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Torchlight Series: Talking About the Importance of Fostering Artistic Talent with Ki Smith - Part 1

January 2018 - by Soraa

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During Art Basel, the world-renowned art fair in Miami this past December, we partnered with Superfine!—a fast-growing, hyper-curated art fair that spotlights up-and-coming contemporary artists. As part of our collaboration, we lit up the artwork of Apostrophe Gallery, the iconoclastic art gallery created in 2012 by two NYC-based brothers, Sei and Kei Smith. 

During the fair, we spent some one-on-one time with Ki Smith—co-founder of Apostrophe Gallery. We spoke about him growing up in New York City, where he got his first taste of working in the art world at the age of 16. Ki also explained why he started a gallery, and why nurturing artistic talent is so important to him. 

Where does your internal inspiration for running an art gallery come from? 

I first started working at galleries when I dropped out of high school at 16. I went to work at the Storefront for Art and Architecture in SoHo, so, I guess ever since then I just found it really interesting. There’s something that Walter Hopps once said, “There’s always cave painters, but there’s always someone that needs to hold the torch so that the light can shine on the paintings, and you can see it.” I see it that way. There has to be light to allow art to be seen by larger audiences, and I think that’s a really important job. As a gallerist, I very much see myself as someone that holds a torch to illuminate art and illuminate the works of the artist. There’s a lot of talent out there, and I think it’s the gallery’s job to allow that to be exposed to the world. So itwas always really important for me to find new and younger artists, and to help them find a place to sustain themselves in the larger art world. 

How does light and color play into your creative process when you’re building out a gallery space?

To me, lighting is really paramount to showing work. Good lighting allows work to be seen in the closest proximity to the mind’s eye, on the artist’s side. On the art collector’s side, any gallery or site that you see art in, you see it through the lens of that space. Light is something that can alter that lens and enhance that lens, and so I really believe that something as simple as lighting can really make or break a show. That’s a really interesting idea that we explore a lot. If you see this work in a museum, you’ll look at it differently than if you see it in a gallery space or on a subway platform or at a dinner, or in a restaurant, or a different location.  

As a gallery owner, what other artists and art forms inspire you? 

Oh man. So, art as a definition, it’s so broad. So many things can fall under the word ‘art.’ To me, what I’m always looking for is a combination of ideas, material, and aesthetic. And when those three are linking up harmoniously, that is successful work. And so, I think that what you really need is all of these things to be in play, and I think that’s something that artists work on, and rework on, and continue working on their whole lives, kind of allowing these things to come into tune. The moment where they all meet perfectly, and a successful work is created, that’s what’s inspiring as a gallery owner. That’s what you live for, for those moments when you go to a studio visit and you’re talking to one of the artists and they’re showing something new and it just clicks. That’s really exciting. 

We were in residence at Mana Contemporary and all the artists had studios in that space, so it was a very unique situation. Very rarely is a gallery right next to the studios of all the artists it represents. We’ve had that for a year now, the gallery space and all 12 studios around it, and I thought it was really fascinating because you kind of see these little moments and you see how quickly artists are evolving. And it’s both an evolution and revolution of their own practice. I think that’s what’s exciting, when someone can take the next step, and then plateau, take a step, plateau—it’s that moment that’s really exciting for everyone.

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