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Rooms, Relationships, and Relevancy: Blair Voltz Clarke on How to Survive in the Art World

October 06, 2016

In A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf wrote that masterpieces “are the outcome of many years of thinking in common… so that the experience of the mass is behind the single voice.”  Behind every work of art is an intertwining of the stories of culture, and every final display contains the work of many people.  Few people know this better than Blair Voltz Clarke, owner of the Voltz Clarke Gallery in New York City and curator for up-and-coming artists from across the globe.  Today, she’s one of the most influential collaborators in the industries of art, fashion, and high-end luxury.

A native of Columbus, Georgia, Clarke began her artistic explorations at an early age.  She experimented with many different extracurricular activities throughout her primary school years before going off to study studio painting and art history at the University of Georgia.  It was there that she discovered her talent for helping other artists connect with an audience, rather than creating works of her own.  In 1999, she moved to New York, and three years later she founded Voltz Clarke LLC to pursue what she loved.  

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The enterprise found its first success with Kaleidoscope, displaying eccentric contemporary works in an elegantly antique-filled townhouse.  Since then, Voltz Clarke has gained a noticeable presence by hosting pop-up exhibits in an eclectic variety of spaces—everywhere from chic boutiques to small apartment-building lofts.  In 2015, the business expanded into the flagship Voltz Clarke Gallery on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.  The Gallery isn’t the “traditional white box gallery,” however.  Clarke allies with her artists, and it shows.  The artists’ loyalty to the gallery and regular partnerships with each other are a testament to Clarke’s knack for bringing people together.

Clarke’s own popularity has come from promoting emerging international artists to curious audiences.  The mix of her homely southern upbringing and New York-style sophistication allows her to seek out talent in unexpected places and share it with the rest of the world.  She does this through masterful collaboration with creators in the fashion and travel industries, among others.  As long as luxury is involved, Clarke has a way of relating it to the art world.

How can artists and curators create works that are relevant yet lasting?  How do you know when an artist has what it takes to become successful?  Clarke recently spoke with us to reveal more about her gallery and her advice for aspiring artists.

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 1. How would you describe the artwork found at Voltz Clarke Gallery?

Fresh and eclectic, yet also classic and timeless.

2. You have collections from artists from all over the world. What similarities and differences exist between them?

Texture is a common thread among many of our artists, along with their passion for creating unique works of art. Additionally, the artists all exemplify a dedication to our gallery. Natasha Law, Wonjung Choi, and Sara Genn are artists I’ve literally grown up with over the past 13 years. Their loyalty through various periods of work plus years of partnering together speaks volumes.

3. Because art is subjective, how do you determine if someone has what it takes to succeed? Also, how do you know if an artist’s work is sellable?

This is a profound question as I always encourage clients to buy 'high and low'. Spend 50$ at a flea market on something you love just as you do when you fall for a $12k Yiorgos Kordakis photograph, or a Natasha Law commission portrait ranging $25k plus, or a $100k plus purchase and watching your piece grow in value. One’s trash is someone else’s treasure so whatever the price, enjoy the work, follow the artist’s career and be a part of the cultural conversation! Voltz Clarke gallery exhibits art that is fresh to the market place. Textural works resonate well with our loyal audience. Dedication and passion for the process is necessary for any of our artists to succeed.

4. There are many artists out there struggling to make ends meet, what advice can you give them?

Never give up is the best advice. With any field, be it business, music or fashion, there is steep competition. Artists need to stay true to their style and not be influenced by what is trendy. Shocking art is not necessarily persevering so artists need to listen to their creative voice and what style comes most naturally.

5. Do you have a favorite artist?

All of the Voltz Clarke artists are my family and my favorite. Not in our roster? I love the figurative work of John Currin, Elizabeth Peyton and Raqib Shaw.  

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6.  In one of your interviews you mentioned that Mark Rothko’s “White Center” was one of your favorite pieces of art. Could you explain why this is such a great piece and what makes it so valuable?

I mentioned this piece for the simplicity in abstract subject matter, yet the powerful color palette Rothko uses. His extraordinary brush stokes resemble velvet on the canvas. I also appreciate the “I could have done that” reaction, but when you see the depth in the final composition, the result is mind blowing!

7. It’s been said that the space you use to showcase the artwork is just as interesting as the artwork itself. What goes through your mind when setting up and designing the interior?

At Voltz Clarke, we have always taken the formula of “client assistance” to a new level. We are very happy to meet in client’s homes and help them curate, whether it be their first piece or their 100th, art is like a new child and often needs a manual. For pop ups , we love collaborating with hotels, fashion designers, etc. Each venue presents a new blank template to curate with not only our vision but also the Voltz Clarke artists chosen. Any new space is sacred and we try to thoughtfully execute both design elements and fine art.

8. Is being an artist a natural born gift or something that takes practice?

Just like writer or musician, a successful artist needs both the innate talent dedication and daily practice.

9.  What’s your favorite museum and why?

Inside the Majorelle Garden in Morocco is the most enchanting jewel box called the Berber Museum, displaying a collection of Berber objects originating from different regions of Morocco. Also my all time favorite museums our entire family frequents are the Parrish and the Whaler museums in Sag Harbor. Both Cheerlead artists are local to Long Island, resulting in Blockbuster shows like the opening we attended yesterday.


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