Running a Gallery in San Francisco: Interview with Ken Harman of Hashimoto Contemporary
We had an honor to speak with Ken Harman, who is running two major San Francisco-based galleries – Hashimoto Contemporary and Spoke Art Gallery. As every other hub of global contemporary art scene, San Francisco is constantly changing. As we all know, there are dozens of factors that influence the contemporary art scene in one city. Contemporary art, including galleries, local market, museums, artists, isn’t an isolated island that is immune to outside influences. Local financial and economic developments, social and cultural dynamics – all these currents largely influence the position of artists in a city, the perspective of galleries, and contemporary art scene in general. The beautiful city of San Francisco is not an exception. Ken was so kind as to tell us a bit more about new developments in the vivid SF art scene.
Hashimoto Contemporary is a gallery that focuses on contemporary artists coming from different backgrounds. If you like a plurality of artistic expressions and art movements, Hashimoto is the perfect place for you; the gallery does not focus on one single medium or movement. We recently wrote about two great exhibitions at this amazing place: The Summer Group Show at Hashimoto and John Wentz’ Imprints exhibition. Ken also runs Spoke Art Gallery, which is more of a causal gallery, always with interesting programs.
The Position of San Francisco in Global Contemporary Art Scene
WideWalls: As the director of one of the San Francisco most renowned galleries today, how would you describe the position of San Francisco on global contemporary art scene? What does „The City by the Bay“ has to offer to global contemporary art scene?
Ken Harman: Thanks for the kind words, that’s very generous of you to say. San Francisco is in a very interesting place right now, tech money is driving artists and galleries out of the area, so regionally speaking it’s great for cities like Los Angeles and Portland who are seeing an influx of creatives leaving the Bay. On a global level this area is becoming more attractive to certain high level dealers (Pace Gallery’s pop up space in Palo Alto a few months ago is a great example) and also to art fairs which jumped from one or two a couple years ago to three or four last year. The irony that this new money is driving local artists away, but also is inviting to outsider dealers, is an interesting dynamic to say the least.
WideWalls: The U.S. West Coast (L.A., San Franscisco) is known for a large number of amazing galleries that are following the latest trends in the world of contemporary art. Is it difficult to survive in such competitevness?
KH: I feel that in many ways the West Coast can be seen historically as a trend setter more so than a trend follower, however that’s certainly arguable. I’d imagine it’s difficult to survive as a gallery in any city, no matter which coast.
On Hashimoto Contemporary, Spoke Art Gallery and San Francisco Art Scene
WideWalls: It seems that Hashimoto Contemporary does not focus on just one art movement or one art medium? The gallery covers all the important movements of contemporary art. What do you believe is better – to cover all important art movements of contemporary art, or rather to focus the attention on just one?
KH: We do try to keep things eclectic, but that’s mostly because myself and my directors, Jessica Ross and Megan Cerminaro, have eclectic tastes which comes through in our programming. Focusing on one movement or aesthetic is probably the smarter move (I often envy the more academic, realist galleries for their dedication to a singular vision, and a more constant collector base), however for me that’s like only eating at the same great restaurant night after night… sometimes it’s good to switch things up.
WideWalls: Here in Widewalls, we wrote about John Wentz’s exhibition at Hashimoto Contemporary. Although his art is quite complex and difficult to classify, many argue that his art has certain connections with conceptual art movement, Are you, and the gallery, interested in conceptual art at all?
KH: John’s work is certainly complex and borders on many sensibilities ranging from traditional portraiture to abstraction, oils to graphite. I wouldn’t rush to call him a conceptual artist, though there is great concept involved, however I think we are all interested in conceptual art (gallery staff and artists alike.)
WideWalls: You are also an owner of Spoke Art Gallery, also based in San Francisco. Could you tell us something about the relationship between Spoke Art and Hashimoto? Is it difficult to run two different galleries?
KH: The two spaces are quite different, Spoke is considerably more casual and its programming tends to have a more populist slant. That’s not to say Hashimoto isn’t accessible, it absolutely is, but the two galleries are quite different and access different fans in different ways. Owning two spaces is an incredible undertaking, however I view it as a chance, and a challenge, to open up new dialogs between groups that may not normally interact.
On Running a Gallery
WideWalls: What do you think about contemporary art market? Do you believe that the market (and prices of artworks) should determine galleries’ agendas, or you prefer to exhibit what you believe is artisticaly valuable, despite its market’s position?
KH: It’s all about finding that happy medium of paying your rent and maintaining your integrity. Luckily, I feel we’ve managed to find the perfect roster of artists – artists who we, the gallery, believe in, but also artists our collectors see great potential in as well. However, with that said it seems reasonable that great art will make its way into good homes if it’s presented honestly and with the artist’s best interests at heart.
WideWalls: Could you tell us, in short, something about your future plans? What can we expect from Hashimoto Contemporary in the near future?
KH: As always we’ve got a busy year ahead of us! In addition to the 24 monthly exhibits a year (12 at each gallery) we also do a fair number of pop-up shows including one in Chelsea, NYC next month and two in LA in October. On top of that we’ve got the art fairs and are just beginning to plan out our Miami booth for December, following fairs in NYC, LA, and SF earlier this year.
WideWalls: As a successful gallery owner, what is your suggestion for those enthusiasts who plan to run a gallery on their own? Do you have any tips or recommendations?
KH: That’s an incredibly difficult question. Rationally, I should encourage readers to pursue degrees in curatorial studies and business, then after college intern at a good gallery to learn the ropes. Realistically however, I never went to college, opened my first gallery with no experience, and did it all while waiting tables at a restaurant to pay my bills and a credit card to get things going. Much like anything, it doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from, if you’ve got the passion and are willing to put in the time, you’ll find a way to make it work.
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Hashimoto Contemporary – GATS exhibition (photo courtesy of Odell Hussey, gallery’s Facebook page)
Spoke Art Gallery – KUBRICK themed art show, september 2014 (photo courtesy of Berlin Tomas, gallery’s Facebook page)
Hashimoto Contemporary – Crystal Wagner’s solo show, March 2014 (photo courtesy of Shaun Roberts, gallery’s Facebook page)
Hashimoto Contemporary (photo courtesy of Odell Hussey, gallery’s Facebook page)
Hashimoto Contemporary – May 9 2015, exhibition of GATS (photo courtesy of Odell Husey, gallery’s Facebook page)
All Images used for illustrative purposes only.