With her brash brains and understanding of the art market, Andrea Rosen carved a place for herself in the art world as one of its premier dealers. Three months before the 1990 recession hit, then-27-year-old Rosen opened her eponymous gallery at 130 Prince Street with an exhibition of Félix González-Torres’s paper stack works. Although González-Torres would pass away six years later of AIDS at age 38, Rosen still represents the artist’s estate, championing his work posthumously and in turn demonstrating just how dedicated she is to her artists. This year marks the 25th anniversary of Andrea Rosen Gallery, now located on West 24th Street in Chelsea, with artists like David Altmejd, Lizzie Fitch/Ryan Trecartin, Mika Rottenberg and the estate of László Moholy-Nagy on its roster. Performance artist, author, and filmmaker Miranda July Skypes with Rosen about her role in representing artists, raising children, and fashion.
Miranda July—Hi, it’s really lovely to meet you.
Andrea Rosen—It’s nice to meet you, you’re so cute.
Miranda—How is your day going? What have you done so far?
Andrea—I went to acupuncture this morning.
Miranda—Oh, really? I went yesterday.
Andrea—And my husband and daughter are on a seven-week roadtrip rock climbing and mountain climbing, so I don’t get to talk to them on the phone very much, but I got to talk to them today. My non-work day.
Miranda—How old is your daughter?
Miranda—Wow, I have a three-year-old son.
Andrea—That’s the best age, although it’s a lot like 13, I have to say. Laughs
Miranda—With them being gone, were you looking forward to it a little bit and dreading it, was it a mixed thing?
Andrea—I was looking forward to it. It’s an incredible experience for them to have together. One of the great things is that she’s becoming a competitive rock climber, among other things. But the great thing is not only to get her to love nature, but it’s nice that she’s less materialistic. They’re camping; it’s affecting what her priorities are—her survival skills or her ability to come up in the world, no matter what condition. Also to enjoy it and find the pleasure in that, so it’s fantastic.
Miranda—She’s old enough that your own use of technology has changed over her lifetime. That’s always true, but she didn’t start out with you looking at your phone the way you do now.
Andrea—It’s true, but a better indicator of that is actually someone like Félix González-Torres. When I realize that Félix is pre-internet, it’s just really shocking. In relation to his work even, the idea of transient information, or non-linear time as a constant reminder of how much life always is changing and how we tend to forget. Our sense of time frame, we always assume is past/present/future, but we also assume that what we know now is what we always knew—sort of constantly rewriting history. So it’s really interesting to think about not only [my daughter] as my measure of time, but feeling it in Félix’s work, which is actually right behind me. Do you know his work?
“Competition is funny. I wouldn’t usually use that word. It’s all driven at that stage by your anxiety of what you have to pretend to know. I mean, you’re basically making it all up as you go!” -Andrea Rosen
Andrea—On my wall, I don’t know if you can see it, that writing on the top of my wall? It’s very light, I don’t know if I was even pointing the camera correctly, but there’s this portrait piece by Félix—it’s actually my portrait—and it’s always in my office high up on the wall in silver paint. I don’t usually read it, but do you want me to?
Miranda—I’d love that.
Andrea—It changes. You can add and subtract events to it, and what’s really interesting is when Félix made these portrait pieces, he asked people what they thought were most important in their lives, and he would actually interject ideas, because a lot of the work is about the line between the public and the private and how we perceive our life to be more about the private events than the combination of our whole life or what came before us. So he would interject things that happened before we were born, and they can continue after you’re dead as well. I look at it and sometimes I think that we think of ourselves as this kind of permanent object, and I look at things and I realize there are things I don’t even know what they are anymore. At some point they were significant enough to put on the wall, and at best they’ve all shifted in terms of a hierarchy. So right now, it says:
Silver 1982 Grey Rocks 1966-75 IRS 1996-99 New Beginning 1998 Aung San Suu Kyi 1988 No Light 1996 Lithuania and Poland 1911 Stella Forever Felix 2010 Two Thousand Nine Rescue 1995 Paul 1981 Obama 2009- Burma 2000 June 15 1967 Nineteen Ninety-Five Clinton 1992- The Bay 1973 Decision 1983 September 11 2001 Trudeau 1967 Reagan 1980 Polar Ice Caps 2002 Gift 1989 Telluride 1998-2002 T.V. 1939 Sept 24
…then it wraps around the other room and I can’t read it!
Miranda—That’s incredible. I feel like I don’t even need to do the interview now. [Laughs]. Decipher that and you have it!
Andrea—I’ve never done that before.
