Elizabeth Garvey's story unfolded in New York City, where she was immersed in the art world, becoming co-director of the Schmidt Bingham Gallery in Midtown Manhattan. Garvey's sister, Catherine Simon, also went to New York City. Business and real estate were her fortes. Eventually she took her abilities to Marin County, in northern California.
So far this is your classic brain drain story. But there's a twist. In June, the sisters opened a temporary gallery in the Carmel Arts & Design District called Garvey|Simon Art Access. They're home again, involved in a creative enterprise that has found enough local traction for them to decide to find to remain in their current space for at least the coming year.
"Liz and I are very good friends, as well as sisters," says Simon in the airy Magdalena Gallery space the sisters are leasing for the summer while Magdalena is away in Mexico. Currently on view is a show called Contemporary Abstraction, prints by three artists who have had exhibitions at the Indianapolis Museum of Art: Tara Donovan, Ingrid Calame and Dan Walsh. "She would take me to art shows and galleries and it was so nice to go with someone who's not intimidated by that world," Simon says about the introduction to the art world that Garvey provided. "It felt like I had a shield. Then, when I decided I wanted to start purchasing art, it became a really lovely process where you begin to get these pieces in your home that become like parts of your family. It's like you're involved with the art instead of just looking at it."
"It's called Art Access for a reason," says Garvey who, in addition to being a gallerist, worked the past ten years as a private art curator, advising clients on how best to build their personal collections. "Even for me, you walk into a big, white, sterile gallery and you get the stare-down from the 20-something receptionist and there's this whole intimidation factor that I don't think needs to be there. Some people like that game. It's like going past the velvet rope at a club. But that's not what we're about.
"What we want to do is show people you can buy fine art, really high quality, museum-quality art by artists who are nationally or internationally known. And you can afford it."
An organic process
Garvey has used her store of relationships with New York art dealers and artists' representatives to stock Art Access with a focused selection of works on paper by leading contemporary artists. "We're only interested in selling art that can hang on a wall or that's an object," she says. "We're not interested in doing the video or the installations, but to show people that many artists who do installation-based work also do two-dimensional work, like Tara Donovan. That's part of the access, to help people realize that even artists like that frequently do drawings, works on paper, paintings."
The sisters began thinking in terms of a partnership last year. Their initial concept was to do temporary pop-up gallery shows, the first of which took place in a redesigned home in New York City. When that venture worked, they began looking for a way to build on its success. The burgeoning Main St. gallery scene in Carmel caught their attention. Garvey was encouraged by the opening of Evan Lurie's gallery, coupled with the extent of the suburban development she saw on Indianapolis' north side.
"There are people on the upper eastside and Park Avenue," she says of arts patrons in Manhattan, "who really don't wantto go downtown to Chelsea. That's why there are the 57th St. galleries and Madison Avenue, and there probably always will be, because they want to stay in their uptown area. I imagine that's true here, too."
According to Garvey, Art Access has already become a magnet for people who are new to the area. "The bulk of my mailing list is from people who just moved here in the last year or so and have been looking for a gallery like this."
While their original idea was to lease a gallery space for the summer and then move on to the next project, the response to Art Access has been so encouraging the sisters have decided to stay in Carmel for at least a year. "It's been an organic process for us," says Simon. "We were going to do this temporary thing, but since we've been here we've thought it makes sense [to establish a more permanent location]. These are our roots. We're west coast/east coast, but Indiana at heart. The gallery is still getting its legs, but we're feeling a little more hopeful and excited than we thought we would."
Garvey adds: "I think that what we have to offer is something really fresh. Collectors have come in and said, 'Wow, no one has done anything like this here.' I think we can be a portal into the contemporary art scene."
An insider's view
Art Access aims to provide visitors with an insider's view of that scene. To that end, the gallery is outfitted with an iPad programmed with videos on each of the artists being exhibited, as well as plenty of books to browse through on the artists' works and programming bringing artists into the gallery. The painter James Moore came from California to discuss his process as part of the gallery's first show in June. David Morrison, head of printmaking at Herron presented an overview on methods used to create works on paper at the end of July.
The gallery has also found its range expanding. Garvey discovered the steel and hardwood constructions by local artist Donald Mee and quickly incorporated Mee's work into the Art Access mix. She envisions the creation of a Projects Room dedicated to emerging local artists.
While she maintains that championing the work of artists that have shown in New York galleries is vital for establishing the gallery's market and value, she also thinks Art Access can provide a platform for homegrown talents.
"Coupling our vision of bringing well known artists with the finding of the new and fresh – I would love to do both," she says.