Interview with Davida Nemeroff; Gallery Owner, Boss and Mother
She is down to earth, there is no sugar coating when you talk to Davida, and it’s a breath of fresh air. Unapologetically ambitious, honing her past and her path to get where she is, she opens up about the challenges, some of her worries and the complex reality of being a gallery owner. This former artist asks the right questions and has gotten a lot of answers right!
Featured image: Night Gallery Booth at Frieze London, 2019 – featuring artists Sarah Awad, Cynthia Daignault, Mira Dancy, Ian Davis, Jesse Mockrin, Melanie Schiff, Claire Tabouret, and Sean Townley.
The Observer POWER ARTS 50 provided me with many first glances at some people I feel I should have known. My path crossed the one of the Night Gallery several times. I saw their booth, at Frieze London and NYC, at Art Toronto. I even scribbled notes about their display and the pieces shown on some of my art fair maps. Still, rolling from fair to fair, from country to country and contract to contract, I never took a deeper dive into the gallery, its artist, its history and even less its owner. When I saw Davida’s name and did a post about her, including in the POWER ARTS 50 list, I did a bit of a dive. I remember she commented on the photo I had chosen. And then she gave the ART community a good piece of advice – “Stay focus on the big picture, don’t sweat the small stuff, treat everyone with respect.” This was enough to trigger my interest. I took a deeper dive into Davida and Night Gallery. I discovered many uncanny resemblances, where she was coming from, her path. Our conversation was fluid, easy, and touched me deeply. It made me reflect on my path, on the world I choose for my professional life and gave me hope – that with a new generation of gallery owners and artists and more diversity, things can change. That creating something from nothing is possible if you stay focus and put in the hard work. I hope this conversation will compel you and ignite an even more robust conversation to get going with your projects the same way it did for me.
Here is my conversation with an inspiring woman, a strong one, who keeps her eyes on the prize, both in her professional and her personal life.
EL: You are an artist, a gallery owner and a mother– how do you juggle | balance your time and energy between all these? Lots has been written and said from women artists who decided to embrace motherhood – what is your spin on it?
DN: What I learned is that you can’t do it all. I was a practising artist, and I live with an artist. I define myself as an artist, but I had to let go of my practice. The gallery is my priority. I put all my energy into it as well as into my family. Finding the right life partner was instrumental to finding someone who understands that I will as much time and energy into what I’m doing to be as successful as I want to be. I am unapologetically ambitious, and my husband, a brilliant artist, supports me on this path. The gallery and my family fuel each other. They work in tandem. I grow the business so I can support and take care of my family, and my family support me so I can do the work at the gallery.
It is really hard, really, really hard. Sometimes I am not sure how I do it. But I had great role models. Both my parents worked, and my mother worked especially hard. She was a retail executive, and she often lived in different cities and managed to put us first. Still, her career was significant to her. It provided her with a sense of self, and she never apologized for it. I feel similar to that. It isn’t easy to be a woman boss, I experience sexism on the regular, but it doesn’t stop me. It does make me worried for my daughter’s future but having had a great role model in my mom gives me strength.
EL: How do you see social implication aligned with what you are doing with the gallery and your artistic practice?
DN: There is a fluidity in what the gallery can achieve in terms of supporting people, from the artists, staff, vendors, and the industry at large. My social implication is very much a personal choice. I am often terrified about what is going on in the world, especially as a mother of a daughter – and another daughter on the way. It is the reason why in the past I was involved with Planned Parenthood and I think it might be time to pick up that conversation again.
The pandemic also changed the way we are socializing. We had one “normal” opening recently where people were coming and going, no masks, and it was beautiful. We are now back to wearing masks due to the new variants, so it will be interesting to see how this will affect the social landscape in the fall with so many people ready to move on, virus or no virus.
EL: You moved from Canada to the USA for your graduate studies; what was part of that decision? How different do you think opportunities within the art world differed from one country to the other?
DN: Everything has changed so much since I did my MFA. There are so many more MFA graduates and so many more galleries. I was in my mid 20’s and originally from Montreal, then spent a few years in Toronto. So as a 26-year-old with the possibility of moving to NYC to go to Columbia, it was a pretty obvious decision to make. After my MFA, I used my one-year visa to come to LA and worked for Katherine Mulherin, who had opened a satellite space. About six months after arriving in LA I started Night Gallery. I don’t know what it is, but there is something here, the climate, the artistic mindset, the competitive environment that pushes people to bring their best (and their worst) out. In the US there isn’t any government support, nothing compared to Canada, but I pushed myself to get here and, most importantly, to stay here. Los Angeles is a unique place, and the light, especially when I was doing my work, was part of the existential experience that I found so inspiring. Of course, politics have an impact, and if things had ended differently in 2020, maybe we would be in Canada right now.
EL: Tell us more about the unique format that the Night Gallery began as? Has this evolved from the original ethos of the place?
DN: I was working on few things at that time, and I started the gallery as a post-studio practice, something that resembled, to a certain extent, what I was doing when I was at Columbia. After hours in the studio, we would gather and start to party with the art all over the walls and get into real, deep conversations. Booze and other modes of inebriation helped. We got into another mindset, and it resulted in different approaches. We weren’t under pressure but relaxed. Night Gallery came from that ethos – very spontaneous, very subjective – not a white cube. It wasn’t open during the day. My approach was a feminist one. We then moved to a more conventional mode of operating; a large space, daytime hours, and overtime began to have an operating budget based on our revenue. I realized that I didn’t need to be only open at night to be radical.
EL: Do you have a favourite recollection or memory of the early days of the Night Gallery?