Miranda—Thinking back 25 years ago, of my own beginnings and thinking about how much bluffing I did. So much of making it seemed like something was happening, when I knew it was all held together with a bobby pin and a piece of tape. Do you remember any specific, early bluffing you did that kind of worked to help realize your dreams? You can take that literally or not…
Andrea—That’s a good question. I’m trying to think of an amusing one. I think when you start something, and I was 26 or 27 when the gallery started, there’s always this thing about what you think you know and how you realize that if you ever did know, you would never do the things that you did. Through the different times—your twenties, your thirties, your forties—you’re driven by different things, and definitely in my twenties I was still driven by a self-effacing desire to be better than what I was. It was an internal competition, I suppose.
Competition is funny. I wouldn’t usually use that word. It’s all driven at that stage by your anxiety of what you have to pretend to know. I mean, you’re basically making it all up as you go! Laughs
Miranda—And you’re inviting people into something that’s really just a dream at the beginning. I guess what’s so interesting is that you need other people to believe in it for it to be real.
Andrea—The amazing thing about my position in all this is that you are the artist, whereas I represent artists so I get the artist to lean on in terms of invention as well as inspiration. That’s one of the amazing things about the art world, this sense of community that we always take for granted. But, thinking about kids, the last thing I would want my daughter to be is an artist, because it’s the biggest struggle. You can be incredibly good at something—you could have made the most profound exhibition anyone has ever made—but if you don’t do it again and again you’re not going to be relevant. It’s never enough for an artist to just be great once, it seems. On the other hand it’s an opportunity to push yourself all the time and to be in this position where you’re always having to reinvent yourself. So I think that, in terms of bluffing, you learn from what you don’t know and if you’re growing then that’s the most important thing. But maybe I’m answering your question way too seriously! Laughs
Miranda—No, it’s great. What is something that makes other people nervous but that you’re comfortable with?
Andrea—I always thought I wasn’t nervous until recently.
Miranda—That’s amazing. I’ve always known I was nervous.
Andrea—Maybe that’s a huge advantage. It’s only been recently that I’ve come to realize how anxious I’ve been about certain things.
Miranda—What things have you been anxious about?
Andrea—The big thing about bluffing to be honest is that if I want to run my business in this idealistic way—it’s not really my business, it’s my gallery, this community—the whole thing is this kind of illusion. I don’t even know if I really want to talk about this…
Andrea—The gallery itself is not like any other business, where there is a product and your basis is based on how quickly or well you sell that product. We now have 30 people working, only four of whom are directors. Everyone else is just support for the artists. There’s no system about this gallery that makes it function or makes it viable, per se. There’s no exhibition that fulfills the gallery’s overhead, no matter how great that exhibition is. The thing itself is so much bigger than any one part. My primary interest is this part about aspiring to the right responsibility, to a point of view. All of what I do is about this sense of community, about supporting artists, about a belief in history. Part of the belief in history is the belief in a value system around history, and that in order for things to become historically significant, they have to be valued and owned and taken care of.
That sort of exchange of money for an object that somebody puts on the wall is just the surface of what we do and how we spend our time. The simplicity or the immediacy and ease of it, while incredible, the whole thing is quite a hard thing to unravel.
Miranda—On one level, you’re trying to create different kinds of value: one that isn’t financial but about community and interconnecting lives, and then the glossiness that’s necessary for another kind of value, which dovetails and supports that. I imagine that it slips all over the place and none of these things are real, like how that value is created—the democratic value and the luxury value—both of them are inventions or at least very erratic. I feel the same way in that I don’t really know how it all stays afloat, although in my case I think people might wonder that too.
Whether or not it’s true, people assume you’re making money selling art, but I don’t think anyone understands how I might be making money. It’s working for us, so we won’t ask too much about that!
Andrea—Up until recently, I actually believed that the glossy value was always a part but also separate, but it’s become much more intertwined. My idealism to some degree has bordered on purposeful naïveté, where I believed that history or significance was always going to rise above any other kind of more artificial sense of value, and that value was always really associated with the truth, or that there was going to be a coming of truth where everything comes out in the wash. Up until very recently, I feel like I believed that wholeheartedly, and that value was in some ways significant in relationship to that. I think that these days it’s a little bit more complicated.
Miranda—I know what you mean. There’s this scrappiness. Only in the last two years I’ve thought, “Maybe I have to not be scrappy anymore.” Maybe there’s this embracing power or something that also has to do with that glossiness. That was a thought I had that seemed huge, then I don’t know what happened to it. Nothing changed.
Andrea—One of the things that is always evolving for me is this idea that what you hold on to; your good qualities or what you perceive to be your good qualities can stop your own growth. If you’re not willing to embrace, or if you’re afraid to perceive how things actually are, you’re not growing. There has to be a kind of consciousness of where we’re at, what things are like, what other people really are like. If you’re not able to embrace it and be fearless in some way you’re not really growing. It doesn’t mean you have to shift who you are; it’s just a larger consciousness of a situation. I think that it’s only within that knowledge that you can choose to actually retain yourself in some way. If you’re holding onto some naïve sense of idealism, you’re not actually achieving or moving.
