Heather Marx Gallery: Modern Day Salon

July 14 – August 18, 2007, Ominous Atmosphere, Heather Marx Gallery, 77 Geary Street @ Grant Avenue, Tuesday through Friday: 10:30 AM - 5:30 PM, Saturday: 11:00 AM - 5:00 PM, and by appointment. 415.627.9111 http://www.heathermarxgallery.com/

Heather Marx and Co-Director, husband Steve Zavattero, are early adopters of a nascent art world trend that is described in Adam Lindeman’s new book, Collecting Contemporary. In this confectionary book that proclaims itself "the most talked-about art book of the year," we learn that galleries are collaborating with collectors to curate shows.

At 50,000 feet, Dakis Jannou, Greek tycoon who funds the Deste art foundation in Athens and Jeffrey Deitch of flashy Deitch Projects in New York’s Soho district, are the most high-profile example of this trend.

Closer to solid ground, this new twist on the traditional buyer-seller relationship actually makes the otherwise mysterious if not chilly art gallery more egalitarian. Far from a cold biz-dev tactic, this trend in practice will bring more people to the world of art appreciation. Collector aquires a new skill and experience, feels a greater connection with gallery owner and as a result of the show that they curate together, introduces his own circle of friends to the gallery, expanding the customer base. A win-win situation.

HMG’s current show, Ominous Atmosphere, is co-curated by local collector Jeff Dauber. Dauber is an Apple exec whose hip art gallery- er…, home- was featured in the February 2007 issue of Dwell magazine. Berkeley architect Thom Faulders even made the ceiling into a work of art.

Once or twice a year HMG puts on a group show featuring artists they don’t necessarily represent. Heather and Steve knew Jeff would be perfect to help with this edgy show. According to the press release, “the conceptual nature of fear and the undefined ways in which we sense or unleash fear” is the focus of this exhibition. Dauber is known for taking chances on interesting local artists and his collection includes challenging pieces by Hung Liu and Rigo. In fact Dauber purchased the most important piece in the 2005 HMG/ David Hevel show titled "It's Official...Britney's Pregnant!"

Dauber was an active participant in the process, recommending artists that fit in with the theme but that HMG had never worked with before such as Christoph Draeger and Al Farrow. One innovative contribution by Dauber was the placement of Paredón (Firing Squad) by Jeanette Chávez. Installed horizontally on the wall at chest level are six bronze rifle barrels. Jeff suggested placing this work directly opposite the entrance to the gallery space in a place that is actually part of the office backroom. “We live in this space and he saw it with a fresh eye,” said Marx.

When I arrived, Heather was walking through the gallery with a Chicago-based art consultant who they had met at the 2003 Scope New York art fair. Heather and Steve’s commitment to promoting the gallery outside of San Francisco has paid off. Three to four art fairs each year are an important part of their business and are well worth the effort both from a sales standpoint as well as an intellectual one. They use this time to cultivate relationships with art professionals from all over the U.S. Next Pulse Miami (one of several satellite fairs of Miami Basel, the crown jewel in the U.S. art fair circuit), all of the dealers who are their friends and colleagues will stay in the same hotel and throw a collective cocktail party inviting artists, collectors and curators to thank them for their friendship and patronage.

Despite this jet-set lifestyle, Marx and Zavattero are refreshingly low-key. Heather is warm and outspoken. Her curvy yet petite frame sported a chic DVF wrap dress. Square red frame glasses give her the art dealer “look” even though she has the resume in spades. Many a first-time visitor mistakes her for a “gallerina” instead of the eponymous proprietor.

Heather’s strong academic background in art history (B.A. and M.A. from U.C. Santa Barbara) is combined with business savvy acquired working in the gallery business for many years before going out on her own. Her undergrad focus was on Le Corbusier and her grad work was on the 19th C. British Pre-Raphaelites. “I have a strong, feminist theoretical base that can be seen in my choices,” she says with a big smile and a cheerful laugh. “But I chose to leave academics because I wanted to be out there making art history, not studying it.”

In between college and grad school Heather worked for Los Angeles' Mark Moore Gallery and there learned the ropes: bookkeeping, installation, and the complex social relationship between the gallery and artist. During grad school, Heather worked for the Santa Barbara Museum of Art.

Heather and Steve met sixteen years ago, a few years after college, and were married in 1996. They settled in San Francisco because he’d moved a few times for her career and it was his turn to pick. He’s a third generation San Franciscan and was ready to move home.

Heather got a job working with Hackett Freedman Galleries and there she learned how to sell. As Associate Director of Sales, she balanced out her skill set, mastering the art of P.R. and working with the press. After nearly six years she went out on her own.

Zavattero is a talkative, energetic guy who plays an important role in setting the tone of the gallery. With a combined degree in social sciences and communications from the University of Southern California’s prestigious Annenberg School, Steve brings an interesting current events perspective when the two are curating shows.

“We choose work that reflects our personality and interests.” Work that continues the dialogue of art history, “has an academic foundation, shows a strong attention to craft and contributes something to the world around us.” Political commentary, social issues, humor, and sexual themes all show up in their artists’ offerings.

Steve is also in charge of marketing, PR, the website, and much of the logistical planning that goes into the gallery’s participation in the art fairs. He has a Before-Art background in radio and television and was a part of “web 1.0,” he says jokingly. He recently began a podcast reporting on the San Francisco art scene. His reporting style is conversational and is just as much about the personalities of the artists and gallerists as the art. (See Stark Guide link under San Francisco Bay Area Contemporary Art Journalism.)

The couple is candid about the challenges of being small business owners. In 2001 the team opened HMG in the wake of the dot-com crash and 9/11. “We had signed the lease a few months earlier. When 9/11 happened, we were in the middle of demolition. We had to keep going.” It took them about three years to hit their stride as a business, not out of the ordinary for any entrepreneurial one-shop retailer.

HMG is the feisty baby of the 77 Geary family. In fact, HMG is more alternative than most of the downtown galleries, but Heather thinks the neighborhood is appropriate because she’s just as serious about her business as her neighbors are.

Heather and Steve are good friends with Greg Lind, Steven Wolf and Catharine Clark, fellow gallerists with a similar flair who feature emerging/mid-career artists. In fact they have such a strong relationship that the gang sometimes staggers their opening receptions so visitors don’t have to choose which event to attend.

Catharine Clark was the pioneer of the bunch and they were a little sad to see her move south of market to her new museum district location (Stark Guide 6/5/07). Steve does some dee-jaying in his spare time and helped out by providing the music at Clark’s opening party. Another example of their relationship, HMG borrowed two pieces (by Draeger and Farrow respectively) from Catharine Clark for the current show.

Note to collectors: Libby Black is the rising star in the HMG stable. Black creates hand made paper sculpture of coveted luxury goods like Louis Vuitton trunks, inspired by the materialism she observed while growing up in the susburbs of Dallas. She even replicated a complete Kate Spade store in the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts 2005 show, “Bay Area Now 4.” Black was a finalist for the 2006 SFMOMA SECA Award and was recently named the "Artist to Watch" by San Francisco Chronicle art critic Kenneth Baker in the July issue of Art+Auction magazine. Mark your calendar for Black's second solo show with HMG September 6-October 27, 2007. Opening reception September 6, 5:30-7:30.