Influential Voices: An Interview with Thinkspace’s Andrew Hosner

Andrew Hosner is the co-owner and curator of Thinkspace, an art gallery in LA’s Culver City Arts District that has established itself as one of the most respected voices in the new contemporary art movement. Over the past 14 years, Andrew’s discerning eye for who’s next, and his passion to push culture forward has resulted in an eye-popping artist roster, countless landmark shows and well-deserved international recognition.

We couldn’t be more excited to be teaming up with Andrew for our giant exhibition “Seeing Red”, which opens at Thinkspace on March 30th (6pm-9pm), and remains on display until April 20th. The show features all new works by 90+ artists spanning the past decade of Booooooom. Artists were each challenged to create within a 12″x12″ frame and incorporate the color red — the rest was up to them!

Sprinkled throughout the interview below are some of the artworks that were created for the show. If you’re interested in purchasing any of the work please email: [email protected].

The Conversation by Martine Johanna

Jeff Hamada: I’ve read (and listened to) a bunch of interviews you’ve done in the past, what can you tell me about yourself that you’ve never shared in an interview before?

Andrew Hosner: I obsessively drew Winnie the Pooh and his world of friends from the time I was like 4 until 7. My mom still has many of those drawings framed and hanging around my childhood home back in Michigan. From there, I moved on and grew to constantly copy the pages of Capt’n America and Fantastic Four comics… I still have the skills, I can copy just about anything put in front of me, I just never really developed that remarkable skill of being able to create my own world or draw without reference. Perhaps I should have pushed myself harder, but as I entered my teen years the world of heavy metal took over and I didn’t really draw anything past Metallica and Slayer logos and skulls for a long time haha. I’m happy with where I’m at and constantly get to use my creativity in exciting new ways. I feel it helps to be able to relate in some small way to the challenges our family of artists face with having to always come up with that next great image.

The Crying Hand by Esao Andrews

JH: What other stuff was young Andrew Hosner into? I’m gonna go out on a limb and guess you’ve always been a collector of things…

AH: You are right sir. I have ALWAYS collected something. I started with Comic Books, with the Fantastic Four and Captain America being my focus. Marvel over DC all day long (same with the movie franchises now, DC just can’t figure it out, I’m sorry). After comics I was obsessed with Kiss and Motley Crue to the point every square inch of my room was covered in memorabilia from both acts, which somehow transformed into my own mini baseball memorabilia museum due to the constant traveling to see the Chicago Cubs with my pops when I was like 10 to 16. I traded in my comic book collection towards more baseball cards and ended up putting together a pretty respectable collection. At that time, the internet didn’t exist yet, the monthly pricing guides on baseball cards available at every 7-11 on the planet weren’t in publication yet and you could still find absolute gems from the golden years of the game for pennies on the dollar in regards to what they were worth. Years later I would auction off my baseball card collection to help with the down payment on our home here in Los Angeles (wouldn’t have been possible otherwise).

Now, well… we’ve some 500+ works of our art in our collection, all purchased for the love of each piece, never for investment purposes. Never. If something increases in demand and value, bonus, but that’s never the goal behind a purchase. I usually go pretty blank when collectors ask us about if a piece or particular artist is “investment worthy”. I usually chuckle and tell them to buy some stocks or real estate and if they feel strongly about buying only artists as investment, they should be talking to Sotheby’s and not me as I hate portraying people I consider as friends and family as stocks / mere investments and it’s also no way to build a relationship with a patron. It’s so hard to really say for sure what something will be worth in 10-20 years, and if we’re lucky enough to still be rocking in another decade, I don’t want anyone to ever come back to me and question why the piece they bought from me years back didn’t increase in value as I had told them it would. It is always nice when it happens, but I feel that’s a different part of the art world and one I’m very happy isn’t as big a factor in our movement.

Thinkspace co-founders, Andrew Hosner, Shawn Hosner, L. Croskey

JH: Thinkspace has been around for 14 years now, that’s a huge achievement! What are some of the milestones that stick out in your mind as the most significant ones leading up to where you are now?

AH: Touchstone moments are many, but here are a choice few…

Our kick off exhibition with Buff Monster and Mear One live painting the side and back of our gallery off of Melrose Avenue. We had well over 1,000 art loving maniacs shut down the side street and alley our gallery was located on and we all knew then, at that moment, that we had created lightning in a bottle and we had to run with Thinkspace until we couldn’t run any longer. To think that was over 14 years ago now is just baffling to me on so many levels.

