Founder and director of the world known gallery Catherine Edelman tells Bleek Magazine why working at the art-market today it is so important to ask questions, be honest and not afraid of anything new

Catherine Edelman Gallery is one of the most prominent exhibitions sites of the USA, a participant of the major art fairs throughout the country and abroad, an expert and opinion leader in the field of contemporary photography. Starting from the provocative debut of “Ballad of Sexual Dependency” by Nan Goldin, the gallery has been providing its public with an opportunity to see most various directions in the scope of visual arts: from street photography by Susan Meiselas and Sebastiao Salgado, fashion photography by Annie Leibovitz and Herb Ritts to Joel-Peter Witkin’s experiments.

Bleek Magazine’s art-critic Olga Bubich interviews Catherine Edelman, the gallery’s permanent director, the President of the Association of International Photography Art Dealers (AIPAD) and the Chicago Art Dealers Association (CADA), on the gallery’s current strategies, photography market development and future.

Кэтрин Эдельман

Catherine Edelman. From the private archive

Bleek Magazine: Catherine Edelman Gallery has been functioning for almost three decades now. How has the art photography scene changed since the times of Nan Goldin’s debut your venue hosted? What place does photography have nowadays at the art market in general, in your opinion? Do you agree that it can be described as competitive with other forms of contemporary art in terms of public interest and collecting?

Catherine Edelman: When I opened in late 1987, there were numerous photo galleries through the world, and most major auction houses had photographic sales. I opened the gallery in Chicago because I was finishing graduate school at SAIC, and there was only one gallery in the city that focused on photography, and most of the work on exhibit was historic, or by “dead folks”, as we say in the business. Chicago seemed a perfect place for a contemporary photography gallery.

For the first 5-10 years, I had to explain and defend the art of photography, even though the market already existed. Digital photography was just starting to enter the gallery scene, and it had miles to go before it was an accepted art form.

Within the past 10-15 years, photography has burst onto the contemporary scene, with photographers represented by all types of galleries. Photographs are garnering six figure prices at auction, and we no longer have to legitimize it as an art form. I think photography is as much sought after as any another art form, although it tends to be more affordable.

Catherine Edelman

Ysabel LeMay’s Exhibition “Wonders” presented at Catherine Edelman Gallery. Courtesy of “Catherine Edelman Gallery”

Bleek Magazine: In your opinion, what are the necessary prerequisites for an art market establishment in a country? At what point does the public come to the understanding of photography as an asset that can be purchased and collected?

Catherine Edelman: I am not sure about prerequisites for an art market establishment. I believe an art market gets created when innovative artists find people who like their work and want to support it. A gallery, in this case an art market, can only be established if there are working artists creating meaningful pieces. Without the artists there is no gallery. Without the gallery, there isn’t a market. It is a relationship built on trust, with both parties working towards the same goal. If successful, then a market is established.

The proliferation of photography seen in galleries, art fairs, auctions and museum shows throughout the world has reinforced the power of photography as a collectable. 

Catherine Edelman

Ysabel LeMay’s Exhibition “Wonders” presented at Catherine Edelman Gallery. Courtesy of “Catherine Edelman Gallery”

Bleek Magazine: How would you describe “the American collector”?

I have no idea how to describe “the American collector”. I find all collectors are similar, regardless where they reside. They have a passion, and an obsession to learn, understand and educate themselves. They buy what they love, without worrying about its potential value. They aren’t afraid to ask questions and love to talk about what they have seen, and hear about work they do not know. 

Bleek Magazine: What strategy does Catherine Edelman Gallery follow in selecting the artists it would like to represent? To what extent does the art dealer form the market demand or is it the market demand and the tastes of the public, which produce a significant impact on the artists’ “visibility” and recognition?

Catherine Edelman: I show what I love. Thankfully my taste ranges from traditional landscape photography to mixed media photo based works. My true passion is narrative works, whether it is a 4 x 5” contact print or an eight-minute video. The work has to wow me… make me think and ask questions. I look for work that is honest – that doesn’t try to be something it isn’t.

I find that if I am passionate about work – my collectors follow. Clearly I haven’t been successful for all my artists, and I have made mistakes. But by and large, I follow my heart, and don’t worry about what is hip or expected.

Catherine Edelman

Floriane de Lassee’s Exhibition “How much can you carry?” presented at Catherine Edelman Gallery. Courtesy of “Catherine Edelman Gallery”

Bleek Magazine: Some art-critics believe that Russian photography is still seen in the world as either exotic or too depressive, gloomy. Is there any interest in Russian and Eastern European photography in the USA? Are there any artists whom you can name as having any future in entering the American art scene? On what grounds can a Russian photographer enter the world art market and be a success?

Catherine Edelman: I am not very familiar with the art scene in Russia, and therefore, cannot really comment about its perception in the USA. But artists can enter the art market and be successful if they have a purpose, and find someone who believes in them. That is truly the hard part. There are thousands and thousands of artists around the world, and a finite number of galleries. The odds are not in the artist favor, but if their works are meant to be seen, it will happen… in time. 

Catherine Edelman

A fragment of the collective exhibition “IDENTIFY” at Catherine Edelman Gallery where the works of Tara Bogart, Heather Dewey-Hagborg and other artists where presented. Courtesy of “Catherine Edelman Gallery”

Bleek Magazine: Nowadays contemporary art photography has been undergoing fast changes in Europe. On the one hand, an interest in rethinking the photo archive is growing. On the other hand, the medium of photography is widely used in purely artistic experiments, digital scope included. What trends would you name as occurring in American art scene nowadays? How are they reflected in Catherine Edelman Gallery shows and artists’ selection?

I am asked about trends all the time. It is a hard question. I have seen many photographers returning to making tintypes, rejecting the computer altogether as a way of working. On the other hand, I see many artists blur the lines between photography and sculpture, or photography and video. The scope of photography is so huge and artists today seem to be rethinking its presentation.

Bleek Magazine: What photography, in your opinion, would appeal to the galleries and collectors in 10-20 years? Do you believe that photography will only strengthen its positions or its availability and excess would have a negative impact on the public interest in this medium?

Catherine Edelman: Well isn’t that the crystal ball question?! I truly have no idea what artists will be creating in 10 – 20 years. My job is to keep my eyes open, look at what is happening, ask questions and learn. I have no doubt photography, as an art form, is here to stay. What it will look like remains to be known, but I am excited to find out.

© Bleek Magazine. Interviewer: Olga Bubich.