Katherine Don established Beijing’s RedBox Studio in 2005; the studio’s name was inspired by the first design project she and creative director George Chang completed. “We wanted the name to be an umbrella for all of our projects related to promoting the arts in China,” says Don. The multifaceted RedBox Studio provides graphic design and art advisory services, and works with artists, private collectors, and institutions to facilitate acquisitions, exhibitions, art programs, and publications.
For more than 10 years, Don has promoted contemporary Chinese art in Beijing and New York. She sees her work as a bridge for cultural exchange enabling clients to understand and eventually acquire these works. RedBox Studio also gives private art tours for museum trustee groups, organizes free community art events, publishes artist monologues, and frequently fields questions from international news agencies about the Beijing art scene. Don’s goal is for RedBox Studio to be a resource for fostering art appreciation in the Beijing community and beyond.
Don credits Visual Arts Professor Joan Snitzer with guiding her into the field by supporting her double major in art history and East Asian studies, as well as pointing her toward important internships. Barnard also helped Don with the business aspect of directing her own gallery. She claims it was the experience gained from running the Barnard Bartending Agency that provided her with a platform for operating a business and interacting with a variety of clientele. Don explains, “The agency gave me the confidence to pursue an initial career in a seemingly difficult industry, in a very specialized part of the arts.”
After a visit to an Asian art fair, she recognized how a dynamic and interesting art market in China was just beginning to hit an international nerve. She found work at a New York gallery specializing in contemporary Asian art, and after several months, went from serving as an assistant to becoming the gallery’s director. In 2005, she left her position and moved to Beijing to be closer to the art community, and to begin what is now RedBox Studio with Chang.
Gallery directors also find themselves in the role of art advisor, and Don has made that a large part of her business. “As art advisors,” she explains, “we have the flexibility to work with artists, galleries, and collectors to source artwork and artists for our projects.” Some of the studio’s ongoing initiatives include the RedBox Review, an online resource for contemporary Chinese art, and the RedBox Art Guide series, the first bilingual pocket-sized guide to art districts in Beijing. The studio hosts
a variety of events, including a regular speaker series and art salons, and co- hosts various platforms for fostering art appreciation in the local community. “One of the really exciting aspects of RedBox is that we have the flexibility to engage with artists and the community outside the confines of the gallery walls,” says Don.
“One of the areas RedBox is particularly interested in is the development of works on paper—not drawings in the Western sense, but paintings in the Asian sense,” she says. Many artists trained in printmaking and Chinese painting (ink painting) have the confidence and market support to explore the medium. Even well recognized contemporary Chinese painters known for their work in oil on canvas were trained in printmaking in China’s top art academies. In the international art market, paintings on canvas sell for a much higher price than works on paper, but this may change in China, due to the fact that Chinese painting originated on paper. “After all, paper was invented in China,” notes Don. The commitment to paper led RedBox Studio to organize exhibitions this past year for Peng Wei and Xu Lei, Chinese artists who work in that medium, who incorporate China’s artistic and historical past in their work, but also engage with its contemporary culture.
About her work with RedBox, Don affirms, “To be able to effect change and to see the ways that my actions help, change, touch people through the arts is most gratifying about the job I have created for myself. To meet new people is one of the most enjoyable and fulfilling aspects of being an entrepreneur in Beijing. Like China today, a place recognized for social and economic growth and opportunity, I enjoy how the arts act as a platform for people to gather from different cultures and exchange ideas and interests.”
Don admitted that through that process she has encountered challenges and made successes that any small-business entrepreneur would have. However, she is proud to have come so far having set up a reputable design studio and art advisory business and pioneering an infrastructure for a relatively young contemporary art market in China.