Our first time down to Miami for the GenArt New Vanguard fair. From there we did Aqua and then moved on to SCOPE whom we’ve developed a very strong relationship with over the past decade of working together.

Our first show outside of LA in Chicago, Illinois with the now defunct DVA Gallery. That show proved to ourselves that we could take our vision on the road and we have now curated 14 iterations of the “LAX / Hosting Airport Code” collaborative exhibition series and have a whole slew more lined up for 2019 and 2020 already. Look for us this June in SF with Heron Arts. This August in New Orleans with Red Truck Gallery and then in September we’ll be back in Chicago for a second show with our friends at Vertical Gallery.

The first BEYOND EDEN multi-gallery event that I put together and the feeling that we had really created community and helped a few thousand Angelino’s discover the magic of the LA Municipal Art Gallery and Barnsdall Art Park in Hollywood for the first time. So many historical exhibitions have been held there, it was magical to breath new life into the venue.

Working on so many amazing exhibitions in tandem with Born Free USA and raising tens of thousands of dollars for them to aid them in helping the world’s endangered species. Currently working on our next big event with them for 2020.

Andrew Hosner, Esao Andrews, James Jean, David Choe

Our first time collaborating with POW! WOW! Hawaii and how that relationship has blossomed over time to create so many historical and magical museum exhibitions.

Our first show in Hong Kong. Our first show in London. Our first show in Europe. Those are moments that empower us to top them with the next great curatorial adventure.

Working so closely on the launch of the Urban Nation Museum in Berlin, Germany and helping to build their permanent collection.

Our ten year anniversary show and having a line that stretched around the block all evening long to get in, in the RAIN all night in LA… that is just unheard of and humbled us to the moon and back. We stayed open an extra hour and a half that night to assure everyone got in to enjoy the show. I’ll never forget that night.

Working with Robert Williams. I still pinch myself regularly that we helped him launch the traveling “Slang Aesthetics!” exhibition and got him his dream exhibition at the highly respected LA Municipal Art Gallery.

Giving Greg Escalante a lifetime achievement award at our highly regarded BEYON EDEN series of events and having been able to work with him on the incredible JUXTAPOZ 20th Anniversary Exhibition that we helped put together. RIP Greg, your influence will forever be felt on this art movement. He fueled me to go after curating more museum exhibitions and gave me so much feedback and advice… I miss him dearly.

Too many touchstone moments to list them all here, but the above are the ones that come to mind immediately and have created lasting memories I won’t ever forget.

Lady In Red by Tran Nguyen

JH: When I met you and your wife Shawn for the first time it was immediately obvious to me how much you both genuinely love art. This is surprisingly not always the case in the art scene (at least in my experience). Can you talk a bit about authenticity?

AH: One visit to our home helps put into context just how much art is part of every facet of our lives. We just like to keep it real, we don’t put on a false persona or dress a certain way to fit in, we just are who we are. We rock out to hip hop and metal all day long during the week in the gallery. We walk out and say hi and welcome every visitor to our spot. We make our patrons feel like family during openings. We treat our artists with respect and give them feedback and support throughout the year, not just around show time. Folks can feel it instantly, we are always hearing great comments from our patrons like you all are so welcoming, there’s a warmth to your space, that they feel welcomed when they come in and that they love that we alway have music pumping and are open to discuss art and share other great shows in the area or going on in LA at that moment.

We really dislike galleries that help to fuel the perception that art is for the elite and don’t offer a welcoming vibe when you walk into their space. You can feel their gallery associates scan you from head to toe searching for designer brands and signs of wealth. There are a few spots within walking distance of us that have 3 to 4 staff that when you walk in, it’s like their heads do a small wave as they each look up and then back down immediately. I mean, I live in LA… there are SO many other places I could visit or things I could be doing, but I chose to come into YOUR SPACE, take the time to acknowledge that and create a welcoming environment.

Art is for everyone. Art should not need a huge write up to be understood. We work with artists to expose them to as many people as we can, we don’t aim to exclude or create false levels of entitlement. We could be working with much more established artists after all this time in the art game, so many have reached out trying to get involved, but we love the story behind helping to really build a foundation for an emerging artist to flourish from and when we are able to stick with a creative and grow with them over the long haul, watch them start families, to grow as a person… hell, that’s hard to put into words. It’s kind of like they’re our kids, since we don’t have any of our own. And with that come the same trials and challenges that having real kids have. Thinkspace is a family, it’s as simple as that.

Untitled by Erik Jones
Red Beast by Andrew Schoultz

JH: I know both of you previously worked in the music industry, what did the metal music scene teach you that has helped you succeed in the art world?

