By Michael Klam
You might think of high-end art as something esoteric, vastly expensive and not to be touched. Try to imagine an art gallery in La Jolla where the CEO and the executive director welcome you to not only bring the entire family, but to touch the sculptures.
Upon entering the recently opened Madison Gallery in the heart of downtown La Jolla, you notice that there are cracks in the floor. “When you walk in, it’s not perfect, but there’s a flow,” says Executive Director Alex Salazar. There are cozy yet elegant couches with pillows and plenty of space to move around. You feel comfortable. You feel at home.
And yet the artwork is stunning, extraordinary. A sculpted figure by Boban arches back with wings made of shining spoons, alive, his muscular arms and legs seem to move in the gallery light. You gravitate to a painting by Renzo, the image of a young woman in a loose, white gown, hooded, her face in shadows, dreamlike, and you find yourself lost in her, lost in a sense of curiosity and wonder.
Salazar is there with you. He spends most of his days in the gallery. A former teacher who has a Master of Arts in Theological Studies and Art History from Harvard University, he is as interested in educating the gallery’s visitors as he is in selling artwork, he says.
“I wanted to teach again, to be in a gallery teaching about art,” says Salazar. “A lot of art galleries can be very intimidating. You go straight to the prices. That can scare people off,” he says.
Salazar wants the Latino and Chicano community to come to the gallery without feeling intimidated, especially in La Jolla, he says. “I speak Spanish. Bring the kids. I’ll be more than happy to teach them about art.”
CEO and owner Lorna York agrees: “It’s a very inviting space. Alex and I have 30 years of knowledge of the industry between us. We both have a love and passion for art and it’s more about that than making money. We want to help everyone from the first-time buyer to the high-end collector,” she says.
And yet it is a business. An upscale one with prices beyond what the typical family can afford. Salazar admits that he has to consider what sells and to run things like a business. But that doesn’t mean that he cannot give back to the community.
Salazar explains that most galleries can sell with ease Latin American artists like Diego Rivera who have been glorified by major museums, but he has also always wanted to support upcoming Chicano artists.
“You have to be smart about it. There has to be enough interest to sell the work and support the artists and at the same time meet the financial obligations of the gallery. This is easier said than done,” he says.
Part of Salazar’s outreach to the Chicano artist community will come by “approaching the Centro once again,” now that he has a space. He was formerly on the board of trustees for the Centro Cultural de la Raza.
He has his work cut out for him, given the years of tension between the Centro and local Chicano artists, and Salazar concedes that it will take some time.
For now, he encourages artists to send their portfolios for review. “We’re looking for contemporary artists who are committed 24/7 to their work,” he explains. And he wants all to come and be inspired by the quality of work in the gallery.
The artists represented in the space now include sculptors Christopher Shultz and Boban, painters Renzo, Fidel Garcia, Tarnowski, Kazandjian, and the mystical expressionist Jamali. The gallery also plans to host major exhibitions by Modern Masters Picasso, Miró and Chagall, and will include artwork by Warhol, Lichtenstein, Haring and Basquiat. There is also a Mexican Masters exhibit in the works that will feature Tamayo.
“We have a lot of Latin influenced artists in the gallery now,” says York. Renzo’s work shows the influence of his eight years in Mexico, where he studied Mayan culture.
Fidel García has spent the last two decades gaining recognition through out his native Mexico and in Spain. He has had many shows, awards and museum exhibitions including the National Museum of Spain and the Puebla Historical Museum in Mexico.
Daniel Winn, CEO of Masterpiece Publishing and exclusive representing agent and publicist for Fidel García, sees San Diego as fertile ground for high-end art.
Masterpiece Publishing pursues and contracts artists whose work has demonstrated increasing value. “It’s about setting trends for current collectors,” says Winn, adding that Madison Gallery will make available the artwork of the most renowned artists. The value of the artwork increases alongside the artist’s production and notoriety, making today’s purchases a sound investment in the future, he says.
Madison Gallery can also help collectors and aficionados search for any work of art, not just the work hanging in the gallery. “I am a committed to research. I love being able to find things for people. I’ll find any artist,” says Salazar.
“We have a network of 30 to 40 galleries; relationships that have been built; people who we have met along the way in the business,” he says.
York, an art dealer of Modern Masters, has been in the arts business for over 20 years, establishing relationships with hundreds of publishers and international artists. Between York and Salazar, they can find even the rarest art on the open market.
While they work as a team, York is the boss. She owns the gallery and pays the bills. Salazar pays homage to her: “Lorna taught me gallery business 101, everything from contracts to presentations, counseling, consulting, to hanging artwork,” he says.
Both share two basic goals: to build long-term relationships with high-end collectors and to give back to and support the local community through charity and education.
To learn more about Madison Gallery, visit http://www.madisongalleries.com/. The gallery is located at 1020 Prospect St., Suite 130, in La Jolla. Call (858) 459-0836 for more information.