Gallerist Dennis Christie’s New Horizons

Like a mutating beast, New York’s ever-evolving. And the art scene’s no different.

With the opening of the new New Museum on the Bowery, our Lower East Side’s again becoming an epicenter for urban artistic activity. Gallerists Dennis Christie and Ken Tyburski couldn’t resist the pull and recently unveiled their DCKT Contemporary’s new location just down the famed road from the Museum.

In celebration of the event, 35-year old Christie recently sat down with Queerty contributor Justin Conner to discuss his artistic roots, how to late Andy Warhol pulled him to the city and why he ignores the market’s boom, even if it could go bust.

Check it out, after the jump.

Justin Conner: I think it’s interesting how you’ve chosen this space on the Lower East Side, which is becoming a second center of the New York City art world, after Chelsea.

Dennis Christie: Yeah, well we’ll see about that.

Conner: Well, a lot more galleries are coming here.

Christie: Yes, definitely. There are about 40 of us down here now. What is appealing is the New Museum having opened. Having a building means they are here for the long haul. It’s a great beacon for the galleries and the neighborhood, and for us newcomers. We’re really psyched about the location since we’re only a half a block away.

Conner: Where was your gallery located originally?

Christie: I started the gallery with Ken Tyburski, my business partner, while I was working for Charles Cowles gallery. We started our gallery within that space. It was an independently run space that I oversaw while I was directing Charles Cowles. We were exhibiting in a 20 by 20 foot room. We took over the programming brought in our own artists did everything for that space. Had our name on the door and all of that. Then, we lucked out and got a space on 24th street. We were there another 2 years until the building was torn down. After that, we were looking for the right space for a really long time not finding anything in Chelsea, and dealing with nightmare potential landlords. Nothing felt right until we found this space.

Conner: So you started in the gallery world under the great Charles Cowles?

Christie: I worked for Charlie for about 9 years I started as an intern and he was really my number one mentor. I went from intern to director.

Conner: What made you want to start your own gallery?

Christie: There were a lot of artists outside of the gallery that I wanted to work with–younger artists, people who had never shown in New York and those with less-established track record. We started our programming looking outside New York as much as possible. Though we have some New York-based artists, a lot of them are from California, Texas, and the Midwest.
[David Lefkowitz’s Block, from 2005.]
Conner: Do you search for anything in particular when choosing artists? What are you drawn artistically?

Christie: I think overall it has a harder photographically- based edge. It snaps into place quickly visually, though maybe much more layered and conceptually.

Conner: Do you collect?

Christie: I certainly collect my own artists. And when the fancy strikes me something else.

Conner: Are you drawn to art that has gay themes?

Christie: One of the artists that we show, Maria Piñeres, shows these great eroticized works in needlepoint. I own a work with this very 70s gay porn figure with long hair.
[Maria E. Piñeres “Bobby and Tim” and “Dark Plaid” make needlepoint fun!]
Conner: Do you think that your being gay has any influence on you as a gallerist?

Christie: I think so. It’s good to certain degree to be conscious of the balance in your roster of artists, and I’ve been conscious of the male to female ratio, which comes up in the local press at least once a year. And gay and lesbian artists we try to keep it as broad-based as we can, but it’s really about the work ultimately.

Conner: Do you have a sense of obligation to young gay artists?

Christie: Yes, but support comes in many different guises: showing, making recommendations, viewing materials, etc. For myself, yes I’m out, I’m gay, but it doesn’t come into the day to day as much unless it’s just me and my business partner in the gallery, who is gay. But when it’s outside the gallery it depends. Some people are going to buy work from a hot chick or a hot guy and it becomes so much more about whom you are dealing with and his or her likes and dislikes. You know… proclivities.

Conner: How many gay or lesbian artists do you show?

Christie: We show 6 out of 17. Though I’m not turned on by showing blatantly erotic work. Gay or straight. That’s not my thing, but for my own collection something sexy can really work.

[Timothy Tompkins’ “Big Tree” from his Interstate Sublime series.]
Conner: Where are you from originally?

Christie: The off the coast of Florida, from Anna Maria Island.

Conner: When did you move to NY?

Christie: In 1994. Before that I was at Boston University. I really started in the art world in 1996. I was debating the masters route and then I just met the right mentor at the right time.

Conner: When did you come out?

Christie: When I was in college. Being gay was so far removed from the realm of possibility, at least from my growing up and where I’m from. I’m so envious in a way of kids today who are able to come out in high school because that fascinates me. That just wasn’t my world.

Conner: What got you interested in art?

Christie: My parents. Whenever we would travel anywhere my parents would always make it a point to go to an art museum though it wasn’t until I was half way through college that I took up Art History. I actually started in archaeology but didn’t want to spend a summer digging somewhere without a nice hotel.

Conner: Have you always been drawn to contemporary art?

Christie: It really started in the early 90s from reading Artforum and Art in America because our classes kind of ended with Pollock and an image of Warhol. When I was in middle school Warhol died, but I was already fascinated with him. If it wasn’t for him I wouldn’t be in New York at all. For a kid from an island in Florida it really had an impact.

Conner: So Warhol kind of pushed you to New York City?

Christie: For sure, even though he was dead and buried. But through my internship at Charles Cowles I met a lot of factory people and that always made me secretly happy.
[Lia Holleran’s “Untitled (Diffusion 3)” helps build her Vellum series.]
Conner: What do you think about being young and gay and in the art world in New York now? A lot different from when Andy ruled the scene…

Christie: It’s great not even in New York because you have that kinship. For example, every year for the last several years going to South Beach for Art Basel Miami Beach has always been a funny thing.

Conner: You mean going to the club Twist, don’t you?

Christie: Yeah! The bar upstairs. We call that “the Office,” because you can see everyone and anyone in the art world pass through and do more business of any kind there. Being gay, there are so many specific outlets for us outside of work. I found I got so much more work done at Twist than during the day. It’s great to have that sense of community in the art world which can be kind of a…

Conner: Clusterfuck.

Christie: Sure. And corporate and very money-driven.

Conner: Do you think a crash in the art market would be good for art?

Christie: I think it’s important to take a step back from these issues of the market and money. That’s what I do a lot. I say to myself I don’t want this as part of my life. And that makes me happy.