AH: The music industry taught me early on that collaboration is key on so many levels. The very notion of our ongoing series of “LAX /“ curated traveling exhibitions is based on the simple act of rock and metal bands going out on the road with other like minded acts from other like minded labels. Strength in numbers via a concentrated marketing attack focused towards a market base that you know will be receptive to what you’re sharing with them.

JH: In the early days, how were you finding artists to show? Where were you looking?

AH: Everywhere and anywhere, just like we do now. Social nets are only a small part of our search these days, but back then we were constantly out at many of LA’s underground art events and getting turned on to folks by artists we work with / were friends with, going to graduation shows, just all over. I’ve turned around to get a better look at a mural or a small wheat pasted piece of mayhem more times than I can count, a good drive around any major urban city always turns me onto a few new folks I end up following on Instagram and checking out what they’re all about.

Early on, I had a collector call me from a snowboard shop in Vancouver freaking out about this artist he had just discovered that was doing board graphics and how I had to work with her and see her work. He tracked her down and connected us and shortly thereafter we introduced the fine art world to the work of Camilla d’Errico in a duo show alongside a then 19 year old Sarah Joncas. Two incredible young female talents out of Canada that both continue to blow minds to this day, well over a decade later.

Bite Gang by James Chia Han Lee

JH: What about now? I’d assume a lot more are artists are seeking you out now.

AH: Yes, we are inundated with submissions via email and the ungodly DM submission. A quick DM saying “Check me out” is kind of the “You up?” version of a submission in this digital age I feel haha. Just half assed and barely any info is ever given and I always get a HUGE laugh when I do click on a DM submission and it’s from a private account. I’m not going to friend request you, just to view your work. I mean…

With that said, I will never loose site of the fact that I can’t believe creative types from all around the world hit us up, and show us love and have followed us for years in hopes of one day working with us. The mere fact that they took the time to do so… the fact they even know we exist, I try to never lose site of that simple notion. I’m still blown away that anyone outside of LA is into what we’re rocking and love our creative vision. Keep it humble, and life rewards you.

JH: I know you have a love/hate relationship with Instagram. If it died today (I think it will in a couple years) would it be a good or bad thing? Would it make life easier or more difficult for you?

AH: I think we’d be just fine and would pivot and adapt as we have always done. There would be some initial challenges, but I love a good challenge. We built up who we are before the days of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Lord knows many an artist that have based their entire career around Instagram would have a pretty harsh awakening, but I feel many of them need it. Never put all your eggs in one basket, a social network can go away at any time.

We’ve seen so much come and go since we opened in 2005, including witnessing some of the main galleries in our movement falter and go the way of the dodo, leaving a trail of debt and untrusting artists in their wake. There is good reason sadly that Nychos printed up his “Never Trust Your Gallerists” shirts. Sadly there are just too many folks making that shirt a worthwhile and justifiable wear.

"We really are the Baby Ruth candy bar floating in the country club pool of the blue chip art world and we love and embrace that."

JH: What does it mean to be a human curator in the era of algorithms?

AH: Algorithms are ultimately formed by quality content bringing traffic to a specific post, so I definitely still feel my eye for finding amazing artists has a strong place in this overly disconnected age that’s made worse by humanity’s ever increasing short attention span.

Sometimes we get cornered at art fairs by galleries that are trying to figure out why so many folks are in our booth all the time and why we have so many red dots and that ultimately leads them to our social networks to dig and then come back and question us by the weekend… they’ll ask how we got so many followers and how we did this and that and ultimately I have to tell them it boils down to quality content / amazing art from incredible creatives and that always leads them to taking that the wrong way.

I will state that I guess I can see why they would, but they’re usually showing much more abstract or experimental works that just doesn’t lend itself to social networks like the New Contemporary Movement does. Not to mention that the patron base we’ve garnered over the years is made up of folks that were raised in a visual world rich with pop culture references coming at them from every direction. We really are the Baby Ruth candy bar floating in the country club pool of the blue chip art world and we love and embrace that.

JH: How would you describe your taste when it comes to art?

AH: Wild and varied. Ever evolving. I am constantly exposing myself to new art via exhibition openings, art fairs, social media, email submissions, exploring urban area and mural districts and constantly feeding an unhealthy addiction to art books and show catalogs. I devour art. I can never get bored of searching for the next amazing artist that’s going to give me that feeling of discovery and wow factor. I know it instantly when I see it. Sometimes I see what they have in them, and we’ll follow them for 2 to 3 years before they’re ready for us to take them on. It may not always be immediate in terms of being gallery ready, but I know when I want to work with someone after seeing just a few pieces of their work.

