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When Art Worlds Collide - An Interview with Woodward Gallery Founders

July 16, 2016
Web journalist, coffee junkie and art fanatic. Cares about the environment, writes for Widewalls. Alias of Milica Jovic

When Kristine and John Woodward opened a fine art gallery in 1994 they wanted to create a place where people could feel comfortable and at ease as if they were in their own home. Almost a quarter of a century later Woodward gallery remains an important part of the New York City art scene. Early on, the gallery established a perfect balance between showcasing the works of prominent figures like Robert Indiana and Andy Warhol and educating the public about young talented artists. Throughout the decades the gallery helped shape the careers of artists like Roy Newell and Cristina Vergano and was hugely responsible for the revival of the interest in the works by street art pioneer Richard Hambleton. Kristine and John Woodward arrived in the Big Apple in the 1980s when the New York art scene was dominated by the greats like Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring. Captivated by their works and the street art’s ability to get in contact with the local community and create deeply emotional public reactions, the duo decided that their gallery will always have room for members of the groundbreaking movement.

In 2011 the gallery strengthened its relationship with the street art community by opening an additional space dedicated to this energetic art genre. GHOST art bar and lounge that’s located directly across the gallery’s main venue hosts urban artworks on both inside and outside walls, and it also represents a perfect place for entertaining clients and guests. In an exclusive interview with the gallery’s owners John and Kristine Woodward, we look back at the institution’s 22 years long practice but also discuss its future programs and the state of street art movement as a whole.

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Suggestionists Exhibition Opening Reception

Kristine and John Woodward : Our Knowledge Grew with Experience

Widewalls: Woodward Gallery has been a NYC institution for over twenty years. Looking back, can you tell us your favorite exhibitions and your fondest memories related to the iconic venue?

Kristine and John Woodward: Owning a Gallery that serves the public today is only possible with passion, discipline and a keen awareness of the art market! We opened nearly quarter of a century ago, determined to bring integrity to a complicated, ruthless art world. We have invited all people into the gallery as if they were coming into our living room. Our knowledge grew with experience. We have had scores of exhibitions over the years in our gallery location and in the various alternative spaces we represent. Our greatest and fondest memories that continue to inspire us, come as we experience that moment of inspiration when a person connects with a work of fine art.

Our favorite shows may be When Art Worlds Collide highlighting the divide between the Abstract and Pop Art movements of the 1960’s and our Project Space Retrospective that laid out 15 foot (457 cm) murals over the expanse of the gallery walls and floor. We have been very proud to be able to premiere work by Robert Indiana, Andy Warhol and Richard Hambleton at the gallery and at the historic Four Seasons Restaurant.

Widewalls: Following the 9/11 tragic events, the gallery started a scientific art exhibition entitled Charting Ground Zero: Ten Years After. Could you tell us a little bit more about this decade-long project?

J&KW: Woodward Gallery was blocks away at our then SoHo location from the devastation on 9/11. Downtown NYC was essentially closed for tourism, traffic, and basically collectors’ interest. We had nervous energy and decided to host an informative exhibition where Science and Art meet. We worked with the City of New York and Dr. Sean Ahearn of the Center for the Advanced Research of Spatial Information (CARSI) at Hunter College – CUNY to develop the only scientific art exhibition of 9/11 before and after. Charting Ground Zero exhibition focused on the rescue effort with actual maps printed on canvas, holograms of Ground Zero, and computer-based fly-overs illustrating the devastation with photos of the area before the attack. We again exhibited Charting Ground Zero: Before and After at the gallery with colorful updated maps on canvas for the Ten Year Anniversary in 2011, so the public had a thorough understanding of the event. The gallery donated the entire exhibition to the 9/11 National Memorial Museum for their permanent collection after traveling the show around the country.

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 Project Space Retrospective Exhibition

When Street Artists Ruled NYC

Widewalls: You’ve worked with numerous street artists throughout the years including Richard Hambleton, one of the pivotal figures of the genre. What attracted you to their works and how do you see the current state and the future of street art?

J&KW: Street Art is the largest art movements in modern times. It is a combination of youth and technology. The communication and feedback between the artists have no boundaries. We arrived in NYC during the ’80’s where Jean Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, and Richard Hambleton owned the streets. The energy of the art on the street forced people to pay attention to the urban canvas. Today, we support many talented artists who share their artwork publically before they bring it inside to a gallery or museum setting. Street art is an evolving and exciting movement that we will continue to support. Although Richard Hambleton put his shadowy silhouettes and Mass Murder Series on the streets around the world, for him it was more of a conceptual project to evoke an emotional public reaction. We are working on a feature documentary film about Richard Hambleton with Oscar-nominated filmmaker Oren Jacoby. It will illustrate Hambleton’s unparalleled contribution to art history and offer insight into the Artist’s complex vision.

Widewalls: In 2011, the gallery opened GHOST art bar and lounge as an additional venue that hosts street art exhibitions on both exterior and interior walls. What inspired you to establish this type of art space and why do you think that bars and art are a good mix?

