By Katarina Hybenova
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[quote]It’s good for people to be scandalized; it’s good for people to see all kinds of art and everybody should be able to show it. [/quote]
1. Knowing exactly what she’s doing; 2. A great deal of energy; 3. Lively curly red hair. Those are probably the first three things you will notice when meeting Elizabeth Tully. Elizabeth who is one of the two Fountain Art Fair producers, lives in a loft across the street from Roberta’s. We took a walk on a crazy windy day around the factories of Morgantown, and talked a lot about Foutain and Elizabeth’s involvement with it. Elizabeth started as an intern at at Leo Kesting Gallery whose owners also happen to organize Foutain Art Fair, and it all went from there.
It’s just over a week before the Armory Week starts in New York, and I was curious how Elizabeth handles Fountain’s organizational team, 60 exhibitors, and the huge space of 69th Regiment Armory where Fountain is taking place this year.
How did you get involved with Fountain?
In 2009, I was interning with Leo Kesting, and also I helped out at Fountain. I was just taking money at the door, but it was an incredible experience, and I have never seen anything like that. There was this amazing energy! Later, it was the time of Fountain Miami. We went down to Miami, and somebody who was scheduled to run the front door the entire time got sick just one day before the show, so I did it, and it was pretty insane! When we came back to New York, my internship ended and John [Leo] and Dave [Kesting] hired me, and it grew from there.
Now you are a producer.
Yes, Rachel Esterday and I are producers. She deals with all the logistics, and I deal with the gallery services. She and I started at the same time. In New York we both worked at Fountain, but we didn’t know each other, because I was at the door the whole time. Then we were in Miami together, and we became friends and we started having our private meetings as a preparation for the meeitings with John, David and the rest of the staff. We would go to have coffee at Think Coffee at Mercer Street, and to discuss all our ideas that we were so excited about. John and Dave have been doing this for years and they would always tell us: “Ok, show us a plan, give us a proposal.” And Rachel and I would go to Think and work on that. We kept them asking if we can change small things, and subsequently they have given us more responsibility. We were like “Please let us do this!!!” It has been the best learning experience. I should have been in grad school now, because I was just applying when I started working with Leo Kesting. But they don’t teach you at school what working at a gallery entails. As a major in art history you can name all the artists in the history, but they don’t teach you how to work in the art world.
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[quote]As a major in art history you can name all the artists in the history, but they don’t teach you how to work in the art world.[/quote]
Rachel and I have gotten to a point where we play off each other. She is like a rock, never shows anything, while I am the talker. I don’t mind being the bad guy. Just imagine a situation where multiple things go wrong at the same time. The Internet is down, exhibitors can’t sell art; an exhibitor has a piece of art stuck in UPS somewhere in the city but nobody knows where; and there is a scheduling conflict. What are you going to do? This all is very intense and so I try to keep a clear head. I just put my game face on, because I know what it is and I am used to it. Never show exhibitors something’s going wrong. Always maintain that: “How is it going? Are you enjoying the show? Your booth looks great!”
How does it feel to produce such a giant event as Fountain Art Fair? How does the weekend look for you?
There is always this feeling of anticipation. It’s a combination of a little bit of nerves, a little bit of excitement, a little bit of unknown – What’s going to happen? Are people going to show up? Are people gonna get it and like it? There are all these questions. You have been working with all these people; you laid all your plans, and now it’s the Go Time: Let’s go! Then the exhibitors start showing up, and art is being installed, and that’s my favorite part… I love walking around as people are installing, and it’s this crazy energy that forms as everybody is working together. We have this thing “Shit Fountain People Say”: “Can I borrow your ladder? Can I borrow your drill? Do you guys have a wire? What about my lights?” And people are helping each other and loaning each other things. I love seeing the exhibitors bringing this amazing art, and getting along with each other. Our team is so energetic. You can feel this Fountain buzz, I can’t explain it. You are like: “Wow! This is going to be amazing!” Art in your face! That’s my favorite part!
