The following post is part of "The Conversation Project" - a series of interviews with influencers in the contemporary art world.
Anneliis Beadnell has been a Director at P·P·O·W for the last five years. P·P·O·W was founded by Wendy Olsoff and Penny Pilkington; the gallery was contributed to the launching of the East-Village Art Scene in New York City in 1983. P·P·O·W now operates out of Chelsea and is known for a diverse roster of artists from all around the world and is known for commitment to the work of pioneering artists and the next generation of artists who create work exploring issues of gender, sexuality, race and social inequality in all media.
Brett Wallace: What was your origin in art?
Anneliis Beadnell: Being raised in northeast Ohio I had regional exposure to various traditions in craft. My mom dabbled with watercolors and embroidery. She had an artistic eye especially in regards to color. And my father really loved antiques, and collected antique glass. So I spent a lot of my childhood wandering through antique stores, trying to not break anything and spending most of the time hanging by the marbles. But really, my interest in art began when my folks took me to the Cleveland Museum of Art when I was three. It was a Good Friday and my dad had off of work.
I was an only child and begging them for a dog so bad. We traveled around so my parents were very resistant to my idea of a perfect companion. And they said... we’ll get you a cat. It’s neither here nor there. But we ended up going to the Cleveland Museum of Art on Good Friday and I saw this beautiful marble statue of a little girl my height, nude, standing next to a dog. The little girl’s name actually was very close to mine "Elisa" a portrait of Napoleon’s niece by Lorenzo Bartolini c1810. And it just made this lasting impression on me. Here comes Good Friday again the next year and I go up to my father, now four years old, and I say "dad, can we go back to the museum to visit the little girl with the dog?" And at that minute, my dad was shocked. How can such a little kid remember this sculpture that she has seen once, from a year ago?
Needless to say we became members and then they enrolled me into art classes. I was up at the Cleveland Museum nearly every weekend finding my own identity through the artwork. And then my father actually really blossomed and enjoyed my instinctual reactions to Van Gogh, Cezanne, Picasso and especially Monet’s Water Lilies. I remember my first lesson on perception when Dad brought me really close to the Monet and he would ask what do you see? And I would - oh, it’s just paint blotches. They’re very thick and they’re very abstracted up close. And then he would bring me to a further distance from the painting and turn me back around again and then ask me what I would see and there was the pond and water lilies.
BW: Did you make art at that time?
AB: I did draw and paint. As I matured into my teenage years, I picked up my dad’s manual camera, his Pentax and developed my own eye. I became the photo editor of my yearbook and worked in the local film shop.
Shooting 35mm and printing photos became a passion so I went into my undergraduate thinking that I was going to become a photo illustrator. I went through the journalism department at Kent State University. A part of my liberal arts requirements was Art History 1 and 2. I ended up having a fantastic professor, Dr Gustav Medicus, who changed my life and reconnected my passion with the arts that for a time was dormant. He ignited it and that's what good Profs that love their job do. Then I was questioning, do I really want to do photo illustration? Most likely, my job would end up shooting stock photography or medical photography and I was not interested in that whatsoever. So I figured, why not just follow my heart. And I was so nerdy and driven that my professors ended up challenging me to do the coursework of the other grad students that were in the same classes. They gave me some opportunities to lecture and present papers focused on Renaissance, Mannerism, and Baroque in particular. Some of my professors and mentors thought that I was going to go on and be this great art historian, publishing books on the lost frescoes of Pontormo. But unfortunately, I hit a wall until I took a course on gender and sexuality in contemporary art. My first introduction to the works of Carolee Schneemann, Barbara Kruger, Paul McCarthy and all these other fantastic artists that were provocative and groundbreaking. I thought that their work was timely and it inspired me to want to interact with contemporary culture and the state of the world. I felt like I could be more of an active citizen within the dialogue of current culture through being able to collaborate with living artists. I didn’t want to go on and write my assumptions or "research" of what happened in the 17th Century about some dead white guy.
BW: What happened after school?
AB: I knew I had to get my Master’s after my undergrad and I did not want to burn out. So I ended up teaching English in Prague just to get out and switch up my vision. I got to see some fantastic exhibitions over there. And really just reenergize what my hopes and goals were. I think I had to remove myself in order to come back and really see. And then I started applying to various Master’s programs…ended up getting into a few places. Sotheby’s was doing their first program in New York City, which was kind of an extension of what they’d been doing in London for a period of years then certified by the University of Manchester. I got into their program for contemporary art theory and there were about 25 of us in that program the first year. It was very interesting. I know they changed the program quite a bit since. As soon as the economic crash happened, I graduated with my Master’s, which was a challenging time and I knew that I wanted to continue to stay in New York. I knew there weren’t very many opportunities for me in Ohio. I mean they’re fantastic institutions there. They certainly weren’t hiring. They were laying people off. And the same goes for a lot of places here in New York. I ended up interning at a small gallery called Jack the Pelican Presents, which used to be in Williamsburg off Driggs. And, I worked with the gallery owner there that was an eccentric to say the least.
BW: What was the most memorable lesson from working there?
