Founded by Tarrah von Lintel more than 20 years ago, Von Lintel Gallery has continually developed its discerning curatorial point of view. The gallery predominantly features painting, photography and unique works on paper that are forward-thinking and challenging while maintaining a strong sense of aesthetic tradition. Focusing on a selective roster of artists who quietly push the boundaries of medium and materiality, the gallery exhibits art that will continue to engage the viewer over time.
Tarrah von Lintel began her art career in Paris, working first with Galerie Claire Burrus and then Thaddeus Ropac before opening her own gallery in Munich in 1993. Her gallery featured many NY artists, some of whom she continues to represent today, leading to her move to NYC’s growing Chelsea district in 1999. After 15 successful years in NY, the gallery relocated to a much larger space in the burgeoning Culver City arts community, in recognition of LA’s growing importance on the international art scene.
Von Lintel artists have shown or placed work in important public collections, among them The Metropolitan Museum of Art; Museum of Modern Art; The Whitney Museum of American Art; the International Center of Photography; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; the High Museum; The Getty; the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art; and Londonʼs National Gallery of Art.
We spoke on July 6 at Von Lintel Gallery.
Paula: Congratulations on the gallery’s twenty-five years. That's quite an accomplishment! You're having an exhibition here to mark the occasion and to revisit some of the artists that you've worked with. Has it been an interesting trip down memory lane?
Tarrah: It really has. I think one of the things that I like about coming back and looking at all these artists that I worked with is that, to me, there is a visual thread that holds it all together. I think it has evolved over the 25 years; but, for instance, this painting by Stephen Ellis is from 1991. It looks absolutely fresh and it's still one of my favorite paintings. I started my gallery in Munich in 1993; and, at that time, the idea was to bring mostly abstract painting to Germany of mid-career artists who didn't have any exposure in Europe, but were quite well known in New York. This is obviously pre-Internet.
Paula: American artists, particularly?
Tarrah: Yes. Stephen Ellis is one of them. Also New Yorkers like John Zinsser and Mark Sheinkman, who I have now worked with for twenty-something years, also David Row, who I represented for a very long time.
Paula: How did you become a gallerist in the first place?
Tarrah: I was an investment banker. I worked for Salomon Brothers in London, selling equity derivatives. I was very young, and for the first time in my life I was making more money than I was spending. It was nice. Then there was the Lockerbie bombing, a Pan Am flight that was bombed over the town of Lockerbie in Scotland. The guy who sat next to me at work was on that plane. It really made me reassess life. I ended up deciding that life could be very short and that I was working too much, and that this wasn't going to keep me happy for the rest of my life. So then I decided that instead of running after the money I would find something that I really love doing.
Paula: That's an incredible lesson, and a harsh one.
Tarrah: Yeah. And then I quit. I realized that I had to quit because I was thinking too much about money, while still working in investment banking. I moved to Paris, where my father lived at the time. In Paris you can actually sit in a café, think and do nothing, and not be looked at strangely. So I made a list of all the things I liked to do, and art was one of them that I kept coming back to because there was also no barrier to entry. You could just put up a sign and say, Gallery.
When I decided that that's what I wanted to do, I started helping at art fairs in Paris, and then after six or eight months, I was hired by a French gallery, Galerie Claire Burrus. She had a very conceptual program, which was great because I learned a ton. She showed people like Charles Ray, which didn’t sell at the time. Then the first Gulf War started, and the art business just went to hell.
I decided to quit because it became an untenable position. I moved to New York, because I wanted to work there, and soon afterward Thaddeus Ropac called me to become the director of his Paris gallery. It was fantastic for me because I got to spend a lot of time with so many well-known artists. Rauschenberg, Rosenquist, Dennis Hopper and Jonathan Lasker; a long, long list. They came to Paris and most of them couldn’t speak French. It was my job to make them happy, and to translate for them. It usually involved food and wine. That's also where I learned how to install exhibitions.
I then fell in love with the woman who later became my wife, and she was back in Munich, so I decided to quit Thaddeus and move to Munich and open my gallery. I was not really interested in working with blue chip, really well-known artists. I wanted to work with younger artists.
Tarrah: I enjoy the interaction with mid-career artists because usually after they've had some experience, for the most part they're ready to work with somebody who will give them feedback and who will help them. They will have realized the gallery can be a huge asset if it's the right one. Whereas, if you're working with super established artists, then you tend to just be given work and to have less involvement.
Paula: So it's more collaborative?
Tarrah: Yeah. There are a number of things that attracted me to the art world, and working with artists is definitely one of them. They open your eyes and teach you how to see, which I still find fascinating to this day.
I had the gallery in Munich for seven years and then I moved to New York. One of the problems that I started running into in Germany was that I would present new artists and then the collectors who I would present them to, would go off on vacation to New York and come back with their new acquisitions and say, "Look what we've bought." Wonderful for the artist, but it didn't help me much. When I would be in New York to visit the artists I would see sold-out gallery shows, which was something that I had never experienced. New York at that time really was pretty clearly the center of the contemporary art world. A few of the artists I worked with asked, "Have you thought about opening a gallery in New York?" and that got me thinking. I proposed the idea to my then-wife, and to my big surprise she said yes to the move, even though we had two very small kids. So I moved to New York. The thing I was most excited about was the community. In New York at any point in time, you could go to a whole slew of restaurants or bars and you would meet artists, curators, gallerists. That was fantastic. That was something that I did not experience in Munich in the same way.
