BEYOND THE WHITE CUBE: TOOMER LABZDA GALLERY
A Look at the Other Side of the Art World
By Lori Zimmer
The spritely Helen Toomer Labzda is a breath of fresh air. The Lower East Side gallerist left the hectic life of working for a world wide art fair to venture into the wild world of gallery ownership with her husband Chris. Their tiny, glass front gallery opened above the Grotto on a quiet block of Forsyth Street below Delancey.
In a few short months, the innovative little gallery has made a name for themselves on the art world map, enlivening the relocated heart of the New York art seen, back to the LES. Their exhibitions are smart and weighty, and put together with their gung-ho energy that the gallery carries. The couple is fearless, and they are infusing a jolt of artistic clout on the block amongst the Italian restaurant staple and the Chinese bodegas.
Lori Zimmer: What do your stable of artists convey about you as curators and gallery owners?
Toomer Labzda: We are building a family–a band of misfits as we like to say–who are conscious of materiality and process in their practice; there is a definite attraction to sculpture and form. Honesty and confidence is key in allowing us to effectively collaborate with each artist and it is their quality of work and our engagement with the public which will (hopefully) convey us in a curious, yet favorable light.
LZ: What would you like people to take away from the work you show at your gallery?
TL: The mission is to show good work–to work with artists who excite and educate us. There is no mission–just the belief that people will come and connect with the work. As one great movie quote goes (and was reiterated recently by a new fellow LES gallerist): build it and they will come.
LZ: How did you decide to open a gallery?
TL: It was always a dream of mine and something that Chris had flirted with. I knew a bit about the business working with art fairs in London and in the U.S.; I found myself intrigued by gallerists and their relationships with artists, curators, collectors and writers. I see them to be incredibly passionate and a jack of all trades and I wanted that. Chris and I have different, yet complimentary strengths and always wanted to work together, so when we found this space, everything fell into place, and we jumped head first.
LZ: What advantage do you feel you have by showing work in a gallery rather than a pop-up?
TL: Part of the dream of owning a gallery was that people would know where you were and keep returning. We love visiting galleries and museums and seeing how each installation and artists change the space and your reaction to it/the work each time. Those reactions and conversations are some of the things we love most about having our little gallery.
LZ: Any big upcoming plans for the gallery?
TL: No big plans, just keep on doing what we’re doing and producing interesting exhibitions and an ongoing dialogue between our artists and their viewers.
Helen is from London and Chris is from New York. The married couple’s last names, Toomer Labzda, sound like Tuna Lobster with Helen’s lovely accent.
Written by Lori Zimmer
Edited by Meaghan Coffey