AB: My most memorable lesson was not to tell the artist what you think the vision of their exhibition should be, but rather let them tell you.
"It’s not about you. It's not about the Curator's ego. It's about their exhibition and their visual dialogue and how the works interact with one another organically to create an overall vision".
Strong enough work dictates where it should be within a space. Don't jump the gun. It’s really about taking a deep breath and being okay with the quietness of a situation, not overbearing and finding balance. The platform is a clean slate and in P.P.O.W's case it comes with experience.
BW: At what point did like P.P.O.W make it on to your radar and what was it about the gallery’s programming and vision that resonated with you?
AB: P.P.O.W hit my radar when I was in Grad school. Their program was always bold and unique. Honestly, I didn’t even know if I could acclimate to a gallery job. When I was first searching for a career path the idea of working in a for profit gallery seemed intense and intimidating. For years galleries have been criticized in the media as the center of excess, wealth and luxury. There was more in the media about the market than about artists collaborating with galleries to inspire and push our culture to progress.
I was drawn to P·P·O·W through their program that was so courageous, and full of substance that was aligned with my interests and passions. I wasn’t interested in working for a gallery that had a tight and predictable niche. P·P·O·W’s programming was unapologetic and not pandering to the close minded. The artists were presenting political and feminist works head on. They were showing work that was difficult to acquire and they felt more like an institution then a for-profit.
BW: How would you describe the vision?
AB: Absolutely courageous. One of the first shows that they ever did in the East Village, and this is now 1984, was Sue Coe; she’s no longer represented by a major gallery because that is too close to the consumerism that she’s making art against. Her works are in your face political and lifted the veil on animal cruelty and veganism (before vegan was even a thing listed on menus). Wendy Olsoff and Penny Pilkington foundedP·P·O·W in 1983 and they still are here, over thirty years later they are still standing behind artists that make challenging work because they know how important their role is in providing an ethically sound and invaluable platform. When I came on board in 2011, with a wide-eyed art historical perception I recognized what they’ve been able to accomplish and applauded them. And they weren’t, in my opinion, giving themselves enough credit at the time.
Ethics in the gallery are important to me and I cannot begin to summarize how much Wendy and Penny have taught me. In a way I think one aspects that really helps my dealing is that I’m not compensated solely on commission. So if I’m speaking to a collector, I’m giving you a lecture essentially on a piece as if I would present it to an academic, a curator, anyone. I’m giving everyone the same information as deep as they want to go. And, if they buy the work, that’s great because that means that they loved it and they intended on purchasing it anyway. I don’t have a gun to their head– it’s the number one rule in collecting. Buy what you love.
I love speaking about works, and giving insights and historic facts behind a work that you might not be able to see from just taking it in. So I really go there if the person wants to hear it. Sometimes collectors are just like no....This looks fabulous over my dining room table and that’s all I need to talk to you about. And that’s fine. I can swallow it and walk away. It's their prerogative. On the flip side, I’ve met people that are laying out their new homes around artwork, around the collections that they have because they want to create an environment that supports, illuminates or rotates around the work. And already when they’re buying it, they have plans for that piece how it will be preserved and whether it will go to an institution or their family.
BW: Do you collect at all and if so, what type of work?
AB: I do as much as I can afford to. I started collecting after living with works artists would give me as gifts, after collaborating on shows. I realize my existence was bettered by living with works. I became even more inspired. I did a show at Jack the Pelican with this amazing artist from L.A. who I’m still thankful to be friends with, Eric Yahnker. Eric is just absolutely brilliant, extremely talented and so full of humor; very courageously full of humor. He wasn’t shying away from work that could be a one-liner, a visual pun, or taboo which I thought was refreshing. I was seeing so much dry art strictly about process and it was great to be able to interact with work that felt honest, makes you laugh or makes you feel uncomfortable so a laugh becomes a knee jerk defense. Eric gave me a piece for helping him do the show. And it was this color pencil work on paper of an exact replica of a Sunkist tuna can on its end and it was called Tuna Reclined. Super cheeky with art historical reference.
When he gave me the work it was a really difficult time for me. And I was struggling financially to even stay in New York City. And seeing this piece reminded me that not everything is the way it seems. And that’s okay. It gave me courage to have my own perspective, have my own opinion, go against the grain and just keep on moving forward. When I realized that an artwork that you have in your life could do that for you every single day...well I was hooked.
Robin Williams, gave me a piece. And so artists then started giving me works through our relationship, and if I was really enthused about something that nobody else cared about, they felt like it was safe with me, which I also felt was really kind of a beautiful thought. I became a keeper. So in a way I am taking care of these objects because I do plan on donating them and passing them on.
BW: Let's shift gears and talk about David Wojnarowicz. I'm looking forward to his and upcoming Whitney Retrospective in 2018. Could you talk about his work?
