Hamptons Curator Creates a Home for Art

Insider Art: Curated By Jess Frost @ Davidson Contemporary, New York
Art by Jessie Henson, curated by Jess Frost at Davidson Contemporary

Things were particularly busy one winter day last week at East Hampton’s Glenn Horowitz Bookseller as gallery director Jess Frost was organizing the next exhibit featuring Matthew Satz. The artist himself was in and out of the compact gallery space, carrying work and making calculations. Two assistants were going about their business quietly and calmly. Frost took a break in her upstairs office, surrounded by various works that occupied the nearby small gallery. It made no difference that the artwork was scattered around the room or that Frost picked some up from time to time to show her guest. Such activities established a comfortable ambience, a setting where both art and people could feel at home.

Frost is the “Jill of all trades” at Glenn Horowitz Bookseller and well she should be, given all her experience and training. While she is associated with only one gallery, her curating skills have served her well at various venues. Perhaps her penchant for composition and design played a role when she was inspired by her father, who was an architect, and her mother, who was an artist. Frost’s life was influenced by art, she remembers fondly, especially when she was growing up and spending summers in the family home in the Springs. She especially recalls the frequent visits she and her parents made to Ashawagh Hall to see art exhibits.

It wasn’t unusual, therefore, that Frost majored in art, getting her degree at the State University of New York at Purchase. Her move to Manhattan, becoming a waitress to support herself, was also par for the course. She characterizes those days this way: “I was a painter-waitress who turned waitress-painter,” smiling even now at the thought.

In 1997, Frost moved to New York permanently (after going back and forth from the Hamptons for several years). She was hired by the Barbara Gladstone Gallery as a liaison (definitely not “par for the course”), assigned to some of the many artists that the gallery handled. (One of these artists was Mathew Barney.) Asked what were the most challenging aspects of her job during this time, Frost answers, “Handling international exhibits and taking down a show almost before it opens.” We get the idea: turnaround time is limited.

Nowadays, Frost knows a lot more about her role than in years past. For example, what about her job does she especially like? “I like dealing with artists,” she comments energetically. “Introducing artists to collectors and the public. I also love when people come into the gallery and fall in love with the work of artists who are not yet well known. Like an artist named Eric Brown. We worked together at the Gladstone Gallery, and I followed his career. I have curated him in two – three shows.”

Which brings us to an essential question: What does Frost look for when selecting an artist for an exhibit? Her answers are prompt and articulate: “talented, hard-working, professional, doing ‘fresh’ work that hasn’t been done before. I look for people who are not caught up with being an artist.”

Another question that seems important when curating a show is this: What determinants does Frost use when selecting work? Again, she answers with confidence: “I like to mix it up, combining different media, concepts, styles. I am also very conscious of not thrusting my own tastes on people. It’s also important to know that the gallery space will dictate how the work goes up. I’m very pragmatic. Of course, when curating independently, it’s harder to consider space. When you’re in one space all the time, it’s easier. I like when the artists are involved with the hanging as well. But all in all, It’s the quality of art that counts.”

Who can argue with that?

The next show at East Hampton’s Glenn Horowitz Bookseller, 87 Newtown Lane, is work by Matthew Satz, on view through March 23, 2013, glennhorowitz.com, 631-324-5511

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