Talking with A gallery owner with a nose for talent

Name: Jessica Silverman
Age: 30
City: San Francisco
Position: Owner and director of the Jessica Silverman Gallery in San Francisco

Jessica Silverman

J.: Your gallery is known for discovering emerging artists, no matter what age or medium, and bringing them to an international audience. How do you find these artists?

Jessica Silverman: I’m constantly looking. I’m searching the Internet, I’m looking at blogs and websites. I go to a lot of open studios. The California College of the Arts [in San Francisco] has an open studio every year and I’ll go to that, and the artists we get come from interactions like that.

I’m also constantly talking to collectors about what they’re looking at. We’re working with emerging artists of many ages — from 25 years old to 77 — so a lot of education has to be done on my part in order for me to articulate to my collectors what the work is about. The education starts with me in the gallery with my staff, and we like to have in-depth conversations with the artists.

J.: It’s clear you enjoy working with the artists. Do you feel the same way with art collectors?

JS: I equally love working with collectors because they go hand in hand with artists. When an artist gets really excited about their work, I can’t wait to call collectors who I know will be equally as excited. This really is a relationship business. It’s all built on trust. Once a collector trusts you, it builds your credibility.

J.: Becoming a collector sounds like a daunting task. How do you help new buyers?

JS: I try to narrow the focus for a collector who’s just starting to collect. The first thing we do is look at a lot of stuff. We look at hundreds of images and try not to buy anything for a year. We’ll read about the work and I try to narrow their search by using things they’ve found engaging.

Having a focus helps build a great collection and a great program in a gallery. What we always tell collectors is that it’s great to go to an art fair because you see a lot of work at one time, but it’s also really important to see exhibitions, because at an art fair you typically only see one or two examples of an artist’s work. It doesn’t really give you the best idea of what the practice is.

J.: You opened your gallery in San Francisco in 2008 and had two locations before recently moving into your new space in the Tenderloin. What drew you to the area?

JS: We’re one of just a few businesses of our size that have come into this neighborhood in a long time, but we’re really happy to be here and looking forward to help build the community. It’s a really fabulous place to work. We have a great space and a lot of room. We want to be a positive presence for the area.

J.: You started out as an artist but shifted toward becoming a curator, dealer and owner. How did that happen?

JS: I studied fine art and studio practice [at Otis College of Art and Design] in L.A. While I was there making my own work I realized I actually much preferred talking about other people’s practices. In 2005, I moved to San Francisco and I went to California College of the Arts for my master’s. While I was there I figured out that I wanted to own my own gallery.

J.: What made you want to stay in San Francisco after school?

JS: I had been living in L.A. prior to coming to San Francisco, and I felt like if I were to go to Europe to do a master’s program, I’d lose a lot of connections I had already started to develop in the California area. Also, San Francisco is always trying to get involved in the art community, and I think there are a lot of ways to do that here.

J.: What was your Jewish upbringing like?

JS: I grew up fairly Reform. We went to temple for the High Holy Days, and I had a bat mitzvah and did all of that kind of fun stuff. When I was at CCA I worked very briefly at the JCC [in San Francisco]. It was quite fun.

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