business of art

‘Their art is my work now’

Jennifer DeCarlo, owner of a new gallery at Salishan, talks about transitioning from artist to art dealer, the rise of art fairs, and the place of visual art

Art dealer Jennifer DeCarlo hadn’t planned to move to the Oregon Coast, but when a job in the hospitality industry beckoned her husband north from California, DeCarlo packed up her gallery in San Diego and moved with him. She’s opened a new gallery specializing in photography, jdc Fine Art, in the Marketplace at Salishan. DeCarlo calls it an “offbeat spot” for art, but not without its unique merits — sort of like the “Hamptons of the Pacific Northwest,” she said. I talked with DeCarlo about art, her move, and her future in Gleneden Beach.

How difficult is it to move an art gallery?

DeCarlo: I’ve owned a gallery for about 10 years and have worked in Chicago and San Diego.  No doubt it is challenging to uproot, especially considering how the typical gallery model is anchored to place. I’m trying to see the positives and benefits of these family moves.  With the advent of the internet and rise of art fairs, the desire of reaching everyone, everywhere has never been more true, or more difficult.  There is so much intangibility and noise, contact without connection.

Though atypical, I’m trying to see our transience more like ephemerality. Here or there, I’m always working, and these moves put me in a unique position to make more connections and more discoveries.  I have the unique opportunity to engage new communities in meaningful ways, find new patrons and artists, and carry and cross-pollinate contacts. 

Jennifer DeCarlo launches jdc Fine Art in San Diego in 2011.  She recently moved her gallery, dedicated to content-driven contemporary art by photographers, to the Marketplace at Salishan. Photo courtesy: Jennifer DeCarlo
Jennifer DeCarlo launched jdc Fine Art in San Diego in 2011. She recently moved her gallery, dedicated to content-driven contemporary art by photographers, to the Marketplace at Salishan. Photo courtesy: Jennifer DeCarlo

What led you to a career as an art dealer?

I am trained as an artist. When I got out of grad school, I started working at an art gallery and really liked the work. I realized the work by the artists represented in the gallery was better than mine. This was better suited to my skill set, so I decided, I’m going to be an art dealer. You get to be creative; you get to work with the artists and their ideas. You get to help shape the ideas and explore the ideas with them.

Do you still create your own art?

No, I don’t. Their art is my work now. I get to help them position it. I get to help them frame it. Visual art is the first language I understood. Visual language. That’s what I mean, too, when I say being an art dealer brings all of my skills together. I am dyslexic. It was hard for me to learn language. It’s very tricky. Written language is weird. It reduces things. Visual language is very palpable, emotional, immediate. It hits you and you think about it. I like the ability to have this long looking with people. Look at things, think about them together.

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Artists talking to artists

The inaugural Clatsop County Arts Summit will cover everything from lease-to-own art to copyright law

We bought our first “major” piece of art from a little gallery in Belize. It was an oil of a favorite stretch of beach where the hubs and I had taken to spending a few weeks every winter. It was a large painting, and we decided it would go over our bed in place of a headboard. Carefully, carefully, we packed the canvas home, then dropped it at the local frame shop to be mounted. Home, we headed to the bedroom to hang the piece, eager for this finishing touch that would complete our master bedroom.

“It’s too big,” my husband announced.

I looked on from the foot of the bed, nodding grimly. What the hell had we been thinking?

Fortunately, there were a few other spaces it would fit, and the painting found a home on our living room wall. But the lesson hasn’t left me, and now as I ponder a piece that we recently fell for, I can’t escape the doubts. What if?

Astoria artist Dave Ambrose will talk about how artists can use a lease-to-own program to get art into the hand of would-be customers during the Clatsop County Arts Summit next month. Photo courtesy: Dave Ambrose
During the Clatsop County Arts Summit next month, Astoria artist Dave Ambrose will talk about how artists can use a lease-to-own program to get art into the hands of would-be customers. Photo courtesy: Dave Ambrose

It’s a vibe Astoria artist Dave Ambrose picks up on all the time as would-be buyers peruse his work, wondering, will it or won’t work in my house? So Ambrose created his own lease-to-own program. He’ll share his tips on making that work next month at The Business of Art: Artists Teaching Artists, the inaugural Arts Summit hosted by the Arts Council of Clatsop County. The summit is designed both to promote arts in the county and to provide workshops and discussions to “educate, empower, and inspire professional artists.” It will run from 1 to 5 p.m. Nov. 12 in the Seaside Civic and Convention Center. Admission is free.

“Art is so subjective,” Ambrose said. “When people come to visit on our studio tour, I can watch them walk around the house and then they stop and look at a painting and they look at it and look at it, and I know they’ve connected. I say, you know you can take it home for $10 a month and see how it looks. I don’t have white walls, and background colors make art look completely different. You have to get it home and look at it. About 50 percent of the time they take it home, come back, and pay me in full.”

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