Each issue the New Art Examiner will invite an art world personality to write a speakeasy essay on a topic of interest. Olga Korper has dedicated her life and career to the service of conceptual contemporary art. Olga has consistently been a source of wisdom and guidance for artists, fellow dealers, and aspiring collectors, from the Olga Korper Gallery, 17 Morrow Ave, Toronto.
A Polite Eye for Art
I opened the gallery in 1973; I’ve been an art dealer for 46 years, a number that feels both incredibly long and impossibly short. It’s a strange and magical thing, to live in the gallery among the artwork. My office is my home, my home is my office. Visitors wander into my kitchen and compliment me on my foresight to stage a couch and coffee table in the gallery to give the illusion of how the art would look at home…well, thanks very much but you’re standing in my living room. Being in business this long I’ve been asked every art-related question you can imagine, some I refuse to answer (like which painting will best match a client’s sofa), but perhaps the most frequent question is, after 46 years in the business, how do I choose my artists? This is one of those serendipitous methods for which I happen to have a favourite story:
Many years back, an artist, friend, and client of mine Jim Lahey walked in to my gallery with a fat envelope clutched in his paw, declaring that while he understood I couldn’t possibly replace the late Roland Brener (a favourite conceptual sculptor of mine who had recently passed), he thought I might like this other artist he knew, here, see what you think, give her a call. Which, of course, I didn’t. You see, I love Jim. But I am not in the habit of doing what people tell me to do. I am definitely not in the habit of taking on new artists. And under no circumstances would I ever care to pick an artist out of an envelope.
The package inevitably disappeared under a pile on my desk, unopened and forgotten. Which is why I was so surprised when, however many months later, Jim inquired as to what I thought of Lois.
…Lois? Lois who?
Now, I am particular, but that doesn’t mean I have no manners. There are certain obligations you fulfill for a friend, and ignoring his suggestion (despite my lack of interest) was uncool on my part. With apologies, I promised to call this neglected Lois immediately, and visit her studio.
My director Shelli and I packed ourselves into the car and I arrived to a very anxious artist’s studio where we were served coffee from shaking hands as we viewed the work. And this is what happened: I fell in love. Not with everything I saw, but with enough of the pieces that I felt a true deep connection right in my stomach. For me, selecting an artist is about that specific feeling: of falling in love with their art, because their art is what you must believe in for the sake of their growth, or your reputation…for the sake of survival. Art it hurts to part with it when it’s sold.
I suggested that we do a show, and Lois Andison and I have been working together happily for nine years now. Her work is included in the National Gallery of Canada, and her Tree of Life installation is on view in the Project Room of the Bank of Montreal in Toronto.
When Shelli and I were leaving her studio that day, Lois told me she had once been in the audience of a talk I had given to art students at York University. I had ended with, “Don’t any of you even dream of approaching me for a minimum of fifteen years.” You see, it takes that long for an artist to develop. They need to live, to struggle, to strive, that’s how they become great artists, the same way it’s unlikely an autobiography of a 25-year-old would be more interesting than a 40-year-old. Life, love, pain, experience…it all takes time.
Lois looked at me shyly and said, “Fifteen years were up two weeks ago.”
I love being right.
4 thoughts on “Speakeasy”
Back in Dec. 2018 when New Art Examiner’s Daniel Nanavati and Derek Guthrie came to Toronto, we went gallery hopping and stopped by the Korper Gallery. It’s a large two story brick factory with a connecting building that’s office, kitchen and such. The gallery is cathedral, open space up to the roof, the office itself is full of art. Olga looked up and invited us to espresso in her personal space, her kitchen to the right of the office.
Then came one of those moments just right for art history; things happened, Olga, Derek, and Daniel are an interesting mix. Olga points out that when you’re into art for the love of it you see the larger patterns and trajectories. Looks like both Derek and Olga have a gift for motivating others and stirring the art soup. Olga’s Speakeasy and my NAE blog came out of that meeting, so did the idea of a Toronto art writer’s group that will meet at the gallery.
Physics says the expansion of the universe constantly creates new forms that counter the laws of entropy. An expanding art network likewise creates new ideas that shake up the same old – same old. And it’s fun to be part of history. One thing though… there’s a reason why Duchamp rose to fame while Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven was barely known, she’s just now getting credited. Duchamp documented everything he did, Elsa not so much.
Hi, I’d be curious to know more about the art writers’ group you mention in Toronto. Is it open to anyone?
Hi Caroline, Likely open to anyone writing on art. Derek suggested the writer’s group and Olga offered to host it, so it’s coming together but hasn’t started yet, guessing September. I think Olga’s on vacation atm. Send me a note to firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll put you on the contact list once it’s jelled.
Hi Caroline, the only rule concerning the writer’s group is a person attending should bring with them a 250-word review on any show of their choice. I would like to add a comment here, the NAE has a long turbulent history. Since its founding in Chicago, October 1973 I was the co-founder and publisher with my late wife Jane Addams Allen, grand-niece of Jane Addams. Not only was Jane Addams a great American, a recipient of a Nobel peace prize and founded social work, but she was also a philosopher and a social activist. The New Art Examiner continues her teaching inside the art world which seems to be very compromised. Independent Criticism is not fashionable. Academia and museums are more interested in PR and insider trading rather than than the pursuit of art for its own sake. Our first writer’s group in Penzance, Cornwall (UK) is gathering momentum. It seems that Toronto under the leadership of Olga and Miklos will break ground this fall. You are more than welcome to come, thank you for your interest. In my opinion it is only writers and artists who can claw back the art experience from the remote world of museums and academia to revitalize art culture. Incidentally, I should tell you the New Art Examiner prints all letters to the editor as received. This indicates we do not claim the last word. We value independent opinion and discussion.
Derek Guthrie, Assistant Publisher and Co-founder