Monica Bowman is the director of The Butcher’s Daughter (TBD) Gallery, in Ferndale, MI. Her gallery opened in 2009 with a splash and has already made its mark in the local and regional scene, in addition to bringing a much-needed reconsideration of Detroit art to the national arena. This is the first of a non-sequential series of e-terviews in the upcoming year with art practitioners and professionals from the Detroit-metro area.
Many people would consider opening an art gallery in the midst of the worst economic crisis of recent times to be complete insanity. What drove you to do so? How are you faring so far?
Options brought me back to Detroit. After grad school, I knew I had to hit the ground running but New York wasn’t providing the sustenance I was looking for. Or perhaps I should say, I didn’t see an immediate option for the type of sustainable future I was looking for.
Practically speaking, rents were affordable here and I was encouraged by what some people were calling a thriving “micro-economy” made up of an existing collector base, (still) concentrated wealth centers and a number of outstanding academic centers producing young artists.
I am doing what I love and it pays me back.
In the exhibitions I have been able to visit (I’d say my record is close to 100%), you have selected artists from the immediate region and the east coast. You have also shown mid-career artists, people fresh out of school, and almost everything in between. How did you select the artists from your current roster? Do you have a specific strategy for future selections?
Artists are very much a part of my life. When I go into a relationship with an artist, it is a personal and monetary investment. It’s about growing together. There’s this great book called Art/Work that I use at CCS to teach business practices that likens the artist/dealer relationship to a romantic relationship: the group show is like first date, the solo show is like an exclusive relationship, artist representation ‘like a marriage and so on… It’s fictitious but puts into perspective the responsibility of maintaining a professional art business relationship.
My strategy is to continue to follow my instincts and be prudent about the opportunities I can provide artists. It’s got to be win/win or it’s not worth it for me.
Many galleries that display contemporary works focus on one-person shows, usually proposed by the artists whom they represent. TBD presents a lot of curatorial exhibitions, meaning that the director acts more like a curator akin to that of a museum – the proposal comes from the top, so to speak. Has this been a conscious decision or an organic outcome? Do you see the possibility of exhibiting works from varied artists sans theme? How do you think your projects affect the artists’ own practice?
There are various reasons why galleries make certain curatorial decisions. Mine are driven primarily by curiosity and a desire to promote progressive artists making relevant work that I can secure clients for. The marriage between an artwork and patron is serious business.
Does all this effect the artist’s process? That’s a great question that I address with each of the artists’ I’ve shown. I think the market is a concern for every professional artist but should not be the driving force behind the work. I mean, unless you want to be like Thomas Kinkade or something.
Seriously, I have experimented with various types of exhibitions (solo, group shows, themed…) and will continue to do so. I think my business and educational background lends itself to my vision of conducting exhibitions that are culturally curious and continue to sustain my business.
In these speedy, almost two years since you’ve opened the doors, your gallery has found and filled a niche much needed in this area. It has also asserted itself as a serious place for business and culture in town. Both your opening receptions and your salons are very well attended. How does TBD differ from other galleries in the region? What role does it play in the local/regional art scene? What do you believe this region still lacks/needs?
Those things you list make The Butcher's Daughter different or at the very least stand out: generating serious business, creating and exploring cultural discourse and offering artist exchange. I like to think of the gallery as a catalyst for cultural enrichment: a place for individuals to learn from and teach one another.
I think Detroit needs greater confidence in itself, more writers and informed participants –more sharing, more intimacy, more discourse.
What is in the future of TBD? What are some of your upcoming projects you’d like to share?
I have a show up at The Butcher’s Daughter that features plans too big to be currently realized called Who Dares Wins. It features sixteen artists from all over. ‘Really excited about it and I have a solo show coming up around the corner to round out the second season.
I’m also pretty thrilled about my first curatorial project outside TBD that is happening in April at Fred Torres Collaborations in New York. It’s called Live From Detroit and features twelve artists from our community. I feel like it’s a game changer for me.
The future is about adapting, being flexible and staying true to my mission to create context and market for emerging artists. The future is about ideas.
click here to visit The Butcher's Daughter gallery.
click here to visit The Butcher's Daughter gallery.