Shoot! Interview: Michael Foley

Shoot! Interview: Michael Foley


Michael Foley is the director of Foley Gallery in Chelsea, and is also outrageously nice and generous with his time. This is a rare thing in the fine art world, which can be a seemingly impossible fortress to penetrate. Foley clearly has a good eye and a good nose for the market; he consistently shows emerging artists who then become both well-regarded and successful. Be sure to check out the new Jessica Dimmock and Chuck Scarborough show which opens at the gallery tomorrow night. Below, a little q&a.

How did you originally choose to become a dealer? I know you worked for
years at Yancey Richardson- how did you first enter the business?

I first considered working in a gallery in 1989 when I was a struggling
artist working at a coffee bar in San Francisco. The staff at Fraenkel
would come in often for their late afternoon coffee run and I
would visit their gallery from time to time. On one visit to the
gallery, Frish Brandt handed me a job description and asked if I would
consider applying for the job of Preparator (the person that does the
installations and shipping). Without too much hesitation I went ahead
with the interview and landed the job, which I stayed in for the next
six years while pursuing my own photography.

Over the course of the next several years, I continued my personal work
while making the move to New York to work for Howard Greenberg and
Yancey Richardson. It was with Yancey that I first really started
selling work and representing her artist’s interests. I also began
teaching at ICP and then SVA and later Parsons. I realized how much I
like working with artists and helping with their career.

But after four years with Yancey, I needed to decide what to do next.
Working for another gallery was not an option that interested me. I
really had worked with and learned from the best. It was time to either
strike out on my own or go back to actively making my own work again. I applied for an SBA loan and felt that if I was approved, a “Foley
Gallery” was meant to be. I got the loan and opened the gallery in the
fall of 2004.

Jessica Dimmock is now
represented by Foley Gallery. Jessica is a documentary photographer,
shooting stories as part of VII’s network. What is the fine
art market for work of this nature?

Up until recently, photography seemed to be segregated from the rest of
the art world…having its own fairs, panels and conferences. Within
that, there were further divisions between fashion, journalism, so
called “fine art” and on and on. Now those divisions have receded and
you have contexts changing all the time. What I look for and what I think most dealers of contemporary
photography will look for is a cohesive vision in a body of work
regardless of the category that it inhabits within photography. I have
a feeling Jessica’s work will be very well received in the gallery. The
imagery is arresting and engaging and that’s what I think people look

Jessica Dimmock, from The Ninth Floor, 2005

Thomas Allen’s work seems to be everywhere lately. What’s it like to
feel like you’re playing an active role in the development of an artist?

The success of Thomas Allen has continued to inspire me to do more for
my artists. It is the most rewarding part of my job to see an artist’s
career blossom and take off. In Tom’s case, it has propelled him in
directions that neither one of us could have anticipated. When I opened this gallery, I made the commitment to actively work on
the careers of the artists that I represent. Sometimes it takes a while
to see the results, but having patience and a vision really comes in
handy and when the successes come, it’s worth the wait.

Thomas Allen, Horse Play, 2006

Thomas Allen, Fury, 2006

The fine art world has a long and storied history of being
impenetrable, intimidating and exclusive. What’s your advice for
someone who wants to become a dealer?

This is certainly true for an artist trying to gain entry. If you want to become a dealer, I would suggest working for several
galleries before you embark on your own. One obvious obstacle for
setting out on your own is the initial capital. But even if you have
the money, you need a little time to learn the business and for the
business to get to know you.

I worked for 14 years in this business before I went out on my own…now,
you don’t have to wait that long, but there is not one experience along
the way that hasn’t come in handy. From dealing with artists and
clients to getting to know the collectors and curators and allowing
them to get to know you. It’s a strange business here in Chelsea, so many similar businesses in
the same area of town. It’s exciting and competitive. The more people
you know coming into it the better.

I love Kent Rogowski’s work, but I have to say, the bears unleash a
torrent of bear-empathy! I feel rather sad for them. I like the bear
with the oxygen mask best, I think. Do you have a favorite?

Those BEARS have sparked a lot of chatter on blogs and I have even seen
a YouTube video of a kid playing “surgeon” on his younger sister’s
cherished bear. It’s amazing how sensitive this issue is with some
people. All in good fun for the most part, but the response had been
fantastic. There is one little BEAR that looks like a purple Easter egg. I quite
like that one. No arms, no feet, just a cuddly little body and a little
bob of a head.

Kent Rogowski, Bear 14, 2003

Kent Rogowski, Bear 17, 2003

Whose art is on your walls at home?

I have several pieces of art from the artists I show, some have been
gifts and others I have bought. When I was making art in San Francisco,
there was a lot of trading going on in our community, so I have a lot
of art made by my friends, which really means the most to me.

Jessica Dimmock “The Ninth Floor:” and Chris Scarborough “Warbabies” opens tomorrow at Foley Gallery.

547 West 27th Street, floor 5.

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