Miranda—I think the big change that happened was that I let myself be helped more. I began to realize that gave me so much more room to be myself. Somehow turning 40 meant that I was like, “Okay, I’m willing to spend my money to be helped by people who can really do a better job at that exact thing. I don’t have to be good at everything.” That was my gloss that I acquired.
Miranda—I wanted to make sure not to end this without telling you that, when I was 20 and a little bit in crisis about the fact that already I did so many different things and worked in different mediums, I came upon this book [shows László Moholy-Nagy’s Moholy-Nagy: An Anthology to Andrea]—these are all the original bookmarks in there—this was my sort of coming out. If I had been a lesbian—well I was a lesbian at that point—this would have been like my reading about the Stonewall riots, except that no one else ever cared or knew who this was, really. When you talk about history creating a context…. How do you say his name? Moholy-Nagy?
Miranda—I feel like he creates a perfect context for so many of your artists and what you’re doing, and for me too. Here’s some things I marked that he said: “Feeling and thinking and their expression in any media belong to the normal living standard of man [and woman]…. Art is a community matter transcending the limitations of specialization.” And, you know, his whole thing is about not specializing, but that’s this thing we’ve been sold on, but it’s really disempowering and kind of cuts you off from what, as a human, is your birthright. He means that literally, you get to work in all the arts. I took that very literally. I was already doing that, but because he was from the past, from the Bauhaus, it wasn’t some friend saying, “Yeah, keep on going.” It was somehow really important to me. Someone had said this long before the current moment, and I just began to think: “Okay, I’m fine with it too, then.” I’d always cite him and when I met my husband Mike Mills that was actually something we connected on.
Andrea—I did a show with Mike! Say hello for me.
Miranda—When I told him I was speaking with you he was excited. We both work in different mediums, and we had both realized that we had read Moholy-Nagy and his writing.
I’m curious, like when you work with an estate, how does that begin with an artist who’s not alive?
Andrea—When you were talking I was thinking in about five different directions. One is: How does a historical artist fit into the program, and what does that mean, and why do I do that? Then: What does it mean to be a generalist as opposed to a specialist? I think that both tie together, in some way my primary interest and primary sense of responsibility—and I assume in some way it has to do with my Canadianism—is this sense of social responsibility that it’s our job to see more or to see differently. It’s a topic that’s been on my mind while I’ve been talking to you, this relationship between history and making history, versus the moment and the significance of the moment and what I honor about the moment. But I’ll get to that in a second, because exhibition making or the experience of what it means to perceive something in the moment—and then is forgotten—is also really essential to me.
I’m not obsessed with ownership; while I collect some things or I’ve inadvertently collected some work, my motivation isn’t the needing to hold on to things. I’m really interested in the moment and how I’m altered on a daily basis. It goes back to the portrait where I may not be able to record all of those, and I may perceive myself as having been the same, whereas I’m altered.
My preferred personal medium in life is dance. This thing you really can’t hold on to that really can never be recreated. So on that momentary level, I also feel like it’s interesting about historical artists: on one hand we’re looking at archival records and making a perfect history, representing history, and potentially creating history. There are two sides, and I think that’s how historical artists fit into that. Most people would think it’s this obsession with history when, in fact, I’m mostly interested in historical artists that we can look at through a new filter—that’s changing our filter of how we perceive the current ones.
Most collectors actually want to know, I believe. On one hand it’s knowing something they don’t know, and on the other it’s juxtaposing two things so the historical and the new become new, become more, become richer. I’m always interested in this idea that, as artists become more historically important, they almost get boiled down to a single line. You can say, “Rauschenberg is_____.” Actually that’s so inauthentic to their entire history. We’re only perceiving it through this moment. Any time I can interject or show history in order to alter and expand people’s perception of how we don’t know or that idea that we don’t know—that’s really important to me. Moholy-Nagy is a perfect example of that, or Tetsumi Kudo, or Alina Szapocznikow.
Sometimes I just do exhibitions. I just did this Motherwell show, and frankly for me he wasn’t the most important historical artist, but this body of work was really interesting. It’s hard to say about yourself, but I want to give people more information. It’s sort of this act of generosity where it’s like, how do you see this more? How do you experience it more? How do you get to have a new synaptic experience?
