art. Now more than ever, art is a vehicle to heal and also make sense of such unique times.
AMM: How important is it to go to art school for those who want to make art?
SO: I do not think art school is necessary for anyone, but it can definitely introduce artists to new methods of art making, other artists, provocative ideas and, most importantly, it gives you a dedicated span of time to create.
AMM: You have collected art since the 90s. Can you tell us more about your interest in outsider art and what drew you to it initially? We’d be fascinated to hear about your favorite pieces and how they were acquired.
SO: I began collecting art in college with student loan money and anything leftover from making falafels at the local sandwich shop I worked at with a bunch of artists. When I first saw, really saw—in person, works by outsider artists, I was just dumbfounded. It became an instant passion and it seems my life’s work. My favorite works are always shifting and changing, which is part of the fun of living with art, I think. And I am always seeing something new, sometimes even in pieces that I have lived with for decades.
AMM: Do you work with a fixed body of artists or is the program more fluid?
SO: Both—I love developing relationships with artists and showing them as “galleys artists”, and I am also always keen to see new work and meet interesting artists.
AMM: How does the advice you offer to outsider artists, those who are self-taught and contemporary artists differ?
SO: I don’t think advice given to self-taught or trained artists would ever be different. I do suppose the one thing I would advise an “outsider artist” would be that if they have decided they are an “outsider artist” and are aware of the field, they really are not that and the label is not going to be helpful.
AMM: Can you tell us more about the artists you are currently working with?
SO: I work with so many talented artists and bodies of work. It’s hands down the best part about running a gallery, and I feel perpetually lucky to be surrounded by such talents. There are so many that I feel it a disservice to highlight anyone individually, but if I am working with someone it is because their art moves me and I think their work is ahead of the game.
AMM: How do you establish a connection with collectors and how do you maintain that relationship?
SO: Each relationship is so unique. Some collectors become great friends that you talk to almost every week, and others you only hear from on rare occasions when something grabs their attention. I’m constantly trying to be better about staying in touch with everyone as it’s fun and keeps this all running.
AMM: What advice would you give an inexperienced collector?
SO: Go with your gut. Intuition and personal taste are so important. Choose what you want to live with, and if possible, don’t buy art simply as an investment. Purchase works that inspire you and will evolve in your eyes the longer you live with them.
AMM: In your opinion are there any trends shaping the current New York art scene?
SO: It seems that Outsider Art is steadily becoming increasingly embraced by the larger contemporary art world, which is great as it is contemporary art. I see lots of new and young artists finding interesting ways to create figurative works in completely new ways. Abstraction is feeling more thoughtful and less decorative. Race and gender issues are at the forefront and helping broader audiences experience lives outside their own.
AMM: You have a very busy work schedule, how do you spend any downtime you are able to grab?
SO: Bad TV with my pup and wife, even just a little, is a great way for me to unwind. Eating well, whether at home or out, is key. Enjoying everything that New York has to offer. There’s just so much opportunity to experience things here that you cannot see anywhere else.
AMM: Are you still able to find the time to make art?
SO: I am just now finding time to get back to art making. The first few years of SHRINE were all-consuming. So it’s exciting to start up again.
AMM: Where is SHRINE heading? Are you able to share details about future projects?
SO: I will keep that secret for now. But I always love when people decide to follow and keep up with the gallery, and see what I’m doing, whether in person or virtually through the lens of my website. So please do that if you’re into what the gallery is up to.
Find out more: www.shrine.nyc
Interview by Maria Zemtsova, text by Layla Leiman for ArtMaze Mag.