Go inside the worlds of art, fashion, design, and lifestyle.
Destinee Ross-Sutton opened her eponymous gallery late last year out of a need and desire to support underrepresented artists. With a physical site at 14 Wooster Street in New York that has hosted group shows as well as solo presentations by Lance de los Reyes and Khari Turner, Ross-Sutton has also continued to curate a variety of projects in the United States and abroad. This summer, she curated her second auction with Christie’s “Say It Loud” and co-curated a public project on bus stops and billboards in London, “RESTORATION: NOW or NEVER.”
With a background in journalism and multi-hyphenate experience as an advisor, collector, curator, and now gallerist, Ross-Sutton is promoting a more accessible and responsible art world engagement and culture of collecting. Whitewall spoke with Ross-Sutton about her vision for a new kind of model for representing artists.
WHITEWALL: What was your initial vision for the gallery? Given your experience as an independent curator, as an advisor, as a collector, what model did you have in mind?
DESTINEE ROSS-SUTTON: Initially, it was more of an organic choice that the artists that I was working with felt that they needed a home base. I felt, if I’m in a position to give that to them, then I’m open to that. I’m always going to look for new artists, new voices, ways to connect with people and magnify the conversations that people are having. I think that really the sole purpose of the gallery is to help people and to show them different parts of the world than they are accustomed to.
I’m working on building this core group of artists and trying to keep that as open and diverse as possible. That includes a lot of searching and talking to people and seeing where their head and heart is and hoping we align. I want to keep the conversation open. I constantly want to push myself. I don’t want to stay in a place that’s too comfortable. I want to keep looking and talking and keeping things alive.
WW: Can you tell us about the second sale you curated with Christie’s, “Say It Loud”?
DRS: Working with them is amazing because it’s such a prestigious institution, and they are so open and willing to listen. We can all learn something from each other. It’s really about how can we make it as impactful as possible? They are always open to learn and listen and provide resources and give help wherever it’s needed.
WW: Is there any hesitancy from the artists around participating in an auction?
DRS: What I realized is that an auction is essentially a tool. And much like any tool, to think of it as heavy machinery that needs to be operated responsibly. The very least you can do is try to reach out to the artist, try to talk to them, and offer a little bit of the profit, and do something good with the position you have. I think part of it comes with asking for some programming around the piece to give more incitement to people to learn about it.
WW: Speaking of that responsibility, you’ve talked a lot about thinking about the collectors that you place works with, making sure they are more of a patron, rather than a speculator. How did you arrive at that approach, and is there an understanding you want the collector to have of the artist and what it means to own their work, to support their work?
DRS: Part of it came from this initial reaction of fear, how are we going to avoid flippers? But instead of focusing on who necessarily to avoid, you go out of your way to look for the right kind of people with the right intentions. It’s welcomed in a lot of people saying, “I want to contribute more than just money to this. I want to contribute time, I donate works, lend works, what can I do to help?” And I think that’s important—it’s not just another market. We’re exploring what it means to be human. These artists, they lead conversations. We look back and we say this was what we were all thinking at the time. This was the state of the world at the time. So we have to be respectful of people who are essentially creating history as it happens.
WW: How has having a physical space in New York, if at all, changed your process of looking or even the interaction you now get to see from an audience in your own space?
DRS: Being able to live with the works is very important. No computer screen or phone screen can replace that. It gives me a chance to get into the minds of the artist and get to know them better. It feels more intimate, being able to coexist physically in the space with the works. If anything, it gives me a deeper appreciation of the work that they do.