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Running a Thriving Art Gallery with Ghost

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09.26.18 | By
Running a Thriving Art Gallery with Ghost
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Visiting an art gallery is meant to be an all-encompassing experience, but how do you take it to the masses when you’re located in a brick and mortar building? One such place, Ghost, is using Squarespace to make their exhibits come alive for art lovers near and far by doing things like embedding an artist’s VR video into their site, allowing people who couldn’t be at the actual show the opportunity to experience it from their screens.

Photo: Agustin Hernandez

Ghost is a contemporary art gallery located in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, with a satellite location on The Lower East Side, Manhattan. Their focus is to aid in the development of emerging artists and to provide an open platform for sharing new ideas, something we at Design Milk are huge proponents of.

Photo: Ghost

We spoke to Ghost’s gallery director, Stephan Alexander (above), to learn more about what’s being done with the space and what he’s hoping to bring to the gallery scene in New York. Growing up with a mother who was an artist and a father who was both a painter and retired art professor, art has always been in Stephan’s blood and he’s always had the intention of opening a space of his own in order to work with young and emerging artists to help them realize their ideas.

“There are so many gatekeepers in the art world and the nature of what we are doing at Ghost undermines their relevance, in a positive way. The idea that someone with or without an art degree is given the same platform to share their ideas is in my opinion revolutionary. In the same way that so many old institutions and ideas are being decentralized and restructured (think banking, taxis, print), Ghost aims to offer a more approachable way to exhibit and experience art without cheapening it.”

Squarespace is helping Ghost bring everything, all of the little creative pieces that go into running an art gallery, full circle. From showcasing their style as a business to the types of art they curate, Ghost’s online presence is a true extension of their in-gallery experience.

“Squarespace is really crucial because it empowers pretty much anyone to create a beautiful website. As someone who has very little experience with coding or the time/care to learn, it makes things incredibly simple without compromising quality. If you are someone who is experienced with coding, the platform also allows for custom CSS injection and you can build virtually anything.”

Photo: Ghost

Every gallery owner has their own set of guidelines or intuitional feelings to check off when curating the artists and exhibitions they’d like to bring into their space. Sometimes there’s an underlying connectivity that flows through, a theme, and other times it’s all extremely different.

“If anything, the shows have been quite different from one another. I look for work that feels fresh or different or loaded. Above all It’s very important to me that I have a positive connection with the artists that I am working with. I could love a body of work but if we don’t vibe as people, it probably isn’t the right fit for Ghost,” Alexander said. “When I began selecting artists to work with, there was quite a bit of digging online and through Instagram. Now there is less of that. I get loads of submissions and referrals through friends and artists that I am currently working with. I do still go down the Instagram rabbit hole on occasion, which is bliss.”

Photo: Ben Evans

One topic of extreme interest is just that – the how that goes into the search for new artists. With so much amazing art being created at any given moment where does a curator even begin the hunt?

“The first show at Ghost was an artist by the name of Ben Evans, who is an amazing illustrator. I followed him on Instagram for at least a year before I even began thinking of opening a space and we had casual correspondence about art and so on. At that point he was in the process of moving mediums from digital illustrations to paintings. I felt like the migration was an interesting conversation, given the fact that for so many years most everything moved from analog to digital. I think that we’re in a time where many people actually learn and develop their practice digitally and then find the need to explore their ideas in a more physical way.”

As an example of the diversity Alexander looks for in curating Ghost, he brought up Andrew Clark’s Prone (Red Room) – and immersive exhibition with sculptural work and performance located in their Manhattan space.

“The exhibition was made up of 16 works employing glass, steel, wax, wood, rubber, fiber, video and performance. For his performance, aptly entitled ‘The Box’, Clark stood naked in a 4ft by 8ft wooden box at the center of the glossy red gallery room. He couldn’t be seen by guests but could be felt. The box had two arm holes at the front and four peepholes around the back and two sides – all with a different perspective into his world.”

The last show at Ghost satellite was with Agustin Hernandez, a talented young photographer with a focus on the eerie and beautifully surreal, depicting plants and people with a dark reverence.

“His human subjects are often shown in nature or in domestic settings, poised as dreamworld nymphs stunned by his flash. Rather than employing the traditional 2D approach to presenting photographic works we opted to create a fully immersive installation, much like the sets he creates, within the walls of the gallery.”

Photo: Danny Cole

Beyond helping artists gain exposure through working with them and hosting their exhibit, Alexander says that all of the individuals he has the opportunity to work with have become like family.

“We continue to work on refining and developing their body of work inside and outside the gallery walls. I’ve become accustomed to receiving 2am phone calls to hash out a business deal or plan that an artist is working on – or even for relationship advice. It’s an ongoing relationship and I love the community that we’re building.”

Photo: Ghost

There comes a point for many businesses, art galleries included, where growth might indicate that you’re ready for the next step. For Ghost that next step was opening a satellite location in New York’s Lower East Side and harkening in the start of a new phase for the gallery that looks towards the future of the company.

“Manhattan is really a test model for the future of Ghost. The idea is to keep an NYC headquarters with consistent programming, but curate quarterly month long pop-ups in different cities around the world. It looks like Los Angeles will be the next city on the books. This will be a tandem show, with a New York artist and an artist based in Los Angeles. Mexico City, Portugal, and Berlin are all cities of interest for 2019/2020. In this day and age it seems silly to have permanent brick and mortar spaces. I think we’ll see that model begin to take a new form in the same way that retail is.”

Photo: Ghost

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Kelly Beall is senior editor at Design Milk. The Pittsburgh-based graphic designer and writer has had a deep love of art and design for as long as she can remember, and enjoys sharing her finds with others. When undistracted by great art and design, she can be found making a mess in the kitchen, consuming as much information as possible, or on the couch with her three pets. Find her @designcrush on social.