Founded in 2016, Mrs. Gallery is a contemporary art gallery in Maspeth, Queens, New York City, run by a husband and wife team. Set on a quaint leafy street in the suburbs far removed from the art world hub of the city, Mrs. Gallery has been quietly gaining a reputation as the gallery to go to for innovative, fresh art by emerging and mid-career artists. What distinguishes Mrs. Gallery, apart from its unlikely location, is its hybrid model, halfway between artist-run space and commercial business. Mrs. Gallery arose out of the founders’ combined experiences working in different roles in the art industry and their realization of the gaps in the existing business models. While Mrs. Gallery is still a young space, it has been growing from strength to strength with a strong exhibition program of longer-running shows and sell-out booths at art fairs.
As guest curators of this Summer edition of ArtMaze Mag, we chat to Sara Maria Salamone and Tyler Lafreniere, the power duo behind Mrs., the little gallery that can, and is, reshaping the art landscape for emerging, mid-career and under-represented artists.
AMM: Hi Sara and Tyler! To start us off, can you tell us how Mrs. came into being? Was this something the two of you had been planning for a long time or did it grow out of something else? Fill us in on the backstory that led to Mrs. today.
Mrs.: Prior to starting Mrs., Tyler and I had been loosely discussing the idea of collaborating on an art related project. Tyler had been publishing a zine called Gypsé Eyes for a few years while I had been working in galleries and at art fairs along with an art non profit. We had a lot of discussions on creating something together, where we could take advantage of our backgrounds and work with and support the arts. Over a similar period of time, Tyler had to move out of his long time studio space in Williamsburg (Brooklyn) so we were looking for a more permanent space. I was simultaneously leaving my position as director at LAUNCH F18. Upon discovering the space from a dubious ad on Craig’s List, we both felt it was clear that this was the right place to start a gallery.
AMM: You’ve turned the maxim about location being key on its head. Besides lower rental costs, what are the benefits of being located outside of the Manhattan art centers?
Mrs.: The lower financial burden of our rent in Queens has allowed us a general freedom within our programming, but aside from this, there are other advantages to being outside the geographic center. Being further out travel-wise, our visitors come specifically to see our exhibitions and stay for a conversation (sometimes for an afternoon!). Everyone learns something new within these interactions. I think there is an advantage in this, and perhaps the one show someone sees in their day makes a bigger impact than hopping from gallery to gallery, which can happen in other art based neighborhoods.
AMM: How is Mrs. positioned between an artist-run project space and a commercial gallery?
Mrs.: Having both worked in the arts in various capacities over the years, (Sara in galleries, fairs and non profits, Tyler as an artist’s assistant and various art handling related jobs as well as design) we both have a background in the business of the artworld both on the artist and the dealer sides. We’re huge supporters of artist run spaces, but we’ve felt that many of these spaces aren’t able to offer the commercial and career support that more commercially driven spaces often do. At the same time many of these spaces aren’t able to take the same risks due to the realities of their financial overhead. This is a gap that we believe that Mrs. has filled.
AMM: Is there a need for hybrid spaces like Mrs. in New York? What’s the current climate of the art industry in the city?
Mrs.: I think there is a need for spaces like these in the city. The artworld has been expanding in the last decade which has allowed for more artist run spaces to pop up, like Regina Rex or Ortega y Gasset, which are run collectively by a number of members, giving many more artists opportunities to exhibit and be ‘discovered’ by their art. In fact, Canada (gallery) is a notoriously reputable artist-run space, where they have successfully shared their vision and strength in their programing, year after year.
AMM: Between you both you share a range of experience in the art industry. Has running Mrs. allowed you to develop new skills, or put existing skills to different uses? From a personal perspective, how has Mrs. grown and challenged each of you creatively and professionally?
Mrs.: Running our own space has definitely put our skills, both new and old, to the test. We’ve never run our own businesses previous to this, so we’ve learned a lot in a short period of time. But we’re able to do what we love, and recognize this and feel incredibly fortunate.
AMM: What kind of atmosphere does Mrs. have? What do you hope people feel when they visit the gallery?
Mrs.: As we mentioned, when people come to visit our exhibitions they often stay for a longer conversation. It is important to us that Mrs. feels like a space where open discussion can be had. Regardless of what other work we might be doing while at the gallery, we always take the time to greet and engage with our visitors.
AMM: Up until now your exhibition programming has featured a shifting roster of artists. What sorts of criteria do you look for in artists to work with?
Mrs.: Tyler and I have found a good balance with overlapping tastes. Generally, when we both agree on something we’re confident in that decision. Beyond aesthetic decisions, we consider each artist, their history and practice in detail. Working with an artist is both a personal and business relationship, and it’s important to us that we all feel that we can work well together.
