We had the good fortune of connecting with Robert Gunderman and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Robert, we’d love to hear more about how you thought about starting your own business?
It was 1992., we were in a major recession, galleries had been closing left and right, and the L.A. riots just occurred. There were always a lot of art schools in and around LA, but there were very few places for artists to show their work at that time. My partners and I decided that three of us splitting costs on a smallish space would be manageable, and if we kept the costs low enough, the curatorial decisions we made wouldn’t be fiscally driven. We were young, and had very little experience in the art world. We decided to run two shows every three weeks, rather than the slower moving 4-6 week shows run by large galleries, and pay the artists 60% from sales, rather than the 50% typically paid by larger galleries. We programmed a fair amount of bands, some Noise Music, performances a fashion show, and bbq’s to offset the static art exhibitions. The idea was to create a place where artists would come and talk to other artists about ideas, and the work we focused on showing wasn’t work that would typically find itself in a large commercial gallery. My personal thinking was to always do what I felt was the best thing for the art we were showing, and treat the artists with respect and pay them when their work sold. I think the success of the gallery was due to recognizing and filling a void in the community.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
Some of the things I’m most proud of are the exhibition opportunities I’ve provided artists over the years to do whatever they’ve wanted, and my galleries have helped place a lot of artist’s work in museums. I’m also proud of a handful of pieces of art I’ve made over the last 30 years. Since the beginning, I’ve had fairly clear ideas as to what I hoped to achieve, both in the businesses I’ve started, as well as my own artwork. The challenges of running galleries were often economic, but people’s sense of entitlement often made things difficult and unenjoyable. My goal was to remain focused on doing business with integrity and protecting the things I thought mattered. One lesson I’ve learned is the value in being honest with yourself and communicating clearly with the people you’re working with. Being in business is often a pain in the ass, but showing up and facing and dealing with the discomforts is necessary. Because one doesn’t feel like or is afraid of dealing with something doesn’t make that thing go away…it just becomes someone else’s responsibility. Being in business means dealing with the unpredictability of what any day might hold, and dealing with it as effectively and efficiently as possible. I think artists can benefit from focusing on the things they love. This seems an obvious place to find clarity. I prefer starting with the clearest ideas possible, then distorting and abstracting information along the way, rather than looking and working toward something from the fog of doubt and uncertainty. I’m happy when I discover anyone finding interest in the art I make. I hope any of the artwork I’ve made will be enjoyed after I die. That we can still enjoy paintings and sculpture from hundreds of years ago is pretty great! I also grow avocados on our ranch.
Any great local spots you’d like to shoutout?
Six months into the pandemic, the idea of going anywhere seems kind of fun! I’m a 3rd generation Angeleno, my family still dines at Musso’s, and we sit in the same booth we have for decades. Not exciting, but I’d probably take someone there for dinner one night. I think the Norton Simon Museum is a local treasure, and worth seeing. I’d take them to Grand Central Market DTLA for lunch one day. We’re lucky here in So California with so much to do between Catalina Island and the mountains and desert. My wife and I currently live in Ventura County, and spend time in Santa Barbara as much as we do LA. I’d take them to Ojai and Santa Barbara for the day. Before the pandemic, we would have parties where friends came to our ranch to play tennis, swim, grill and hang out, which I really miss and look forward to doing again!
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I was at Otis Parsons for a year, where i met Roy Dowell, who ran the graduate program. Roy came to every early show I hosted, as well as exhibitions of my own work at other galleries. Since I was young, my mother was supportive of all my interests, which was hugely helpful. I’ve been very fortunate to receive the volume of support I have over the years, particularly from other artists. My wife’s very creative, love’s art, comes from a family of artists and musicians, and is incredibly supportive, which is really great!