DN: It’s funny, I have a lot of memories, and also very few that aren’t hazy. One of my favourite memories, which I like because it is funny and very specific, is the show “Pass Over: Two Serious Ladies” in 2011 with Eve Fowler and Anna Sew-Hoy. The genesis was that we had a privately held Passover Seder before the opening… and then there was the opening. So, people were arriving for the opening (at this point our openings were still at 10 pm) and there was nothing left, just the carcass of our dinner party. We had had this wonderful meal, and the opening was the aftermath. I had a certain level of discomfort being the host. Everyone showed up, yet everything was gone, eaten. That was what they were coming to see. It was part of the work, the performance and the traces that documented its existence.
EL: An experience that you learn from and think others can benefit from hearing from it?
DN: Partnerships are great, but they also don’t necessarily last. It might be heartbreaking and very real, but then you can move on. This is one of the lessons I learned with Night Gallery; listen to yourself and make the best decision for you. I had a partnership for 5 years, and when it ended, the gallery was going through some growing pains, yet I believe people would have been disappointed if we shut the doors. It was also not a possibility for me. Night Gallery is instrumental in my life, so while the moment was a low point, and it still stings deep, I learned how to run a business on my own, and the gallery has been on a roll ever since.
EL: You mentioned that the art world, covid or not, is a relentless industry. What is next for Davida? What is next for the Night Gallery?
DN: For me, a new baby in a month or so. If it wasn’t for the pandemic, the chance of having a second child might not have come, but the time at home allowed me to focus on my family, my daughter, of recentering my ambitions.
This also leads to some exciting news about Night Gallery – we are opening a new large space in November that will be an addition to our current space. The new space is gargantuan, and continues the narrative of the gallery. It is very raw and a bit more punk than our current space. We decided to expand locally instead of expanding elsewhere. The new space will allow us to focus on sculpture and installation which has been challenging to present at our current location. But truthfully the idea of working on a new space, while risky, is exactly the project I needed to stay creatively inspired. Most excitingly, the new space is going to open with a brand-new installation by Samara Golden, who has been an instrumental artist of Night Gallery’s program, however, her practice has taken her on the institutional path almost exclusively for the last 9 years. Samara is a beloved Los Angeles artist who has not had a solo show in LA since 2013, so it’s going be very special.
EL: The past year or so has been intensely shaking, from the pandemic to the racial inequality issues, a lot was happening – what kept you going and grounded?
DN: I learned a lot in the last year. I try hard to be mindful of the importance and responsibility of representing artists of colour. It is imperative to listen, to understand each individual artist’s position and support their vision; understanding both their work and its context. A critique of power structures in our society necessarily implicates the gallery system. However, this is also where we can have a positive influence. This hasn’t always been as clear to me as it is today, much of that was my ignorance coming from a place of privilege. I am always grateful I work with such incredible artists, whose careers are skyrocketing; I’m committed to championing them as we grow together.
EL: What piece of advice would you want to give to the other artists | gallery owners | or people who would like to follow in your footsteps?
DN: Not sure if this is a piece of advice or not, but this industry – being a gallery owner isn’t for everybody. Some spaces have a lifespan and running them is a ton of work – Be aware. Find your community first, but again, that might not be right for some. Some might find their community after they open their space.
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Actually, the best advice is to clarify why you want to do it and how you will make it happen? This is something I ask my artists when they come up with projects. We have a conversation, and I need to understand the “why” and the “how”. Ask yourself that, and then make your decision.
THE [Quick] BLITZ
- The most significant influence in your life
My mother, as I mentioned earlier, she has been a huge influence on me. She might not know much about art, but she taught me how to stay focused and see the larger picture.
- Favourite album
Currently listening to two of Canada’s greatest poets and vocalists, both of whom released albums recently, “Monarch Season” by Jennifer Castle, and “Real Time” by New Chance.
- A myth you would like to debunk?
That when an artwork doesn’t sell it doesn’t mean that it isn’t a great work of art. There is a lot of reasons why work sells, and it isn’t always based on the quality of the work.
- What should the art world be more of and less of?
Tough question. I would say more diverse, from all perspectives, collectors, museums trustees, curators, artists, and more transparency. And less exclusionary.
Who is Davida Nemeroff?
Davida Nemeroff (b.1981, Montreal) is the founder and owner of Night Gallery in Los Angeles. The gallery, which celebrated its tenth anniversary in 2020, has risen to international prominence over the last eleven years, garnering acclaim as the locus of Los Angeles’s thriving visual art community. Night Gallery’s roster includes a range of emerging, mid-career, and established artists, including Mira Dancy, Samara Golden, Tomashi Jackson, Robert Nava, Claire Tabouret, and Kandis Williams, among others. Nemeroff was a co-founder of Sexy Beast, a biannual benefit for PlannedParenthood Los Angeles. She lives and works in Los Angeles.
About this interview series
The last year and months have brought much disruption to the world as we know it. Many of the disturbances that we experienced were the results of much-needed change in the status quo. Hopefully, they will be a catalyst to long term transformations that will bring more equity, diversity, accessibility and transparency to the arts and art world.
It is within this mindset that this new interview series is shaping itself. We have a platform, and we want to participate in ongoing conversations and offer some positive, deeply inspiring portraits of humans that contribute meaningfully to the idea exchange. Drawn from the 2020 Arts Power 50 | Observer, a list of 50 individuals that are the change-makers impacting the arts, we launched this series with Kemi Ilesanmi, a Cultural Amplifier and the Executive Director of the Laundromat Project. Davida Nemeroff interview is the third of this new series. It has been followed by Alex Paik, an artist as well as the Founder and Director of Tiger Strikes Asteroid.