Restoration Hardware, with its flagship store on Fifth Avenue, has been a beloved location for luxury home furnishings in Manhattan for quite some time. Under the direction of Chairman Gary Friedman, the store bravely opened it’s first art gallery last November – a five-story behemoth at 437 West 16th Street – along with a corresponding website under the rubric RH Contemporary Art. Ushering this vision of an immersive, multi-channel platform for contemporary art towards reality is RH Contemporary Art Vice President Holly Baxter. She took a moment from her hectic schedule to discuss how this large-scale initiative will fit into an already crowded art market, what artists and collectors should expect from the company, and what RH Contemporary Art is planning for the future.
WHITEWALL: You had been working as a successful art advisor and gallerist for over a dozen years before accepting the position to become the Vice President and face of the contemporary art division of Restoration Hardware. What drew you to this challenge?
HOLLY BAXTER: I was inspired by the idea of bringing international emerging and mid-career artists to a wider and more diverse audience and providing them with a platform to explore new directions with their practice including commissioning bodies of artworks, collaborating with the artists on new works and their exhibitions, and our artist residency program. I am directly involved in recruiting and selecting our curators. I recruited 15 international curators to identify the most interesting and talented artists in the world to commission bodies of work and to collaborate with them to exhibit their artworks in our gallery and online. I personally visit the studio of every artist in our program around the globe to view his or her art and discuss collaboration.
Our goal is to create a new platform where collectors would have a deeper understanding of and connection to the artists and their practice. We are also very interested in using technology to reach a wider audience for contemporary art while improving the experience of viewing and learning about art online.
WW: Most galleries employ a consignment model with their artists. Can you explain what RHCA does differently and why?
HB: RH Contemporary Art both acquires existing artworks and also commissions new bodies of works from artists. By commissioning new works and providing funding to create new work, we are giving the artist freedom to focus on their art making, often to go in new directions with their work. RH Contemporary Art also includes an ongoing artist in residence program in Brooklyn, NY.
WW: RH Contemporary Art offers a “multi-channel” platform than usually isn’t afforded a young artist: multiple gallery spaces in different cities, a glossy journal, an extensive sales-oriented website, and for some, a New York City residency. Are you hoping that this investment will lead to long-term relationships with these artists?
HB: While we don’t represent artists in the traditional sense, we instead seek to provide a platform for the artists to reach a wider audience with their work. We place a priority on building long-term relationships – with the artists, our collectors, with curators, and other gallerists.
WW: Can you give us a few hints as to where and how RH Contemporary Art will expand in the future?
HB: We do plan on opening a second RH Contemporary Art gallery space in Los Angeles in 2014 and possibly more galleries in different cities in the future.