Some artists in New York may be wishing to get older faster. A gallery there caters to artists age 60 and older. No kids allowed.
Some 200 artists have exhibited at the Carter Burden Gallery since it opened nine years ago in Chelsea. Business is good, and works sell from $200 to $9,000. It’s a lot like hundreds of other galleries in New York — except for one important thing: The Carter Burden has an age limit. Why?
“Older adults do not stop being who they are because they hit a particular age,” said gallery director Marlena Vaccaro. “Professional artists never stop doing what we do, and in many cases we get better at it as we go along.”
What does change is the art market. With rare exceptions, artists who were hot when they started out found that galleries, and certainly museums, cooled to them as years passed. They kept making art, but weren’t being shown or bought. Carter Burden’s mission is to give them a wall, “because walls are the thing we need,” Vaccaro said.
According to Vaccaro, very few galleries represent older professional artists, unless they’re really famous. “And I get that,” she said. “Galleries are a business. They need to show artists that are going to bring in big bucks.”
Carter Burden is different. It’s a nonprofit, supported by a board, a corporate sponsor and philanthropists. “That allows us to show the work that is purely an aesthetic choice, and not be concerned if I’m going to get $25,000 for a painting that sells,” Vaccaro explained. “We could not do that if we had to survive just on the sale of the work.”
Artist Nieves Saah, 67, originally from Bilbao, Spain, has painted all her life. “My first show was in SoHo in ’85,” she said. “And I had like 28 paintings there. I sold a few, and then from that I got many shows. I think that year I was in like 15 shows.”
Then things slowed down. There wasn’t much interest for 10 years. Saah kept on painting her figures and fantasies in vividly colored, cheerful oils. One day she heard about Carter Burden and decided to apply online. “I was in a show one month after I sent the application,” she recalled.
Carter Burden always shows two or three artists together, and it only exhibits artists who live in New York. Every artist brings their people, those people become regulars and it just builds and builds. Shows are up for three weeks, then there’s a week-long break, then another three-week show. Five hundred people can turn up at openings. (There’s always wine, pretzels and chocolate.) Visitors nosh, schmooze and buy, and artists get to know each other and see and comment on one another’s work.
“It is community,” said Elisabeth Jacobsen, 68, an artist from Long Island. And it’s necessary, she said, because “when you do your artwork, you usually are alone.” Jacobsen does assemblage, putting wood, fabric and various objects together into elegant, 3-dimensional works. She has exhibited pretty consistently since the late 1980s, and at Carter Burden since 2014. But that took time.
She said, “When I first heard of the gallery, I sent an application, but I was rejected and got one of these letters like, you know, ‘In a couple years, try again.’ ” She did, and now often shows and sells at the gallery.
Werner Bargsten, a newbie, had his first show this past October. It consisted of stunning, powerful sculptured wall hangings made with clay and copper tubing, and formed into what look like wrapped packages.
Bargsten had stopped doing art for 30 years. (He had a career making props for TV and films.) Now retired, he said he didn’t have a lot of expectations for his first show. “It’d be great to have a lot of people here to see the work. And my expectation I guess is to just show up, put the pieces on the wall and have a cookie.” (He sold some drawings, but there weren’t any cookies.)
At 69, Bargsten is glad to be part of the Carter Burden over-60 crowd. “I mean, look, it’s always harder to get out of bed the older you get, but most of the artists that I’ve met here seemed like they missed that memo that they were getting old. Most of them have the brains of a 20-year-old or a 30-year-old or something. So they haven’t really aged in terms of their spirit.”
When asked if the gallery’s mission is ageist, director Marlena Vaccaro said, “I think it’s more a defense against ageism. … I think it’s giving an opportunity to a group of people that have had the opportunity removed simply because of their age. Opportunities are few and far between at any gallery for any artist of any age, so I think we’re trying to just right a wrong, rather than get in the way of anyone else having an opportunity.”
It’s such a lively, bustling place, the Carter Burden Gallery in Chelsea. Young New York artists may dream of reaching 60 just to be a part of it.
Shannon Rhoades and Andrew Limbong edited and produced this story for broadcast. Nicole Cohen adapted it for the Web.