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Carolina Wheat and Liz Nielsen, photo by Walker Esner.
Install view of IanMcMahon’s “Momentary Event,” courtesy of the artist and Elijah Wheat Showroom.
Install view of IanMcMahon’s “Momentary Event,” courtesy of the artist and Elijah Wheat Showroom.
Install view of IanMcMahon’s “Momentary Event,” courtesy of the artist and Elijah Wheat Showroom.
Installation view of Marlos E’van’s “ghostDope” (2021) at Elijah Wheat Showroom, photo by Walker Esner.
Installation view of Ashley Lyon’s “Tender Temper” (2021) at Elijah Wheat Showroom, photo by Walker Esner.
Portrait of Liz & Carolina in the Elijah Wheat Showroom, Courtesy Jaka Vinsek.
Carolina Wheat and Liz Nielsen, photo by Walker Esner.
Art

Liz Nielsen and Carolina Wheat Foster Community and Connection with Elijah Wheat Showroom

By Katy Donoghue

July 20, 2022

Since 2015, Liz Nielsen and Carolina Wheat have been behind the artist-run gallery Elijah Wheat Showroom, which now occupies a light-filled floor of an old factory on the Hudson in Newburgh, New York. Supporting makers from emerging to established, Nielsen and Wheat have created a place for artists, patrons, friends, and visitors of all ages to gather, connect, and ask questions. This summer, artist Ian McMahon has constructed a large-scale, site-specific sculpture of plaster theater curtains. After its opening on June 4, the temporal work will be destroyed in front of a live audience, at 7PM this Sunday, July 24, 2022, during Upstate Art Weekend.

Nielsen and Wheat’s experience as an artist and a writer and curator, respectively, bring a level of support and care to showing artists’ work. The partners in life and business spoke with Whitewall about their determination to uplift the voices of undersung artists.

WHITEWALL: We loved your recent exhibition by Ashley Lyon in Newburgh, New York, and saw so many people connected with this work. Can you tell us about working with the artist and putting together this show in this space?

LIZ NIELSEN & CAROLINA WHEAT: It was an incredible experience to work with the Newburgh-based artist. Over the course of about six months, she planned an elaborate solo exhibition and knocked it out of the park. She considered the space very carefully and would visit often. She references the afternoon light as the train passed with the three thousand pounds of unfired clay, Piece by Piece, that was actually mostly hand-built in the space. 

Some of the most warming moments of the exhibition come from moments when visitors without an art background, or possessing the vocabulary to express any formality of the work, acknowledged the visual messages that are so clearly spoken through the careful juxtaposition of some of the representational sculptures. For instance, the whole-bodied infant that is resting, trepidatiously balancing, actually, on the cropped torso of the female form that is centrally placed in the gallery was a showstopper. It’s rewarding to see those aha moments from a few guests, but when a child as young as five says, “That baby is taking over the mommy’s face!” it’s a most satisfying moment.

Open Gallery

Installation view of Ashley Lyon’s “Tender Temper” (2021) at Elijah Wheat Showroom, photo by Walker Esner.

WW: Your location in Newburgh is in an old factory on the Hudson River Front. What about this space clicked for you, and what is the process like having artists engage with it with each new show? 

LN & CW: The buildings constructed in 1830 used to be part of a cotton factory and steam mill, then later Regal Bag AKA “The Pocket Book Factory” where the industry employed Newburgh’s women working during prior and after WWII. We arrived in Newburgh in 2016, in a different, much grittier, factory space. Liz wanted to make bigger work and needed a larger studio space to do so. When we saw the space on the river, we were in awe. We said “Yes!” in January 2020 and moving locally was a snap. Thankfully we scored the space prior to the lock-down. Liz’s current studio is about 2000 sq ft and on the third floor with 14 windows most of them with Hudson River views. Incidentally, it was hard to get work done at first with the beautiful natural scenes. 

So, the downstairs floor in another building was empty, we found it while exploring the grounds upon moving in. There it was: a diamond in the rough, on the ground floor with a poured cement floor and mostly white walls and charred black wood trellis ceiling, calling to us. It felt raw, yet had a Kunsthalle style that we envisioned as a space d’art so magnificent we couldn’t resist proposing a show to the new landlord. They explained that they didn’t think that anyone would come to see art in such a far away make-shift storage space. All of the buildings are on a gated private drive and for those visiting it is a speak-easy type of adventure. 

We disagreed, respectfully. Carolina carefully gorilla installed the first show there with friend and artist, Johannah Herr. There were 8 textile works, “Domestic Terrorism: War Rugs from America” that we installed late night, took installation shots and then we deinstalled. Miraculously, after months of pleas and seeing the potential with the shots, we were given the go-ahead to install Ani Liu’s exhibition, “Pixelated Slaps to the Heart” for NADA Miami, 2020. This dystopian work fit so perfectly in the cold, raw space and garnered attention of our community and beyond. 

Open Gallery

Installation view of Marlos E’van’s “ghostDope” (2021) at Elijah Wheat Showroom, photo by Walker Esner.

WW: You both are partners in life and business, as well as an artist and a curator and writer, respectively. How do you think that experience has impacted the kind of gallery space you wanted to create?

