DTLA ART WALK
Gloria Delson Contemporary Arts: Profile
Petra Wright’s life journey has brought her far: from a childhood surrounded by art in Kassel, Germany, to New York City-based actor, to Director at Gloria Delson Contemporary Arts (GDCA Gallery) in Downtown LA – her latest role.
“First and foremost, I would like to be a liaison between artist and art collector,” she explains while recalling a favorite quote from Marcel Duchamp.
“It goes something like this: the artist sets in motion a creative process which the spectator or collector must complete. This role is absolutely essential to the artist being able to continue to produce and to create.” She adds, “A gallery provides the vehicle or stage for the artists to be seen, and a place where people can experience art, and hopefully take it home, and live with it. This makes their life better.”
Making life better through art for young collectors is one of Wright’s major goals. “I think a lot of people are intimidated by art galleries and art collecting. I especially want to encourage young people to start a collection and live with original art, because I think it makes such a difference in your life. It sparks your own creativity. It motivates you. It uplifts you.”
She quickly credits the Downtown Los Angeles Art Walk in helping her with this. “I think we have a privileged perspective about the growing number of young collectors here because of the Art Walk.The galleries participating in the Art Walk have a high number of young people that come in. They may not be collecting now, but I feel they’re the collectors of the future. It’s important to start building those relationships early, and to break down the stigma of art collecting as elitist.”
She cites the Art Walk’s role in introducing patrons, including students, to the gallery. “What I love is when students come through. Some professors would bring their college students in once a month or every other month, and ask me to talk about the ongoing exhibition. The professors would then incorporate this into their lesson plan. I found that incredibly rewarding.”
Wright first teamed up with Gloria Delson in 2004 when the veteran art dealer was 80 years old. Delson, now 94, had been working out of her salon / home in Hollywood for nearly three decades. That all changed when Wright moved for personal reasons to Downtown LA in 2009, and discovered the Art Walk. “I told Gloria about it,” she explains. “And when Gloria saw it with her own eyes, she said she hadn’t seen an energy like that since New York in the 1980s. She instantly recognized it as a significant moment in time, and said, ‘This is the place to be.’ We opened the first gallery there in 2010, and moved to our present location in 2015.”
Wright took over the gallery’s directorial reigns in 2014 when Delson retired at age 90. She remains faithful to her mentor’s focus on abstract contemporary work, while also opening up new programming.
The gallery maintains a roster of about 100 artists, while 20-40 of those are extremely active. “Our range of artists is really exciting. We have very well established artists that have been around a long time who are in high-profile corporate and private collections, as well as some museums. And I really love balancing that out with emerging talent.” She mentions one special find. “Paul Kemp had been painting for more than a decade and never exhibited or shared his work,” she says. “I found him through Art Walk, believe it or not. Art Walk is an incredible liaison. Thanks to Qathryn [Brehm] and Nat [George], we really have a community.
Wright represents artists regardless of age or gender. “I’m very proud of the fact that we have a predominance of female artists. And I’m also very sensitive to ageism in art.” She points to Gloria Delson as one of the first feminists. “She was out there with the other Gloria [Steinem], demonstrating in front of museums in the 1980s because so few had any one-woman shows.” She adds, “Gloria has always been a champion of what she calls ‘undervalued artists,’ such as women artists, and artists that might not have a large pedigree. We make sure to look at their work.
Interestingly, some of the gallery’s most successful artists are over 60, with fans of all ages. “Susanne Belcher, for instance, is over 60 and has been working for a long, long time. But now some of her work is hitting the mark, and loved by the young generation. Sometimes the timing is just right for an artist’s particular work and they just hit the nerve. I believe very much that ideas and concepts float in the collective unconscious of people, and of artists especially.”
Wright also mentions Robert Toll (sculptor), Tanya Wolf-Ragir (sculptor), Mark Brosmer (painter), and Michael Moon (painter). “These are artists I actually met through Gloria who represented them for many years before I came around. I’m really blessed to be able to have inherited those relationships, and to continue to earn their trust and faith in me.”
Bill Sherwood, one of GDCA’s most successful artists, maintains a studio on the mezzanine level at the back of the gallery. Below this, Wright has a storage area where collectors can look at certain works not on display.
The gallery also offers a payment plan. “Many people don’t know to ask about this at galleries,” explains Wright. “The provision, of course, is that the piece is not released until it’s paid in full. It stays with the artist or with the gallery. This has allowed some of our emerging collectors to buy something they really love, as opposed to something that fit their budget for that month. It’s hard these days with the cost of living so high.”
Some of her collectors have a reward system. “They use their tax refund money – their little ‘art kitty.’ They put it aside every year, and buy a piece of artwork to add to their collection.”
Wright’s advice for collectors: “Always collect from your heart and your gut. And if you’re really concerned about appreciation, and buying it as an investment, then I sometimes advise going to auction houses. There, buy works of artists that have passed on and where there is a very specific trajectory that can be traced. This way you can estimate how the work will appreciate.”
Like Chelsea and Detroit, increasing gentrification is a growing concern among many galleries in the Gallery Row and Historic Core area. “There used to be more galleries down here before there was such a big development push, and real estate prices increased more and more.” Wright explains. “But I feel optimistic. The Downtown area has been recognized as an arts center, and is drawing art lovers of all levels. So I think there’s another wave coming of more upscale galleries.”
Can Wright’s optimism keep GDCA Gallery’s doors open? “The key to our gallery and format has been our close relationships with our artists, over many years. We really trust each other and this creates loyalty. It can’t get better than that.”
Originally posted on downtownartwalk.org.