Interview: Max Baseman of 5. Gallery
Housed in an unassuming industrial garage, 5. Gallery is far off the beaten path. The gallery's ubiquitous exterior—signalling its presence only by a hand-drawn "5." on the front door—may be, to some, misleading. However, 5. Gallery and its owner, Max Baseman, are a world away from ordinary.
Now in its fourth month of operation, 5. Gallery has shown an impressive slew of artists, from the historic to the contemporary, the local to the global, and the unknown to the illustrious. 5. Gallery's most recent exhibition, aptly titled small, displayed works by nine different artists. Most of the works exhibited are under a foot in diameter—the smallest of them less than 3" x 3".
Max Baseman, the gallery's owner, had an interesting start in the art world, and continues to defy norms with his warehouse-style gallery. L.E. Brown interviews Baseman about his introduction to the art market, the gallery's current exhibition, and what he plans to show in the future.
L.E. Brown: You recently opened this gallery a few months ago, but tell me about the space you were selling out of before?
Max Baseman: I call it the “Casita Gallery” because it was the casita that I lived in, three blocks off the plaza. It was the first time I lived without roommates, and before that I had always wanted to do something stupid out of my house, like open a speakeasy, but my roommates always told me that it was a really bad idea. And they were right. Within a couple months of running a gallery out of my casita I got in trouble for it.
LEB: So that’s why you stopped?
MB: Well, I didn’t get an actual cease and desist letter, but for all intents and purposes, that’s what it was. My landlord was really good at his job and he knew that he could get in a lot of trouble for what I was doing. After the Casita Gallery started picking up and he got word of it, he told me I had to stop or he’d be forced to take me to court. So I immediately pulled down the website that we were using, apologized, and put in my two-months notice. Then I found this space and just got to work sanding walls. It took four months from signing the lease to open our first show.
LEB: Do you try to focus mainly on local artists?
MB: It’s a lot of local artists but it’s a bit of everything. I have access to a couple really nice collections as well. In the last show, I had a Marcel Duchamp print and Max Beckmann painting and I've been able to work with some incredible historic art. At the Casita it was all young artists, a lot of whom were my friends, and we would do openings on Mondays for service industry night. Some of that is still here, but I’m not drawing as much from the work I showed at the Casita.
LEB: Tell me about this current show.
MB: Ann Landi curated the show. I really admire her as a friend and art critic. She's been writing about art for 25 years and recently created an online website Vasari 21 where she promotes amazing artists that aren’t getting enough attention. Many of the artists I’ve shown are because of the emails I’d get from her website, and I’d like these artists so much that I'd ask them to show with me. It was really neat to get her on the other side of that. Part of this show was based off of the premise of her website, and it was cool to see her make an exhibition of it.
LEB: Before this, you had been curating the shows. What was it like to have a guest curator? How does it work to have someone else handle that side of the exhibition?
MB: I’d never had a guest curator before this, so it was nice to take a step back. She brought up the idea but essentially we’re both after the same thing. During a lot of studio visits, I’d talk to artists who tell me how certain works of theirs are really popular and how everyone loves them, but there are other works in their oeuvre that don’t get as much attention but the artist really loves them. It’s the best when you’re immediately attracted to those pieces and it’s what you want to show. It’s the same with Ann and her work; she told me that she wanted to curate an exhibition like this but no one wanted to do it. So I told her “That’s great! Let’s do it!” I was on board, and she knows what she’s doing, so we got to work.
LEB: Do you have any big plans or goals for this gallery in the future?
MB: Right now I’m just running on a month-to-month basis. A lot of people ask me what’s coming next, and all I can do is laugh and say that I’m working on it. It’d be a lot of fun to have someone to sit here at the gallery and I could travel to see art in different countries, but that’s just a fantasy. I think everyone’s end game is to get paid to travel. On a smaller scale, I’ll have another show a month from now, and another show a month after that. My main goal is to keep showing work that I love.
LEB: Did you work with art before this? What have you learned about opening an operating a gallery?
MB: No, I had no experience in galleries or in the art market of any kind. It’s surprisingly easy to make a business and become a corporation. It just takes one hundred bucks and some paperwork. It’s all new to me, so I’m figuring it all out as I go. I've had a lot of friends ask me if they should open a gallery, and I'd say that I'm probably not the best person to ask. My advice is just to do it! You find a space, you paint the walls, you find artwork that (ideally) you love, and you hang it up. Hopefully people react to it. It’s like that Bukowski quote that goes something like, “If you have to ask, don’t do it.”
LEB: What made you chose this location and this space?
MB: After leaving the Casita, I had about a month to find a space. More than anything, I got lucky. I found it on craigslist and just started working on it. It was available, it was something I could afford, and it’s big enough. It seemed like it would work. I often hear how this is the new part of town for the arts, and there’s definitely a lot of art moving here, but it’s probably for the same reason that I moved to this space. It’s where people can afford and it’s doable. I hardly get any foot traffic here, but most galleries don’t. It’s always someone who wants to see the show, so they'll go see it.
LEB: I really like how industrial the space looks. Almost like it's a work-in-progress.
MB: There are two types of responses I get to that. A lot of people like it, and a lot people ask me, “Oh, are you gonna finish the space….ever?”