Allegra LaViola opened her first gallery in the fall of 2008 and was quickly established as an important voice in New York’s contemporary art scene. She founded her East Broadway space Sargent’s Daughters (the name is an homage to painter John Singer Sargent) in 2013 as a platform for contemporary art that has deep roots in art history.
How did you end up in the art world?
I fell in love with art history at University — all that sitting in a dark room looking at pictures! Once I graduated, I knew I wanted to be around art, but I was not an academic or interested in auction houses. So I moved to Venice, Italy because I had written my dissertation on St. George in Venetian art. While there I ended up doing a variety of jobs (including selling masks on the Rialto Bridge!) that included working at a gallery and for a pavilion in the Venice Biennale. That made me want to be involved with artists themselves. I moved to London and worked at the Royal Academy on an exhibition with young British artists, then back to New York to work at an art advisory, then various galleries, then to my own gallery!
How do you live with art yourself?
So much art! My apartment is full already but I can’t stop myself. The truth is that most dealers are art addicts. We are always getting high on our own supply. I have paintings, drawings, photographs, prints, textiles, sculptures, things from my family, works from most of the artists I’ve ever worked with. I love it.
“The truth is that most dealers are art addicts. We are always getting high on our own supply.”
What would you like the gallery to be known for?
A strong, clear eye and a dedication to work that is both relevant now and connected to the larger arc of history and art history.
Are there any recent additions to your roster and how did you discover these artists?
Being a bit new to representation, almost everyone is a recent addition. I discover artists through extensive searching — going to studio visits, art fairs, shows at other galleries, museums, listening to artists who recommend other artists, and keeping my eyes open. Wendy Red Star is an artist I actually discovered at a museum, which is unusual. Wendy is a Crow Indian and had an incredible work featured in The Plains Indians: Artists of Earth and Sky at the Met in 2015. I couldn’t believe that more people were not familiar with her work. Even though she was included in a bunch of museum shows and collections, she had no gallery shows and was not in any private collections — people hadn’t really seen her work. In that way she’s had the opposite career trajectory of most artists. I emailed her after the show and we planned to get together, but our meeting ended up being postponed for a year (she’s based in Portland). I showed her at the gallery in 2019 and she’ll have another show with me at some point in 2021.
What is the best and hardest part of running your gallery?
The best is that moment when someone’s eyes light up with delight in front of a work that an artist has poured their soul into, often alone in the studio, and that moment of connection takes place. The hardest is dealing with the anxiety that comes when things are not selling or you aren’t getting any press and the artist is down in the dumps, wondering what is wrong, and you feel like you are failing.
“The best is that moment when someone’s eyes light up with delight in front of a work that an artist has poured their soul into”
How do you think collecting art will change in the next decade?
Probably an increase in online activity. It seems we are headed that way now. Three years ago, nobody DM’ed me for price lists. Now it seems to be the thing to do, and it can be really overwhelming when a crush of people are messaging you, often aggressively. I still appreciate it when someone actually comes to the gallery. Even if you’ve never met them, if they are excited to see the work, or have been following the artist, you can get an immediate sense of who they are, talk to them, and listen to them. It means something when a person is willing to invest the time to come see the work.
How do you hope to engage with new collectors?
New collectors literally support my gallery — if nobody buys anything anymore, I will close! It’s really exciting working with new collectors because when someone falls in love with art you can feel that passion. I’m always happy to work with people who are genuinely excited about the work, building a collection, and living with something they are in love with.