Foley Gallery: Select Cuts & Alterations

By Peggy Roalf   Wednesday November 19, 2014

Michael Foley opened Foley Gallery in Chelsea in the fall of 2004 after several years of working with notable photography galleries, including Fraenkel Gallery, Howard Greenberg Gallery and Yancey Richardson Gallery. Two years ago he moved to the Lower East Side, where his incisive take on contemporary photography continued to provoke interest and where he began presenting works on paper beyond lens-based art.

Michael sent news of his new location on Orchard Street in October and I made a visit to the new space a few weeks ago. This email Q&A is the result:

Peggy Roalf: Having been in business for a decade in Chelsea, and on the Lower East Side, what is your take on the idea of location?

Michael Foley: Location is the most important sales tool that I have now. I was in Chelsea on an upper floor for 8 years and enjoyed building a business and reputation through notable exhibitions and the progressive career development of my artists. During this time, I noticed a shift from gallery walls to art fair booth as a primary place of commerce. I seriously questioned the need for a public space.

Two years ago, I took advantage of the comparatively “affordable” rents for ground floor space in the LES. With a 2012 move to Allen Street, I anticipated a spike in walk-ins, leading to more sales. I was just a block from Orchard Street and several high profile galleries. I might as well have been miles away, as the traffic I anticipated did not materialize. A few months after arriving, I was ready to relocate.

© Wyatt Gallery: Michael Foley at 59 Orchard Street. Courtesy the artist and Foley Gallery.

After a lot of hanging out and noting how and where people walk and shop in the LES, I focused on Orchard Street as a future home. Even though we haven’t opened to the public yet, traffic has been beyond what I imagined.

PR: It’s become evident that your interests have shifted over the past few years, moving from photography (both abstract and representational) to painting and works on paper. Could you talk about that shift in terms of your opening exhibition, Select Cuts and Alterations?

MF: I wanted the opening exhibition to clearly state the purpose of the gallery. I curated 23 artists who work with paper. Since 2005, I have exhibited drawings, paintings, collage and even sculpture, yet people are still surprised when I show these things. “I thought you just showed photography,” is the phrase I hear too often! Select Cuts & Alterations addresses this in a big way. It goes further to detail that I love paper manipulation of all types. I still maintain a group of photographers, but I most interested in reaching a different collector base that is not medium specific in their collecting habits.

PR: Many of the artists in this show work in an almost obsessive way, making precise cuts and alterations to paper [Lisa Hoke, Thomas Allen, Andrea Mastrovito, Maritta Tapanainen], or “painting” with cutouts [Danielle Durschlag]—while Gerald Slota, transforms straight-on photos into expressionistic collages, Lauren Seiden crumples paper into sculptural forms and Chris McCaw makes photographic abstractions resulting from the movement of the sun. What is the underlying theme that brings these artists together? [Images]

MF: I curated a group exhibition three years ago called, “Penetration.” It focused on artists who literally penetrated the paper form in some fashion. I have complete respect for artists who wish to keep their paper perfect and pristine.  Having a strong “classic” photography background, for me, value included the condition of the paper—creases, dings and scratched emulsions were not welcomed. I like paper as a fluid material that bends, crumples and tears. It can be cut, so let’s really work with it as a material and not simply a ground to build upon. It can be architectural; it’s not so sacred.

PR: Did your participation last year in the Artshow Busan (South Korea) influence your curatorial choices for upcoming exhibitions?

MF: Not so much in the work I saw, but more about how people there take the time to really look. It was all about the detail and the presence of the artist’s hand. That’s my biggest frustration with photography…where is the hand of the artist?

PR: In general, what does the art fair experience bring to the work of running a gallery—what is the exchange that takes place?

MF: Don’t get me started on this! Let’s focus on the good stuff. I like the art fair experience once I am set up, had some coffee and the booth fills up with people.  I am a natural performer. Having worked in theatre and improv comedy, I see the art fair booth as a stage and my being there, a performance. This is where the most people will see the work I show and now I have the chance to share all that’s important to me. That part’s really a dream.

PR: The new gallery space is flexible in terms of having the window displays a separate curatorial space. What is going in for the opening show?

MF: I am so fortunate to have a natural project space in these windows. Mia Pearlman is creating a cut paper installation unique to the space: cascading whites and painted grays on cut, draped and curling paper. It’s like entering a marvelous cave as these windows surround you as you walk toward the door. The windows are deep rather than wide, so they naturally frame the gallery entrance. In this case, they set the tone for the exhibition.

Meet Michael Foley and many of the artists whose work will be on view at the opening of the inaugural exhibition, Select Cuts and Alterations on Wednesday, November 19, 6-8 pm. Foley Gallery, 59 Orchard Street, NY, NY.