LN & CW: As an artist-run space, we strive to collaborate with the exhibiting artists in a way that we would like to be interacted with ourselves. Having worked with many galleries through the course of Liz’s career, we have a decent idea as to what is important to the artist. We both adore engaging with creative people, discussing ideas and how they’re represented through well-crafted objects d’art. We both come from a background in education, so we share a desire to build our artists up and highlight them in their best light. 

We have worked with many emerging artists, so, in a way, we get to foster, mentor, and monitor their growth. However, we’ve begun to present more established makers and that, too, has been rewarding. Curatorially, we respect each other’s voices and allow one another to make important calls without contest. Sometimes, we each have ideas that we don’t want to compromise on. We respect the other to make certain calls. 

We are always creating: whether Liz with her light paintings or Carolina with her writing, both of our interests co-mingle. We are comfortable with the silence between each other yet we bounce ideas off the other frequently, too. It’s pretty radical to be in business with your bestie. Perhaps that is why we’ve had so much fun over the course of 15 years. 

WW: Who are the artists you want to work with and support?

LN & CW: We find artists by having conversations at openings, going to alternative spaces for underground exhibitions, exploring open studios at BFA/MFA programs and cold call like openings of e-conversations with folks work we’ve seen at fairs or group exhibitions that we find inspiring. We’ve also made introductions on Instagram. Can’t believe what a powerful tool it has become to discover emerging art. However, it’s mostly the case that we’ve known the artist previously as a student, colleague, or friend that we once were acquainted with. Ultimately, there are many ways we meet and connect with the artists we chose to exhibit. As you can imagine, each is a different story.

Open Gallery

Install view of IanMcMahon’s “Momentary Event,” courtesy of the artist and Elijah Wheat Showroom.

WW: The collectors and patrons you want to connect with? 

LN & CW: We consider so many of our collectors and patrons friends of the gallery. They have supported our artists and us through purchases, many are entrusting us to bring them works that will continue a conversation and be part of a collection that adds a unique flare. We appreciate patrons that understand that we are an artist-run space. We are genuine, value honesty, and hope to experience clients’ sincere appreciation for the works they will acquire. Other gallerists have also been immensely supportive. Whether they purchase a work, or invite us to curate in their space (or both!), we are deeply grateful for their validation. We invite potential patrons to take a peek into our world, where we are surrounded by art and ideas with the aspiration to share that kind of ‘wealth’ with a collector. Since March 2020 when most things moved to online viewing rooms, it leveled the playing field for us, and other smaller galleries. Young, first-time collectors began discovering the joys of collecting art and we’ve fostered their interests by listening to their visions and often connecting them directly with the artist. Frankly, we have only grown more determined to be an important part of uplifting voices and getting undersung artists in varying homes, museums and then some. 

WW: I appreciate how present and forward-facing your experience as a family is in the story and life of the gallery. Why was that important for you?

LN & CW: We are striving to keep our son Elijah’s spirit alive through our programming; it is his vibrant life that we hope to channel when considering the soul of the gallery. Our ‘family’ also  encompasses many of the artists we work with and we value their trust, insight and appreciation of our history. Although many new guests, clients and locals find it heart wrenching to hear of the origin story stemming from teen suicide. Suicide is an endemic and prescient problem facing our society, especially for people of color and LGBTQ+ identifying individuals. We want to address that there is not an effective infrastructure in our city, state and country for addressing challenges met due to one’s mental health. Whether referring to the schools, hospitals, clinics, insurance companies or even in our own homes, there is a stigma where conversations are avoided. We don’t have all the answers, yet we will continue asking questions and sharing the story so other families do not experience a loss so heavy. Through that forward voice, we hope to engage an audience with provoking curation or social media dialogues. We aspire to be relatable and spur a better understanding of addiction, mental health, trauma and how best to cope. These small steps of visibility are a critical start to begin to ameliorate the isolating feelings of being ‘other,’ unloved, or spiritually lost.

Open Gallery

Install view of IanMcMahon’s “Momentary Event,” courtesy of the artist and Elijah Wheat Showroom.

WW: How do you see the gallery as a reflection of your creative community, one that is more than just a commercial space?

LN & CW: The gallery itself has a voice and an identity, and we’ve been told that ‘we’re not shy about disruptive topics.’ Art-speak isn’t our language anyway. We present art and sell art; the gallery is a space for interacting and sharing ideas. We like to host events, and are notably always down for jubilant interactions. We enjoy sharing with our community. Whether investing in production, breaking bread, popping libations, giving away goodies, or donating to causes, we pour any profit back into the gallery to continue sharing the art-world love. We do this for the community. Artists meet inside of the space and talk about life as well as art, trends, techniques, and underlying themes. Collectors, critics, and art adjacent folk all visit and engage in a critical dialogue. The gallery is a safe space to connect with others and discuss politics, narratives, aesthetics, craft, design and color, all while looking at each exhibition and most importantly, experiencing the differences and variant human qualities of each other.

Open Gallery

Install view of IanMcMahon’s “Momentary Event,” courtesy of the artist and Elijah Wheat Showroom.
Carolina WheatElijah Wheat ShowroomLiz NielsenSpring 2022 Artist IssueUpstate Art Weekend

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