Strollin by Sam Rodriguez

JH: How do you balance consistency with progression?

AH: I had a collector friend ask me this recently and I had to think about it for a bit… we’ve always just known when to shift and pivot when it comes to starting to introduce new talent and focus in on the next hot subgenre within the movement. It’s a gut feeling usually… When others start to copy us, that’s when we usually will morph a bit and be sure we are always blazing our own trail. It’s kind of like you know a social network is dead when your grandma becomes active on it. We pride ourselves on our diverse program of creatives that are at the top of their game and knowing when to make the right moves to best support their dreams.

JH: Are the things that were fun for you in 2005 still fun for you in 2019, or has what’s fun for you changed over time?

AH: I still love going through an art fair and just being blown away by how many different ways one can express themselves. I still love spending a Sunday afternoon on the couch with a couple new art books and just soaking them in. It’s still fun to put together a big group show and see how many varying facets of the movement I can pack under one roof. Taking the 100 artist group shows to markets that are seldom exposed to the New Contemporary Movement, let alone so many artists under one roof, nothing fuels me more than hearing folks comment that they feel like they’re walking through their Instagram feed in real life. That’s why I do what I do. I am exposed to too much amazing talent, someone has to shine a light on them in order so that they may live off their creativity and provide the world with an escape in the form of their beautiful creative visions. I am blessed to do what I do and to know so many amazing people that operate outside the norm of society, that buck the system and live to create and beautify the world around us.

JH: What are some of the most common mistakes you see young artists make?

AH: Sharing too much, too soon. Before the onset of social media, artists didn’t have a platform to really share the years that in the past were kept in the lab, hid away in the studio and then you’d start to come out of the studio once you had found your true unique voice. These days, Instagram is just inundated with clones and third and fourth generation reiterations of the leaders of our movement. Now, there’s nothing wrong with emulating your heroes and working on early pieces deeply inspired by them, but you still need to find your own voice. With so many being turned on to the New Contemporary Movement via socials, and not knowing the vast history of it all, often times give these younger artists who lack their own voice a sort of false support network. Where they get so much praise, they think it’s ok and just travel down a path of directionless pandering to the masses. Oh… and artists that feel the need to comment negatively on another artist’s post, the true trolls of the art world. Go be a bitter pile of self hate somewhere else, just don’t see the sense in that at all. See so many doing it lately too.

JH: Who are some of the new artists you’re working with that people should be on the lookout for?

AH: We’ve a history of introducing and breaking amazing talent out to a wider audience and the fresh young artists I’m really excited about at the moment are Kayla Mahaffey, Huntz Liu, Kobusher, Kathy Ager and Kaili Smith. Collectors that follow their hearts and watch who we introduce closely are already on board. Trust me when I say these are artists that over the next 3-5 years everyone will be after and hoping to add to their collections.

R1 by Huntz Liu
Battered & Bruised by Kayla Mahaffey

JH: I normally ask people one thing they’d like to accomplish this year but you have your schedule pretty planned out, so what about in five years? What would you like to have done by then?

AH: We’ve got our sights set on Hong Kong and Japan for the next five years, while continuing to visit new and exciting markets throughout North America and Europe. More museum exhibitions. More university exhibitions. Working towards a residency based model is the long term 10 year plan, while still maintaining a brick n’ mortar space as I feel there will always be a need for art galleries as meeting points for creatives and visionary types to exchange ideas and see “what’s next”. You can only enjoy the discovery of experiencing new art online so much, nothing compares to the in-person visceral reaction of feeling that buzz run up your spine when you find a piece that just connects all the dots for you.

JH: And what about in your lifetime?

AH: I’d like to see Thinkspace’s contribution to the New Contemporary Movement remembered and referenced in art history books and for all those that we’ve worked with over the years to remember that first and foremost, we did it for the love of this movement. My wife and I don’t have kids or any plans for them, so our hopes are to have our collection get accepted by a major local museum as a donation from our estate and serve as our legacy. We’ve been amassing a collection over the past 15 years that now includes well over 500 works from over 300 artists that serve to help capture a snapshot of this movement and at the same time have been purchasing every book and show catalog and zine published by artists from this movement, to help better contextualize our collection for future museum directors and curators. The more we can provide to contextualize the works and the collection itself, the better we can educate those at the lucky institution that gets to house our collection after we’re gone. This is a very important time in art history and we want to be sure it is properly cataloged for the ages.

“Seeing Red”

Opening: March 30th at Thinkspace, 6-9pm

On View: March 30th – April 20

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