As a producer, how do you keep up with all the multi-tasking?
I just keep my phone on! As the Fair progresses, I like to do laps. I am trying to say hi to everybody in the morning and see what’s up, if everybody is happy, if they are having fun, if they sold anything. I also learned that you have to take breaks. Take an hour and shut off. Let somebody else be on the floor…
Can you explain the Fountain logo inspired by Duchamps’ famous piece ‘Fountain’?
That’s also my tattoo [Elizabeth shows her tattoo on a forearm]. I got one in Miami this year! It was my 7th show. Well, the idea of Fountain Art Fair is to support egalitarian spirit in art. Art for art sake. I mean of course we also want people to sell, but mainly we think that if you have great art, you should be able to show it. What’s nice about it is that it’s becoming really viable. Other art fairs, museums, art organizations and the people whose attention was hard to get in the past are becoming interested in what we are doing. That was the whole purpose of the fair, and of the original Armory Show. Duchamps scandalized people with his Nude Descending A Staircase, and that’s good. It’s good for people to be scandalized; it’s good for people to see all kinds of art and everybody should be able to show it. These other fairs are wonderful, but if you’re a young gallery, young artist who is just starting out and are working to pay your bills, it can be really hard to participate, and we provide that space. I think it’s really important.
[quote]Art in your face! That’s my favorite part![/quote]
How old is Fountain?
We are celebrating seven years. We are one of the youngest fairs.
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How do you perceive the role of an art fair in the art world? Isn’t it too much? Meaning too much art, too many galleries concentrated on one spot?
I can speak only for Fountain, but I feel like it’s wonderful because it gives all these new people voice and a platform to be seen when when all the people are in town to see art. They will meet all the VIPs; maybe they will get coverage in Time Out NY or New York Magazine. I think that is beneficial to the artists and to the art world. There is new talent and there is opportunity to be recognized for your art. I think we do a service to the art world because we keep it alive and fun. Fountain isn’t just white boxes and boring art. I think it’s beautiful, because the whole thing is beautiful. The fair is art itself. The art show feels like a big explosion of craziness. I think it exposes art to a lot of people who aren’t normally exposed to art, because people come with their friends who tell them how much fun it was last year. That’s bringing art to people.
What is your background?
I graduated as an art history major from Hunter in 2006. I was commuting every day from Long Island; I was waitressing full-time and going to school full time. It was constant “hustling” and it was really intense. The art fair is really intense too, but I’m enjoying it, and when it’s not happening I am kinda bored…
How many exhibitors do you have this year?
We have almost 60 exhibitors; last year we had 25, so it’s growing a lot. The day we signed the lease for the 69th Regiment Armory, I couldn’t believe it… The Fountain on the pier was amazing, but it’s kinda hard to get there, because the subway is a little far and there is a highway, so you can’t get dropped off by a taxi there, and all those little things…So having the space, especially with its history is just the most exciting thing. I still can’t believe it. It’s really great and we are so happy.
What about the Fountain team?
Everybody’s effort on the team is amazing. You don’t get paid much doing something like this, obviously, so to do it you really have to love it and be passionate about it. And just having all these people around and all this energy is amazing.
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I felt it when I came to your meeting. Everybody was really amazing, right on the spot.
It helps that we don’t get paid a lot, because it keeps the people who are really passionate about it around. But you know if I could quit my babysitting job, if all of us could quit our day jobs, and just sit in the office and play with Fountain all day, that’s my dream… But for now, it’s not possible. The grassroots of Fountain feel really satisfying. I feel like I am working on something with my friends for my friends. It’s for all of us to shine: for the people on the team, for our artist and gallery friends, for everyone. I put so many of my artist friends in the show, and so did everybody on the team. It’s so great to be in the position where you are able to help out people. I didn’t have that when I was starting out. Epecifically there is so many amazing young women!