BEYOND THE WHITE CUBE: SABRINA WIRTH
A Look at the Other Side of the Art World
By Lori Zimmer
Curator and advisor Sabrina Wirth has taken the lemons of our fallen economy and made lemonade. In reaction to the increasing amount of vacant spaces in Manhattan, Wirth and her partners have developed a new wave of art exhibition by partnering with real estate agents and business owners to promote emerging artists. Her pop-up shows sometimes last only one night, and transform vacant lobbies, existing cafes, and other businesses into pulled-together exhibition spaces. Art collectors, enthusiasts, and industry professionals then attend the invitation-only events.
It seems to be a win-win situation for everyone involved. The real estate agents and small businesses get a slew of new foot traffic that they may not have gotten otherwise, and the artists get a venue in which they can show their work and hopefully make some sales. This kind of thinking outside the box is part of what makes New York great, infusing art onto every corner and into every venue. She has joined forces with Ari Grazi and Gavi Wolf and their company IndieWalls. Together they are changing the idea of the traditional white box, bringing art to new audiences, and new audiences to new venues around the city.
Lori Zimmer: What do you like about curating shows in pop-up spaces?
Sabrina Wirth: I love the energy that comes from curating a temporary show in a temporary location. There are so many details you have to think about when you are working with a borrowed space. The length of time that the work can be up, whether the space is functioning as something other than a temporary art gallery, if there are white walls, and, if there aren’t, how to make the artwork stand out so that it doesn’t seem like wall decor, are all factors that require attention. Also, with pop-up shows, you are not just curating exhibits in the same space continuously. The space is always different, and it poses an interesting challenge thinking about how to use the architecture to its full potential.
LZ: How are you inspired to curate shows? Do you work with a theme first, or do you base an idea around specific artists you want to work with?
SW: I usually have several ideas consistently bouncing around in my head for shows I would like to curate. I would say that more often than not, I base an idea around a theme or something that bridges multiple, seemingly disparate works together. I am inspired by artwork that I am exposed to daily, and I make observations about the materials being used and the recurring themes that I find interesting. Last year, I curated a show at Casita Maria Center for Arts and Education that was titled “Superheroes”. I included artwork that represented the idea of a “superhero” in as many interpretations as the space would allow. I loved this show because I was able to gather together artwork by artists from London, Istanbul, the Dominican Republic, and New York City, and tie them all together with the theme of “superheroes”. It just seemed to me that people all over the world were turning to “superheroes” as either role models or as subject matter for their books, movies, songs, or fine art. Sometimes, though, I do become inspired by the artists themselves and try to base a show around them.
LZ: How often do you curate shows? What projects do you work on when you don’t have a show up?
SW: I feel like I am always in the middle of some project, whether I have a show up or not. I have recently started working as the curator for IndieWalls, a company that works with local artists and local venues. Through our website, we are able to connect artists who are looking for exhibition opportunities with venues that are looking to fill their walls with great art. Since there are so many venues, there are shows going up all the time. I am curating a few group shows that will be coming up in the next few months, specifically a two-person show at The Thompson Hotel and a group show at RdV Lounge, both of which will be taking place during Armory Week. To find out more about the other shows you’ll have to check Indiewalls.com, or join the mailing list!
LZ: Would you ever open a permanent gallery of your own?
SW: Yes, I would definitely want to open up a permanent gallery at some point. I have met so many incredibly talented artists since I started art advising and curating art shows, and they don’t even have gallery representation! I can’t believe it. If I had a permanent art gallery, I would sign them up right away.
LZ: What projects do you have coming up?
SW: I’m working on the opening reception for Michael Albert’s work at The Bean on February 15th. On March 8th and 10th I’ll be doing the aforementioned art openings at The Thompson LES and RdV Lounge in the Meatpacking District. I’m always looking for new spaces and opportunities to organize a show. I would actually like to curate an exhibit of works by Latin American artists living in New York City. Being part Salvadoran myself, expressing identity through art has always been intriguing to me. I’m currently looking for somebody who would be willing to host a show like that.
Sabrina Wirth is a NYC based curator and art advisor.
Written by Lori Zimmer
Edited by Jonathan Metzelaar
Photography Courtesy of Sabrina Wirth
Design by Marie Havens
Sabrina Wirth, Photography Courtesy of Sabrina Wirth