AB: David was completely self-taught. His early work was really about experimentation and documenting experiences and influences. The scene of the 80s was this very odd punk kind of utopia; he worked at Danceteria where Keith Haring also worked and there he met Tommy Turner among other artists. He and Tommy would get off of work and go out and shoot photographs in abandoned warehouses because the city was still gritty and unrestricted. They had a derelict playground at their fingertips in regards to different compositions and architectural structures they could explore. David spear-headed, along with Mike Bidlo, art projects at the piers that were abandoned. It really became a place where David, Mike Bidlo, Kiki Smith, Luis Frangella, Kim Jones, Rhonda Zwillinger, Judy Glantzman, Betty Tompkins and all these fantastic artists could congregate and experiment. They all knew about one another and were collaborating with one another in various degrees. It was really an active dialogue that doesn’t exist today in the same way because, well it’s not really possible. We try to resurrect artist communities through residencies and through shared studios and these types of things but it’s not the same. It’s more formal.
Now I think more and more artists will continue to move out of the city unfortunately for more space, more financial freedom and better quality of life. One of our artists, Portia Munson, lives up in Catskill and every time I go up to visit her, it’s so beautiful. I can understand the influence on her work. Carolee Schneemann left her studio loft for New Paltz and never looked back.
For David Wojnarowicz, a big release was getting in a car and driving out to the New Jersey swamps to nature and when he could trips out west to the desert. In a lot of his journals early on in his teenager years as he was forming his own identity; there’s a great love for animals. Lizards, frogs, beetles, snakes - all of these small things that are overlooked. I think that through nature was a safe haven to escape from his tumultuous and abusive childhood.
Towards the end of David’s life, he knew he had AIDS, he was angry with the government for letting people die and turning a blind eye. And that’s when he really heightened his political stance and he was moving towards an activist dialogue within his artwork. He made In the Shadow of Forward Motion a collaboration with Ben Neill; which he performed at the Kitchen in 1989 and then created a film under the same title with powerful unapologetic language calling out the government and societal structures on their inhuman ignorance towards the AIDS crisis. I’m proud Wendy and Penny have been showing David (and Martin) for over 20 years – And they haven’t stopped. They have kept their work relevant and accessible to the next generation while staying true to the spirit and intentions of their work.
BW: What is your advice for emerging artists from the lens of a Chelsea gallery?
AB: If you’re emerging, gather ideas around which gallery you would be most suitable to collaborate with but create your own platform in the meantime. It’s about your work, your voice, your community and culture. Get that website up that shows a range of your work. Apply to residencies. Get on artist registries. Get yourself out there. Not in a way of emailing the director of the gallery that you want to be repped by because that’s not going to work. It’s just not. I can't look at anything that people submit thoroughly. It’s just that I have an insane amount of work on my plate. It’s hard to find the time. Right now I currently work for over 25 artists. So it’s really getting yourself embedded in community of artists or start your own critique group with other artists that you’re like-minded to or you’re friends with or that you have a good time having studio visits with. Artist-to-artist studio visits are brilliant and invaluable.
Along with Robin Williams, we started working with Elizabeth Glaessner and then I was able to bring on a brilliant artist named Jessica Stoller; three women around the same age concerned with the same issues of gender and feminism within their work. Organically they just started doing studio visits together and it has worked for their own work brilliantly in a way that it isn’t about what your dealer thinks. It isn’t about anything other than the dialogue you want to bring out through your work. Often solidifying your own voice and finding iconography that reflects that is half of the battle.
I want to collaborate and work with an artist that if they were in the middle of nowhere and no one was to ever lay eyes on this work, they had to create it because it was this yearning. It was this calling. It was something that they had to get out almost animalistically. I’m looking for something that is that rooted and that pure of an intent in creationism. Their brave and unapologetic and don’t care about trends or the “art market”.
Artist’s role in society is to break boundaries. They’re able to go faster than the speed of light in regards to dialogues that are challenging our current climate of culture. Do it. Those are great artists. Real freedom to me is being able to completely just throw caution to the wind and say what really needs to be said because a lot of people aren’t artists. That’s definitely why I’m still working here.
BW: We were talking earlier about the tattoo on your finger. Could you share the context behind it?
AB: ITSOFOMO. It means In the Shadow of Forward Motion. And In the Shadow of Forward Motion he was talking about the speed of society and how it’s consistently making decisions for its citizens based on capitalism, money, industry and greed.
One day, I was walking my dog – it comes back around to my dog again, and I was thinking about the weight of this statement…In The Shadow of Forward Motion… And we were literally walking in our shadows moving forward because the sun was at our back. I got goose-bumps all over and the statement became physical. It’s such a beautiful poetic thought. I’m always in the shadow of forward motion. I’m an art historian. David was in his art, in the shadow of forward motion because he was looking at civilizations that had been broken down. He was referencing early civilizations, their structures and how they shared responsibilities and took care of each other. If society was really moving forward, why do we turn our backs on one another?
It really is extremely inspiring to be able to work with these artists and continue their voice and their language into a new demographic. There’s been very few people that I’ve met now that don’t know about David’s work or Martin’s work or Carolee’s work or Martha Wilson’s work or all these great artists that we work with. But, when I do meet them, I’m so excited because it is my chance to start a spark of interest…. I only get cover the tip of the iceberg of these prolific artists, but hopefully the knowledge I do share will touch them enough that they’ll want to, you know, dive in themselves because there’s enough for all of us to cherish.