AMM: Will you be establishing a stable of artists to represent on a more permanent basis any time in the future? What would representation by Mrs. look like for artists?
Mrs.: At the current moment we have strong relationships with a number of artists, who we have and will continue to work with. We haven’t decided to “represent” artists in the traditional fashion, since we don’t necessarily follow the traditional gallery model. Supporting our artists is critical to how we run Mrs. and we’ve always felt that what we’d call “representation” would include a level of financial backing (studio rent support, assistants, consistent income) that as a young gallery, we wouldn’t be able to provide (yet). As mentioned, we do work with a number of artists consistently and plan to continue these relationships. These working relationships don’t only consist of scheduled exhibitions at our brick and mortar space, but continued career support with other galleries, institutions, press and collectors.
AMM: On the commercial side of things, can you tell us a little about building a collector base, especially without a permanent stable of artists?
Mrs.: I don’t believe that having a permanent roster of artists equals strong collectors. With the collectors that we work with, it is more about building a relationship with us and the gallery. As I mentioned, we do show a number of artists more consistently, which does engage a specific client base. I think our model has actually reached a wider net of collectors, as we work more openly on a general basis.
AMM: Let’s talk briefly about art fairs. You recently had a sold out booth at NADA with a solo presentation of work by Genesis Belanger. How will you channel this success back into the gallery and business strategy?
Mrs.: Selling out our booth at NADA was fantastic for both Genesis and the gallery.
As a result we’ve gained some new recognition from other galleries and institutions as well as amongst the artist community. We’re very thankful for this recognition and continue to work towards extending this into the rest of our programming.
AMM: What is each of your understanding of the role of the curator and what is your curatorial style? What kind of working relationship do you have with artists?
Mrs.: I’ve been curating for a number of years, but feel that I finally have gained the freedom to organize the exhibitions that I’ve had in the back of my mind gathering cobwebs; since the opportunity wasn’t readily available before this. Being artists ourselves I think, has given us an advantage in our relationships with our artists. As mentioned before, we’re very particular with whom we work, and we expect a very open and strong commitment and trust from both sides of these relationships.
AMM: Is it apt to talk about a curator’s ‘eye’? What skills does it take to do what you do?
Mrs.: To do what we do has taken a lot of time looking at art, studying art, practicing art. It also takes a lot of hard work, trust and organization.
AMM: In your view, what characterizes a successful exhibition?
Mrs.: In our eyes, a strong exhibition can mean a number of things. First and foremost, it’s important that our artists feel the exhibition is successful. Receiving press and making sales is always an important aspect as well. Beyond this a show’s success can be a bit intangible, but it’s an obvious feeling when we’ve finished installing and are able to take in the whole exhibition for the first time. We’ve actually felt successful in each one of our exhibitions and art fair presentations, and each has felt unique.
AMM: Extending that thought – what does success look like and mean for Mrs.?
Mrs.: Broadly we’d like to be able to continue to expand on what we’ve started with Mrs. This means continuing to support and grow our artists’ careers, reaching a larger audience and collector base, and getting the opportunity to work with new artists, collections, institutions and larger organizations.
AMM: With each of your backgrounds and the kind of space you’ve created, I get the sense that collaboration is an important part of what Mrs. is about. Can you tell us a little about this and the way in which you approach your work?
Mrs.: Collaboration is a very important part of Mrs. Tyler’s and my lives are incredibly interwoven, from parenthood to partnership to business owners. We’ve always assisted each other in our artistic endeavours, and never thought Mrs. would be any different. Though there are challenges to this level of partnership, it helps us maintain a solid position.
AMM: What are some of the trends in art and curation that you’ve noticed recently?
Mrs.: As it’s summer in the city and the season is winding down, we’ve seen a lot of galleries hosting artist-curators to organize their summer group show. Generally these exhibitions include lots of artists and friends, they are feel good and light spirited. It’s a nice time to see a lot of new work by a lot of artists you might have otherwise not been privy to in the past.
In general, there has also been a heightened visibility of women in the arts, both in terms of exhibitions, and also as a general conversation around female identifying artists positioning in the art world currently and historically. We hope there is a correction happening, and Mrs. strongly supports this shift.
AMM: Fast forward five years, what’s happening at Mrs. and in your lives?
Mrs.: In five years, I hope we’re well into our 7th year of programing, while maintaining our original intentions for Mrs.: to further the careers of emerging, under-represented and mid career artists, and provide them strong opportunities to exhibit their work. I also hope we’re as happy then as we are now.
Find out more: www.mrsgallery.com
Text and interview by Layla Leiman for ArtMaze Mag.