‘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.

How’s it been moving from a city like San Diego to a small, coast community?

It was hard to find a place to rent. But honestly, I’m from a small town outside Milwaukee originally. In some ways, it’s easier. I feel very connected with the art world. We can all connect via our devices. The speed of life here agrees with me. It’s a beautiful life. It’s gorgeous. I can have a beautiful life and enjoy it. When I want to go be part of the rat race, I’m a little more rested up for it.

You mentioned the “rise” in art fairs. What’s that about?

Think really high-end trade show for art galleries, mainly. Some mix in artists, institutions, as well. Besides individual private collectors, museum curators, writers, critics, educators, are the attendees, especially at the more refined, established, curated fairs.  There are lectures, roundtables, and other programming that happens around them. There is a balancing act now between new fairs and patron and dealer fatigue.  More come online, more cities want them, to show they can support them and can have that world-stage draw. They have the wealth … and intellect to support high-culture. 

What makes them daunting is they are only a few days, but they are extremely expensive to attend. A small booth, 10 by 10 feet, can start at $5,000 to $15,000 at smaller, regional fairs. Major ones can start at $50,000 and up.

Then there is framing, crating, art and personal transportation, art handlers, as well as lodging; even extra lights cost $150 each.  It’s insane. It’s a lot of pressure, but one thing that some collectors see as separating classes of galleries.  Patrons like to go, see new things all in one place. Maybe they like to impress their circles with the where and when they made an acquisition.

 What distinguishes jdc Fine Art?

I love narrative figurative work. I like contemporary issues. I see art as something that has a purpose that is not just decorating my wall. This is supposed to be doing something in society. It’s marking our time. These are photographs my artists are specializing in. But I wouldn’t limit what they do to photography. Their output is photographic, but a lot of the artists I work with are engaging in staging or set design and there will be a lot of post-production.

One of my artists has been going to the Arctic Circle, photographing glaciers because he’s interested in deep time. If we live 100 years, that’s a blink in time. These glaciers are very interesting archives. My artists deal with contemporary issues such as climate change, the American condition and how that is different for different people. Art lets us move outside of ourselves. We can see things from a different vantage point.

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This story is supported in part by a grant from the Oregon Cultural Trust, investing in Oregon’s arts, humanities and heritage, and the Lincoln County Cultural Coalition.

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