Interview with Martha Otero

Editor’s note: Aeqai freqently receives art announcements from galleries, non-profits, museums and individual artists from all parts of the globe. Some galleries, like Martha Otero in Los Angeles, seem to show only the most elegant work, conceptually strong, beautifully crafted, and the vision of the gallery comes from its owner, Martha Otero. She and I have never met, but I began to have a conversation with her by e-mail to get some sense of what she does, how she finds such unusually fine talent, what her own philosophies are, and the like. What follows are pieces of that conversation.  Aeqai hopes to continue such conversations with other people who display and sell art, and we hope our readers enjoy this first of many discussions with gallerists, dealers, curators, artists.  I want to thank Martha and her assistant Julie for their time and enthusiasm in defining what they do, what they look for in talent; quality may be a subjective word in judging artwork, but I certainly see a lot of it in the art that Martha Otero Gallery shows.

—Daniel Brown, Editor


What made you move from NY to LA?

LA felt like uncharted territory with endless possibilities. I had a dream.

Can you expand the paragraph where you mention trying to balance visual and conceptual ideas?

It all starts with the visual experience. Sometimes it can end there, something so visually detailed to be remarkable, a unique technique, or evoke a feeling. Or I am drawn in by the visual, and engage to find something deeper, something mentally stimulating. Either way, art is a visual medium and it has to start there. I pursue balance and variety in my program.

Some differences between these two major cities could be of interest: what is the difference in the art scene, the artists themsleves, and the clients?

The NY art scene is filled with curators, writers and intellectuals in general. NY has so many more galleries, museums, auction houses and major collections – It definitely continues to be the center of the art world in the US.

I studied film so I’m attracted to Hollywood. Some of my favorite artist live and work in LA. I think there has always been an art scene in LA – you have great artists, schools, lots of space, and you can’t beat the weather. From a young age, I was very interested in 60’s and 70’s Conceptualism – artists like Ed Ruscha and John Baldessari who both reside in LA.

I don’t know what the major difference is between NY and LA artists. I think NY has more of a art community. LA still feels a bit like high school. There have always been great artists in LA who had very little or no exposure and only extensively collected in Europe.

There are great collections in LA.

How do you think that LA has moved so rapidly into world class status when it rather languished for years?

Collectors started recognizing the importance of LA instead of looking to Europe or NY. It also seems like a lot of art world people have recently transplanted themselves here. Maybe the internet has helped hype up the city more.

I remember when Rosalind or Rosemand Felson or Felshon had a gallery there because her quality leapt out…Do you see an LA aesthetc of any kind, and, if so, how does your gallery/the artists you represent interpret such aesthetics?

The Ferus Gallery was probably the most influential gallery in LA showing artists like Clyford Still and Robert Irwin. They were the first gallery to give Andy Warhol a solo show on the west coast.
I’ve shown artists from all over. I started with a mostly NY program – this is slowly changing. I’m not really looking for any particular aesthetic. I think the landscape and culture changes from place to place and it definitely has an influence in someway. I’m still developing my program and I searching for artists with new ideas relating to the world today.

Is art in LA more playful than in NY?

LA has more open space and the culture is different. I don’t know about more playful.

Do you think that the climate and/or the California scenes–glamor, health stuff, a rather narcissistic town–plays into what you show, how your gallery evolves?

I hope not. I think I can relate to the California scene, but I’m more interested in a global approach.

How long have you been in business there? I see that you are in Hollywood–why did you pick Hollywood?

I’ve been in business since 2008. I chose the location because I wanted to be central and I found a beautiful space where I thought artists would like to show their work.

Do you have any interactions with the LA contemporary scene/museum of contemporary art?

Yes, we have done a few artists curator discussions with curators at MOCA and have donated work to museum auctions. It’s very important to connect artists with institutions.

Since LA might be considered a big small town with lots of ethnic enclaves, how do you handle that/all those Indian/Vietnamese/Hispanic etc. subculures, or is that less relevant in LA? Do you feel liberated or trapped or neither by “diversity”?

I was born in Colombia, South America so I embrace diversity and subcultures without making it a focus. Personal cultural references can be interesting to a certain extent.

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