I often think that it’s just as potent in history as it is now. I have a particular passion for the underrepresented or the under-known, whether it’s a body of work or something that, over time, was subverted. Mostly it is because of this idea of how you can read it again. It’s not just about the underdog-ness. I’d say my ego is much more attached to having brought something out for the first time than I am interested in the making of the money. Laughs
I’m completely passionate about young artists still and this idea of what is the new. How can you evolve in a gallery when your responsibility is also to represent artists and be loyal for a really long time?
Miranda—A gallery has never represented me. I’ve managed to be on the periphery and be in various biennals without ever really being in that world at all. What’s a way that you have helped an artist that is something I wouldn’t think of? I’m picturing the most basic of transactions, but I imagine these relationships are pretty complex and span time, and your role in these people’s lives runs quite deep.
Andrea—I think about one of my primary responsibilities, it is about helping artists evolve themselves. I used to think that our job was just to do everything they wanted or do things that we thought would be helpful, but the more I work the more I think it’s about how you encourage an artist to feel that they have the right to be as extreme as they want to be.
On a practical level there’s this misconception that museum exhibitions are the pinnacle of exhibitions, and you’re going to be able to do what you want. But most often museum exhibitions are the most limiting experiences. Museums think that they’re catering to the lowest common denominator. I mean I don’t want to trash museums; I think they’re phenomenal and everything I do is about things ending up in museums, but there’s this relationship between often what curators are interested in and using artists for a particular idea, as opposed to the artist’s own vision. So it’s one thing on a practical level that we’re always doing what it is that the artist really wants. And how do you mediate them getting that in the public realm?
There’s a real system about the not-for-profit world that you want to honor, but it’s also what parts of that are actually advantageous or disadvantageous to an artist. Artists want to be successful, so it’s a balance of all of their goals, and how do they keep going, how do you give them space? One of the things we’ve done over time is that we’ve evolved to where the artists have different kinds of relationships in the gallery: a relationship with me, a relationship with their director, and an artist liaison. With each one they can talk about different things. As they evolve they may not want to talk about the same things, but there may be someone they want to talk to about those things; they can evolve in the diversity of their relationships.
Miranda—That sounds great. Does everyone do that? Laughs
Andrea—Laughs No! One of the things that’s really important to me is collaboration with colleagues, with other galleries. And while we’re living in a time where there’s this model of the monopoly gallery, where artists have one gallery, I’m really interested in collaboration. I’d encourage artists to have more than one point of view in their life. As a society we find that more and more complex to have to reconcile more than one point of view, but I think it’s really vital.
Miranda—So I think that you love clothes—maybe the same way I do—which is that loving clothes is kind of like the freewheeling, fun-loving little sister to loving art.
Andrea—It’s an interesting thought, because I’d say my only regret in life is not recording all my outfits I wore to work in my twenties and thirties. Literally it may be the only regret. But there have been lots of times I’ve overlapped—I also used to curate shows on fashion. It’s a whole other thing separate from the gallery, but I do think that clothing is about identity and individuality. I’ve never undervalued its significance. The idea that I got to wear whatever I wanted to wear to work every day, whether that was see-through for about ten years without knowing it was maybe inappropriate! Laughs
Miranda—We should send each other a few pictures of our prime outfits. I only have a few pictures, and I try to explain that there were real ideas behind what I was doing. Now it just seems like I was completely nutballs insane.
In a way it was the beginning of everything. It was like having precise control over how I looked and feeling really clear that I was best off and most powerful if there was no reference to anything else, at least in my own head. I’m sure there were references that I wasn’t aware of. So not to try and be the prettiest or sexiest girl, but do it my own way. Like, to wear my tights over my shoes was really important. Also that I be somewhat baffling, and therefore you had to take me on my own turf. You couldn’t say I was a lesser version of anything. Looking back, it seemed like that was so much the beginning of now doing that in all these other mediums.
Andrea—No you didn’t. It actually made me think about a lot of things I hadn’t thought about in a long time; the power of identity, especially as a woman. I was out the other night at a club seeing an incredible DJ. Just looking at the kids, I was thinking that it wasn’t about “normcore,” it was about no sense of identity, no right to a sense of identity. It was interesting to think that everyone was accepted for who they were. They didn’t have to become something else, but on the other hand there was no sense of personal identity either. Even thinking about my own childhood and on the most nominal level, the need to identify yourself or separate yourself through some small gesture of personal style was definitely at the core of my beginning.
The only other thing would be the present, and I’m really inspired by what I see as a really interesting new generation of artists right now. It’s always this interesting thing where something truly new makes other things seem old, and that’s an interesting thing to experience in the gallery. I think it goes right back to Félix and to my beginning, but I’m always shocked by how really, really ahead of himself he was and the longer he’s dead the more, I think: How did he possibly pre-know so much?
This appears in Document Journal Issue 7, on stands now.