CLAUDIA ALTMAN-SIEGEL GOLDYNE
photograph by Aya Brackett
Stateside, Claudia Altman-Siegel Goldyne opened the Altman Siegel Gallery in San Francisco in January 2009, seeing potential in the city’s small but vibrant art scene. In addition to staging exhibitions and providing advisory services to various types of collectors and museums, she represents contemporary artists working in a variety of media. The gallery is named in honor of her parents, and recognizes her own achievements. As a child, Goldyne’s hyphenated surname was unusual and not a common practice at the time. As an adult, she grappled with the implications of changing her name. When she married, she chose Goldyne for herself, but named her gallery for her family. Goldyne grew up in a creative household (her mother is a writer; her father, an architect). “I was one of those kids who hung out in the art department,” she says. Goldyne always knew what she wanted to do, and believed that Barnard was the place for it: “I wanted to be involved in art on some level and knew the College’s art history department was famous.” She adds, “Barnard made me really feel like I could have my own business and do whatever I wanted. It never occurred to me that it would be something difficult to do as a woman.”
Writing, essays about art and artists as well as press releases, is a big part of Goldyne’s role, and she honed her research and writing skills at the College. It was Michele Maccarone ’95, who initially hired Goldyne at Luhring Augustine Gallery in New York. Goldyne began her career there as a security guard. Two years later, she was the gallery’s director, a position she held for 10 years until striking out on her own.
When Goldyne relocated to San Francisco three years ago, she hired an assistant and worked out of her living room—but she was thinking ahead: “Before I had a space I had artists working on their stuff,” she says. When she found a home for her gallery, she launched Altman Siegel with a quickly assembled group show. Although she opened at the height of the recession, which has hurt the art market, Goldyne astutely saw the possibilities. The art world at that time was “so quiet and slow, it was easy for me to establish a reputation quickly, and people were more open to doing business with a young gallery because there wasn’t a lot of competition or business happening.”
Speaking as a gallery owner, she notes, “I think a lot of people come into galleries and they don’t know what we do. Exhibition is only part of [it]. We are agents of art. We’re trying to sell it—to promote it for curators and critics. We’re doing that for every artist we work with.” In addition to a robust exhibition program, Goldyne advises those seeking to begin an art collection as well as develop an existing one, “I try to educate them about new ideas and new artists, which artist has a solid market, and whose work is likely to increase in value over time.”
Central to her effort is her relationship with the artists she represents—the commitment is long term, intense, and serious. The first step is following the career of an artist. She says, “I had been working in the art world for over 10 years and watched certain careers over time. I had a wish list of people I wanted to work with before I started Altman Siegel. If you are a good gallery, when you represent the artist you allow them to make art while you take care of the business aspects. The gallery handles the nuts-and-bolts of their careers.”
After studying and learning about an artist’s work, a director might ask him or her for a studio visit, then decide if the gallery will represent that artist. “The idea is to find people who have potential and promote them,” says Goldyne. She arranges shows in San Francisco, and concurrently might be organizing exhibits for the same artist in another city. To facilitate this, the gallery must be well connected to museum curators and art dealers around the world. A young gallery often finds younger artists who have a certain amount of experience and can be taken to the next level. A good director recognizes the milestones artists have to reach early in their careers.
Goldyne likes to find artists who make past connections, those who reference art history. “It’s not so much about the medium they are working with, but the conceptual ideas. There is a certain rigor in the idea I’m looking for,” what she describes as “...a work that looks good but adds something to academic dialogue, in that it expresses something aesthetically but with an idea that’s new—that it adds to art history in a new way.” Shannon Ebner and Trevor Paglen are two such artists. Ebner, a conceptual artist, sets up staged photographs of words set in landscapes. The viewer reads the word, interprets it, but then is forced to rethink its meaning because of the cues in the landscape surrounding it. Paglen researches and photographs classified military sites and American spy satellites, some of which he captures in blurry form from hundreds of miles away. Comments Goldyne, “The point of his practice is not to give away trade secrets, rather to document distance in all of its permutations: both the distance between his camera and the object he is shooting, and also the distance between what you see and what you know.”
There are many reasons why she loves her job, one of which is her relationship with the artists she represents: “You’re relating directly with the artist in a long- term way. It’s an intersection of places where you bring together artists, museums, and collectors. You get to work with artists very closely and see work develop over time. You see the work go from the studio to its final destination ... the museum wall or the collector’s wall; you get to see art on its full journey.”
See more artwork/images at alum.barnard. edu/magazine
-by Stephanie Shestakow '98