Highest Paid Person in Office

T.J. Carlin


Highest Paid Person in Office (HPPO) began as a forum to foster conversation between individuals who make culture happen. The first installment aims to create solidarity between members of one of the hardest-working and least-remunerated groups in the art world: the founders of artist-run spaces. The participants are Margaret Lee of 179 Canal in New York, Brandon Joyce of the Philadelphia Institute for Advanced Study, and Mateo Tannat, lately of Pauline in Los Angeles. (Richard Lee Davis, also a founder of PIFAS, is alluded to.)

Whether or not they intend to be purveyors of radicalism, the directors of artist-run exhibition spaces are usually bucking convention—replacing commercial venues with sundry alternatives, replacing money with barter, gifts, and volunteer labor. As the recent faltering of our economy has fostered a willingness to value other forms of exchange, these apartment galleries and project spaces have seen a resurgence both in numbers and in the esteem of their communities. Still, there are many questions to be answered, and problems to be solved.

This conversation hopes to work towards solutions by connecting some of the best in the biz. When you’re up at 4 AM trying to figure out who is going to help you carry a keg and a 5 lb bag of ice up three flights of stairs past your landlord, who has told you there’s no way you’re allowed to have an opening with more than 30 people, and there were over 100 at the last one, and you’re broke—it’s nice to know you’re not alone.

Read the entire conversation here.

Convention 1: Artist-Run Spaces

Please introduce yourself, your space, where it is located, when it started, why you started it.

Brandon Joyce: This is Brandon Joyce, signing in from suntastic Los Angeles, California, birthplace of The Price is Right and the Wheel of Fortune, high watermark in the Westerning of the Human Spirit, built from the settlements of Crespí and Portolà into the asphalt empire you now see today, home of the Staples Center and several Staples office supply store locations. I moved here, yet two months ago, from Philadelphia, the very navel of the New World Order, proud namesake of the Philadelphia Institute for Advanced Study, where you, Tova, where you, Richard, and where I united in common purpose to follow the torch of Reason down the path in its march toward Freedom. I can close my eyes now, and still smell its good sense from across the continental width.

Margaret Lee: Greetings from NY – I suppose you can all guess what it feels like here, a bit rushed and crowded. I got rained on while running errands. My key chain has 20 keys on it and I just made the 8th set of building/gallery keys for the artist who will be having the next show. The guy at the hardware store asked me if I was a house cleaner – I laughed and said “JANITOR.”

Mateo Tannat: I run a space that is rather homeless in Los Angeles. The namesake of the space is called Pauline. Hi to everyone! Heading out for fish and chips in Malibu, Will take my laptop to check in. Perhaps we should give weather reports, looks grey with patches of blue sky out here, rather cold with some rain.

Margaret: I’m heading out to Istanbul – it’s hard to leave the space and all the work I feel like I’m leaving behind. It’s one of the hardest things about being an artist running a space. Do you think it’s possible to maintain the balance? Does one have to choose eventually? And, why do we do the things we do?

Brandon: I can probably speak for Rich when I say: closing the doors on the Institute campus was one of the easiest things I’ve ever had to do. It felt like the first day of summer vacation. Spaces are an addiction, a disease. Once you begin a space, you will keep doing it for the rest of your live-long years.

I may finally be on the road to recovery though. This time around, I want to be a joiner. I want to look up spaces in the yellow pages and go from there. Bad wiring? Flooding? Empty studios? Cops?… Not my problem. Talk to Boss-Man.

But I do love it. God, how I love it. To see an empty building and picturing it bursting open wide with energies— like a beacon visible from outer space. It is a drug.

Mateo: I think the two go together for me: for instance, some display ideas I have had always sit in the background of other works that are needed for my own exhibitions. And so when it comes time to organize a show, slowly a theme or meta-structure is developed that uses these latent ideas for display and contextualization, and a curation is developed. Coming up, I am being represented in a three-person show both as myself and as Pauline – or, I hope, as an example of a philosophy that will represent Pauline – which I will need to make clear (or unclear) in this first exhibition.

And Brandon: I agree about bacon, long fried strips with paint. Beacons. I am now at a point of also searching for empty fecund space, leaving my meager apartment behind for better digs. In short, I want to buy land.


Margaret: Yes, running a space is addictive. I’ll close the doors on 179 CANAL on May 30th for summer vacation. I’m still trying to decide whether or not I can continue for another year of organizing and finding funds. Sometimes, when I am mopping the floors after a really messy install, illegally dumping trash, etc., I dream of my bed, of watching movies and sleeping in – at that moment, I want to throw everyone out and shut the space. But then the shows come together, the people come together and everyone is happy again. And again, I start looking for funds and new ways of keeping the space going. The space is beyond me at this point – and it feels like it has to keep going, in providing a space for artists to make work, curate, collaborate and perform without a larger institutional curator or commercial dealer involved. Not that having these people in your life is a bad thing, but I know it makes artists a bit more self-conscious, or at least it makes me feel that way.

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