J&KW: We achieved a NYS liquor license several years ago with the LES community’s support and opened GHOST, simply because the location was so convenient to our Eldridge Street gallery. They are directly across from one another, so we consider it the annex to the gallery. We use GHOST as the Woodward Gallery Project Space and feature street art exhibitions as you mention while serving great custom-infused cocktails. We allocated the exterior as a legal outdoor space street artists to paint. The synergy of having a cultural institution and a bar works for us by way of the similar warm feel- let me just say, doing a NYC bar right is definitely hard work! It comes down to entertaining clients- and now with NYC cracking down on galleries who illegally serve alcohol at openings, we just encourage our patrons to continue celebrations at GHOST.

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Robert Indiana’s The Four Seasons of Hope, installation of paintings at Four Seasons

Sad News for New Yorkers – Four Seasons Restaurant Closure

Widewalls: The art world was saddened by the news that legendary Manhattan’s Four Seasons restaurant is closing its doors on July, 16th. As the former curator of the venue can you share with us your thoughts about the closure and can you provide any information about the future of Four Seasons restaurant that’s rumored to be re-opened the following year?

J&KW: The culinary world is especially saddened by the Four Season’s Restaurant closing in the Seagram’s Building. The owner of the building, Aby Rosen has new ideas for this landmark location. The Four Seasons will reopen within two years at 280 Park Avenue. John Woodward was the Head Saucier at the Four Seasons Restaurant at the time they were rated number one in NYC. At their recommendation, he became the Executive Chef for the former Ford Estate, known as Skylands, now owned by Martha Stewart. Years after the inauguration of Woodward Gallery, because of John’s longstanding relationship with the Four Seasons owners, he was invited to curate the Art inside the Restaurant, an integral feature of the Four Seasons dating back to 1951-52. Our premiere installation there around 2008 was The Complete Andy Warhol Shadows Series I- V. We exhibited major works throughout the space by Robert Indiana, Red Grooms, Jackson Pollock, Andy Warhol, Richard Hambleton, Roy Nicholson, Charles Hinman, Margaret Morrison, Street Artist JM Rizzi (JMR), Japanese Artist Kenji Nakayama and Australian Artist Brad Robson.

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Executive Chef John Woodward, 1994 at Skylands, Mount Desert Island, ME

On Authenticity and Artist Jamie Hewlett

Widewalls: Recently a lawsuit was filed against the gallery regarding the authenticity of Andy Warhol prints. How do you ensure the authenticity of the artworks and what are the steps that the gallery plans to take to protect itself from similar accusations? Will the recent lawsuit result in a change of gallery’s policy in that regard?

J&KW: Thank you for bringing this up! In the case of the meritless lawsuit you mention, the aged woman, an art dealer herself, alleges claims over the validity of works of art she acquired through us. As reported by the Art Monitor, this woman is in possession of all the Certificates of Authenticity and the Andy Warhol prints in question. The prints themselves are additionally stamped with “A”/ Authenticity numbers by the Andy Warhol Art Authentication Board (AWAAB). The Andy Warhol Foundation has confirmed those findings. Unfortunately, we live in a litigious society where anyone can create allegations, but the truth will prevail!

Our colleagues and collectors throughout our long history stand with us knowing our determination to employ great caution in buying and selling art. It has been our policy since inception to carefully vet everything we sell for Authenticity with formal Certification if a board exists for a given artist, with Connoisseurship, and through the detailed Provenance of the work of art. In the case of Warhol, we had worked directly with The Andy Warhol Estate to purchase inventory, and then with The Andy Warhol Art Authentication Board to certify our works long before it was popular to do so. The AWAAB closed in 2011, so the established tenets of our policy are particularly important today.

Widewalls: Exhibition of works by Jamie Hewlett will be on view till July, 16th. Could you tell us how did the audience respond to the artworks by the Gorillaz band’s co-founder and what other shows should we expect in the following months?

J&KW: Jamie Hewlett: The Suggestionists was such a popular Summer exhibition! In organizing this ambitious show, the British Artist had a vision of three completely unique subjects that we separated into color coded rooms: Tarots (white), Honey (black), Pines (green). We had thousands of guests visit during the course of the exhibition and a frenzy of fans, friends and collectors who attended the artist’s reception with Hewlett and Gorillaz co-founder and singer Damon Albarn along with other members of the band.

This Fall 2016, we are featuring an impressive exhibition in salon format. We will continue to make art accessible to all and engage viewers with new and dynamic installations. As the art world evolves and becomes infused with technology, we too are growing with a more digital presence as seen on our new mobile friendly website.

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Kristine and John Woodward with Robert Indiana
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Left: Matt Siren’s Ghost Girl Corn Maze / Right: BK Foxx’s Kingdom

Four Seasons Restaurant – a Unque Artistic and Culinary Experience

Brad Robson Exhibition at Four Seasons
Brad Robson Exhibition at Four Seasons

GHOST Art Bar and Lounge – Center for Street Art Since 2011

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Celso Sardana art at GHOST 

Featured images : John Woodward at the Four Season Restaurant; Left : John Woodward at the Four Season / Right : Martha Stewart and John Woodward with Margaret Morrison art; Left JMR at the Four Season / Right : David Byrne at the GHOST ; Left : Artist Jamie Hewlett / Right : Jamie Hewlett – La Justice; Chris RWK2 Artworks at the GHOST ; All images courtesy of Woodward gallery