Paula: How did you find your way to LA?
Tarrah: Obviously, real estate is a huge issue for galleries. I had ten years in my first space, which was very large because I was one of the earliest galleries in Chelsea, so for New York it was really quite cheap in the beginning. I then moved to a ground floor space that was much smaller. After some years there I needed to expand into a bigger space. I found an old horse stable in the Lower East Side, but when I ran the numbers, I realized I would have to spend close to half a million dollars to build it out, and I did not have that money. For me to borrow that kind of money would've meant zero reserves and a massive amount of debt. If there's one thing I've learned about this industry, it's so unpredictable in terms of sales that you have to have some backup. So I decided not to do that.
At that time, I represented an artist by the name of Marco Breuer, and the Getty Museum was working on an exhibition, which included his work. I started to travel to LA and I saw that there was this fantastic community here, especially in the photography world. Let’s not forget the weather, and it was much cheaper than New York. I thought, "Well, why not?"
Paula: So we have the Getty to thank for your being here.
Tarrah: I think it's a combination. I think it's the New York real estate, the way the market changed there. And also, what attracted me to New York first is community, and that kind of disappeared. Manhattan was once the place to be, but it became so expensive that people started to move to Upstate New York, the Bronx, to Queens, to the far reaches of Brooklyn. People just wouldn't congregate the same way. I think it was also the beginning of social media, which also has had a massive impact.
Paula: You don't exclusively work with photography, but you do a lot.
Tarrah: Yes. It's definitely at least half of my program. I've always been interested in photography, but I've never really been interested in what I'll call "documentary photography." In New York, I did shows such as abstraction in photography, because abstraction is something that's always interested me. That’s when I started working with Marco Breuer. At that time, which was around 2001, there was a major shift. Digital photography had become a thing. Prints were getting massive, and Photoshop became an ever important aspect of photography.
Digital is really about perfection, and perfection can arguably be boring. I noticed a lot of the younger artists were starting to work with older processes like cyanotypes, gum prints, photograms. Many of them are chemistry-heavy, and that meant that it would reintroduce chance into the photographic process, which I saw as a reaction to the digital world. It became very difficult for artists to establish their signature. I think this move back to alternative processes is a trend that's been getting stronger and stronger. And I love it.
John Chiara is another artist in the exhibition. He builds his own cameras, cuts the photo paper in the dark and tapes it to the back of a camera, then removes the lens cap and exposes it. You can see this is a very long exposure, it is the trajectory of the sun. Not only that, he then develops it himself, which for color photography and prints this size is hugely difficult. You can see that it leaves marks, which I found very interesting because they work with the image.
Paula: It makes the process somewhat visible.
Tarrah: Which I like. I want the artwork to have a dialogue with me over a long period of time. If I have to work at figuring out what it's giving me visually, then I find that dialogue is going to last longer than if it's totally apparent at first view. Where you have this abstraction that's part of the imagery, you’ll see different things depending on the time of day or what you feel like.
Paula: In terms of your program or point of view, you have a clear interest in process-driven photography.
Tarrah: Yes, but for me, the process is a means to an end. I like images where you have to work at figuring them out. Or images that have unexpected information in them that make you think.
For example, Joe Rudko is a very young artist from Seattle, and he takes vernacular photographs and cuts them up into squares and reassembles them. You really have to look at it for quite some time to try and figure out what the imagery is and what it means to you. It invites you in for a closer look. Edward Burtynsky is a very well-known photographer, but a lot of his work is so abstract that it doesn't seem like it's photography. The piece in the exhibition, most people think it's a woodcut or something, but when you come closer and you really look at the detail, you see that it's a landscape.
Paula: Obviously, selling work is a big part of what your goal is here. It's a business. But what do you consider to be the role of the gallerist in the artist's life?
Tarrah: What I take great pride and pleasure in is to help put an artist on the map. Not only in terms of an exhibition, but long-term. When an artist is younger or mid-career, then the prices are low enough that that is the moment to sell to museums. If you go to a museum and you have a $3000 or $4000 work, they can figure out a way to buy it if they really want it. If the prices go to $20,000 or $30,000, you're competing with tons of other artists, and every museum has a list of what they're looking for and gaps they're trying to fill. Every museum would like a Gursky, but that's a major, major fundraising effort. So the idea of putting something in a museum, that's something you can't take away from an artist. They're in that collection pretty much forever, so I try to work a lot with museums.
Paula: So it's your job to convince a museum that this artist is important enough and innovative enough to be part of their collection.
Tarrah: The first artist who I was really successful with was Marco Breuer. I think I must've sold to 80 or 90 museums. Once you know the right people and the right museums, then of course it's much easier because you know that they're interested in this kind of unique/alternative photography. After awhile, they actually started to come to me and ask me, "Do you have anything new? Do you have anything I need to know?"
