By Sarah Schmerler
What’s the role of the art gallery in the 21st century? Why are some artists successful, while others spin their wheels, forever seeking career satisfaction? For Austin Thomas, artist and owner-director of Pocket Utopia Gallery, the art world is a kind of ecosystem, and we are all viable elements within it, sustaining it and make it whole.
In this intimate conversation with Thomas that took place at Pocket Utopia—the gallery she started in Bushwick and then moved to the Lower East Side—you’ll glean some of the answers. Full disclosure: Thomas and I are recent collaborators; on August 4, we conducted a mind-blowing, four-hour lab session with nine artists called “Session One” of “Pocket U-niverse-ity.” To put it simply, we felt we could forge a radical anti-grad-school form of collaborative learning whereby an art gallery serves as the hardware, the art market serves as the software, and the artists provide the content.
So, what really ended up happening?
That night, Thomas sat the nine participants down and, after oiling them up with some beer, casually informed them: “I’m giving you a show here at Pocket Utopia. One work each, from all of you. You are the group that will inaugurate my fall season. I’m calling it ‘Session One’ and it opens September 8.”
I went on to lecture on phenomenology and teach a short writing seminar. I also talked about radical art historian Aby Warburg, and what sets one group show apart from another.
After dinner, (yes, Thomas gave the artists dinner, as well as a show) we were still stunned, so we did shots of Johnny Walker Black. No one expected a gallerist to put their money where their mouth is. No one.