A Conversation with Jessica L. Porter: Gallery Owner, Lawyer and…“Wonder Woman”.Share
"In the artwork I’m looking for a high level of skill and someone pushing their medium to it’s fullest. In the artist I am looking for dedication, loyalty and the energy to be in this difficult business for a long time."
Jessica L. Porter began her career with a dual degree in Art History and Foreign Languages (French and Japanese), quickly finding herself in the curatorial department of the Smithsonian’s American Art Museum. From there, Porter broadened her career by taking an opportunity to use her language background through sales and marketing in the art shipping industry. Porter’s interests only continued to broaden and soon became consumed with the research and investigation of issues surrounding stolen art, primarily during World War II. She then entered law school focusing on art law and intellectual property issues while founding the Entertainment Art and Sports Law organization at the University of Maryland School of Law. After obtaining her Juris Doctor, she moved to New York and began practicing law. During the years of practicing law, Porter realized that her passion still remained in the art industry and continued to be involved in the art market by working in galleries on weekends, assisting friends and colleagues purchase art and volunteering in museums. The seeds for opening an art gallery were soon planted and officially launched in 2006. Currently, in addition to running Porter Contemporary, she runs a consulting business utilizing her art and law background that focuses on assisting foreign galleries navigate the U.S. art market, she teaches courses on the basics of art collecting and is the founder of ArtToGift, an online affordable art venue. Porter has a resounding commitment to being a leader and resource to other women and is the founder and president of Raandesk Women, a collaborative women’s networking group, a member of the Leadership Advisory Board for the Girls Scouts of Greater New York and is an active member and committee leader of ArtTable.
We asked Jessica L. Porter a few questions:
The Creativity Post: You are a lawyer with vast experience in business. When and why did you launch your own gallery? What motivated you to do so?
Jessica L. Porter: Before law, I had an art career focused in museums as a curator, and then later with an art shipping company doing sales and marketing. I couldn’t quite figure out what direction I wanted to go in art but became interested in various legal issues surrounding stolen art. I wanted to explore these interests and thought that having a law degree would help my art career…at the time I had no intention of practicing. I did, in fact, end up practicing but along the way always found ways for it to relate to art. I took the time to really evaluate my experiences and realized that I really wanted to own my own business. At this point I was already art dealing independently and had many clients whom were lawyers looking to invest in art. I also knew many artists whose work I thought was strong who did not have representation. So, in 2006, I opened the gallery and I’m happy that most of those original clients AND artists are still with me today!
The Creativity Post: What is the most important quality of a successful gallery owner? I’ve heard that this industry is very competitive. Is that true?
Jessica L. Porter: Patience. Selling artwork takes time, it isn’t like selling anything else so you have to have patience on all sides. Buyers take their time deciding and certainly should. Artists are anxious to get work exposed and sold. As gallerists we are in between always balancing and being patient.
As for the competitiveness of the industry…every business is competitive but the art world can be particularly so. I like to collaborate with others so I find the competitive nature of some to be prohibitive to that but there are plenty of others in the business who are open to sharing and I tend to focus on building those relationships rather than trying to work with individuals who are more closed off.
The Creativity Post: How do you select artists? And, what are you looking for in the artwork?
Jessica L. Porter: I get this question a lot and it isn’t an easy one to answer. Of course selecting artists and artwork are not always the same thing and I’m not always selecting them with the same purpose. If and when I’m looking to add an artist to the roster of the gallery I am always looking at the long term and the big picture. In the artwork I’m looking for a high level of skill and someone pushing their medium to it’s fullest. In the artist I am looking for dedication, loyalty and the energy to be in this difficult business for a long time. Luckily, many of the artists I currently work with, I’ve worked with since I opened in 2006.
The Creativity Post: What adjective would be the most appropriate to describe the Porter Contemporary Gallery?
Jessica L. Porter: I think either resilient or innovative, both definitely apply.
The Creativity Post: What is “creativity” in art?
Jessica L. Porter: Defining creativity in anything is so subjective, I don’t think it is actually possible. In art, we are all held to higher standard of creativity than other industries so it is doubly difficult. I can really only say I know it when I see it.
The Creativity Post: If you had a (magic) power to make a few changes in the art market, what they would be?
Jessica L. Porter: Whenever I think of magic powers my first thought is Wonder Woman’s bullet protecting bracelets….I loved those as a kid and would wander off with my mom’s jewelry to fight injustice. Unfortunately, those bracelets are not that helpful in the art world! I think I’d like the ability to take away the façade of the art world. Often people like, see and talk about what they are supposed to like see and talk about. I’d lift that and get people to be more honest and open about what they really like! We have this exhibition opening in September called Smoke & Mirrors by painter Jason Bryant and that was certainly his inspiration for the show….kind of making fun of the fact that we all use smoke and mirrors to put up our façade but to also say it isn’t working.
Porter Contemporary is pleased to announce Smoke and Mirrors, a solo exhibition of paintings by Jason Bryant from September 6 through October 20, 2012 with an opening reception with the artist on September 6th from 6:30 – 8:30 PM. Bryant will explore loneliness, vulnerability and frailty through these beautifully photo-realistically rendered film stills coupled with either Bryant’s signature skateboard graphics and his pixelated characters. A talk will be given by the artist followed by a cocktail reception at the gallery on Thursday, September 20 from 6:30 - 8:30 (RSVP to email@example.com).