Paula: Well, you have 25 years of experience, so they have come to trust your judgment and your eye.
Tarrah: That's what a gallery is supposed to do, because the museums can't. There's no way they can do what I do, which is go to artist studios and do the first selection.
Paula: When you're ready to take on someone new, do you have a criteria? What do you think about? Or is it more of a gut instinct?
Tarrah: I would say all of the above. Since I'm looking to work with an artist for a longer period of time, I very much look at the trajectory, where they came from and where they are now. Are they building on what they started with? Are they learning? Are they adapting? It's also really important for artists to be realistic in their expectations. I never tell an artist what to do, but if you work with a gallery, one of the goals has to be to sell the art. I need someone who understands the process, and sometimes it just doesn't make any sense to make artwork that's 10 feet by 30 feet.
Paula: It's limiting.
Tarrah: And expensive. Framing is a big issue and production costs in photography are a big issue.
Paula: And taking that to an art fair is difficult.
Paula: How do you feel about art fairs? Do you do a lot of them?
Tarrah: I used to do a fair amount of them, and recently I've cut back because they just don't seem to be working the same way. It's obviously not good business sense to spend $70,000 to do an art fair and come back with $30,000 in sales. This year, the only fair I'm going to do is Miami. PULSE is a fair that I've participated in for a long time. Selling is one thing, but you don't only go to an art fair to sell, you also hope to make new contacts. In Miami each year, not only do we at least break even, but we also meet new collectors. The difference between a collector and somebody who just buys something for over the couch is that with the collector there is a greater likelihood that they will keep coming back to you. Which will make the investment in the art fair so much more worthwhile. I love selling artwork to people who live with it and who are not collectors per se, but it’s different.
Paula: Tell me about your salon in your back room. What prompted that idea?
Tarrah: I've always been interested in design, but what really prompted it is that, since the Internet and social media, people consume images very, very differently than they ever have before. Mostly much, much faster. If you look at how they look at images on Instagram, you're looking at many images within a few seconds. The art that I'm selling is not meant to be consumed in half a second. In fact, it's meant to do the opposite. It's meant to keep your interest for a long period of time, which means that if it's good, it's not going to release all it has immediately. If you take that and then reduce it to a two- or three-inch screen, it's impossible to get the full effect. It's just not possible.
I think that what all of the galleries are battling with is that people are spending so much time in their phone that they're not going to galleries anymore. Everything is accessible on your phone and once you've seen it, you've seen it. People forget that seeing it in person is such a different experience than seeing it on your phone.
With this 25-year anniversary exhibition, we're introducing the concept of the salon. The idea is to do thematic hangings, let's say photograms, or daguerreotypes, or whatever it may be, and then invite small groups of collectors and artists and have wine and cheese and talk about the art. In those 25 years I've learned so much about the various photographic processes and what influences artists, that I have so much knowledge which I'd like to share. One thing the Internet hasn't been able to do is to figure out how to dispense alcohol and put interesting people into the same space.
It's really hitting a nerve. Even at the opening, the feeling was so different because people sat down and they actually talked about this whole thing. It's unusual. It makes you slow down when you sit down, as opposed to the white cube, which is barren. So far people have loved it.
Paula: We're human beings, we still need community.
Tarrah: Well, that's why I think the response has been so unbelievably positive. Unless you're dealing blue chip and very expensive art, I don't think it's a secret, the art world is undergoing major, major changes. That's why we hear about so many galleries closing. I feel the impact, and I think about the future. The idea of having a digital gallery holds zero interest. Absolutely zero interest.
One of the huge benefits of having a gallery is that I get to live with art for a month or however long it's hanging, and what you like in the beginning is not necessarily what you like after the end of a show. For instance, if you come to my home, I would say almost exclusively all the art that I've purchased are things that I didn't sell during the exhibitions. When people come to my home they all say, "Oh, you kept the best." But it's not true. I just had the advantage of spending a long time looking at the art.
Paula: That's very interesting.
Tarrah: Think about it. Even if you come into a gallery and you look at an artwork for three minutes, that's a long time. But is it going to hold your interest over the next 20, 30, 40, 50 years?
Paula: That's asking a lot. And some do.
Tarrah: Our consumption of images has changed. If you look at the younger generations, they're not buying things anymore. They're streaming. They don't buy books. They don't have the same needs as when I started 25 years ago. If you were interested in visual information, in images, you went to a museum or galleries, you bought books or magazines, and that was kind of it. Or you bought art so that you could have it at home. That's really changed because the phone is giving people so much visual stimulation. It’s constant.
We'll see where it leads us. What's kept me in the business this long, because it's really not an easy business, is that I have the most fantastic clients that you could possibly ever imagine. Because I don't sell any trophies, per se, or any investment-type art, the people who buy the art I sell, buy it because they like the art, the object. I love working with the artists on the one hand, and I love working with my clients on the other hand. They’re really interesting people. They're interested in more than just the dollars, or the trophy.
Paula: Well, that says something about the quality of the experience that you want to have for yourself as well.
Tarrah: Sure. Well, I chose this.
For more information please visit vonlintel.com.