Olivia Smith opened Magenta Plains with Chris Dorland and David Deutsch in 2015. Previously, she worked as the director of Exhibition A, an online platform for contemporary art where she launched weekly artist collaborations. At Magenta Plains, she and her partners have built a conceptually-minded program focused on generating an exchange of ideas between generations and fostering long-term artist career development.
How did you end up in the art world?
After studying studio art and poetry at SMU in Dallas, I spent half a year interning at the Chinati Foundation in Marfa which solidified my interest in pushing myself to engage with the public about art (despite my fear of public speaking). I found that if I was passionate about artists’ stories, I could relay that information to others—a task I found extremely gratifying. Internships at Artists Space and Creative Time were formative, and within a year I found myself as Director of Exhibition A, an online platform for contemporary art where I launched one or two new artist collaborations per week. For three years there I built solid relationships with hundreds of artists and was introduced to the world of emerging artist markets, art marketing strategies, and commerce. In 2015 I met Chris Dorland and David Deutsch and made the pivot to opening an art gallery from scratch with them. The gallery combines my vigor for education, conceptual approaches to art, and running a business under the umbrella of long-term artist career development. Throughout my professional career I seem to have found myself in positions where I must commit to quite a lot of personal research and problem solving in order to advance things forward, as opposed to being told what to do or relying on industry standards. As a result, I hope to continue propelling the gallery to a place where the highest caliber of art is exhibited and enjoyed by an inclusive and robust community.
How do you live with art yourself?
I live with smaller paintings and drawings that were gifts from artists and prints I have purchased at benefits. My small NYC studio walls are filled with work by Israel Lund, Gina Beavers, Geoff McFetridge, Nick Payne, Barbara Ess, Melissa Brown, Zach Bruder, Ted Gahl, Rene Ricard, Brian Belott, Bryce Zackary, Becky Kolsrud, and more. I recently purchased two Ebecho Muslimova prints benefitting bail funds and a Nan Goldin print benefitting Urban Survivors Union, an organization that provides harm reduction services to people who use drugs in direct response to the health hazards generated by drug policy.
What would you like the gallery to be known for?
Consistently excellent programming—where thought-provoking, historical exhibitions bump up against newer emerging concepts, generating an exchange of ideas between generations. I would like for a visitor to both approach the gallery with the hope that they will find something beautiful or intellectually stimulating, and to also leave feeling refreshed and perhaps that their sense of humor had been tickled. Oh, and good parties…once Covid is a thing of the past!
“I would like for a visitor to both approach the gallery with the hope that they will find something beautiful or intellectually stimulating, and to also leave feeling refreshed and perhaps that their sense of humor had been tickled.”
Are there any recent additions to your roster and how did you discover these artists?
This year we added Jennifer Bolande to our roster after her record-setting, five-month exhibition during the coronavirus lockdown. There was always something new to discover in the work during that time, and it was a natural progression of our relationship—Jennifer has been in two group exhibitions at the gallery prior to her solo show. Her contributions to art, not to mention through her teaching at UCLA, seem to register crucially at this moment of upheaval. Her work examines what is changing, vestigial, or disappearing, and calls into question distinctions between event and object, real and imagined, and received and potential meanings.
What is the best and hardest part of running your gallery?
Beginning and continuing relationships with both clients and artists is the most exciting aspect of the gallery—there is nothing like that spark of excitement when you find a new artist or collector to work with. Properly maintaining those relationships (like any personal or professional connection) takes communication, patience, and negotiation.
How do you think collecting art will change in the next decade?
Collectors will continue to seek out their blind spots when it comes to supporting all types of artists from different backgrounds, and of course increased online engagement will continue.
How do you hope to engage with new collectors?
I still hope to meet collectors in person and in the gallery. The best way to engage with a collector is in front of the artwork. The art is the point of mutual interest and the conversation starter.
“The best way to engage with a collector is in front of the artwork. The art is the point of mutual interest and the conversation starter.”
Can you tell us about some of the pieces or artists currently featured in your Parlor collection?
Nikholis Planck is an interesting artist for me as his practice defies categorization and stretches across painting, drawing, sculpture, performance, and editions. Planck's paintings are rooted in observational drawing and he repurposes and upcycles previous works to produce shaped paintings anew. One of the defining features of Planck's paintings is the waxy texture of the layered surface onto which he often embellishes with personal ephemera as a sort of living archive—shreds of a checklist, an exhibition flyer, found paper, past show posters. Planck’s projects have paired mixed media paintings with stage constructions and included schedules of performances that he organizes with his artist friends during his exhibitions.