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Mark Quint Put San Diego on the Art World Map

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Aired 8/31/09

Mark Quint is the subject of Quint: Three Decades of Contemporary Art, a retrospective at the California Center for the Arts in Escondido. He talks about running one of San Diego's most influential galleries, the San Diego gallery scene, and how the current economic climate is affecting artists and galleries.

Ingenious Zeus by Manny Farber
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Above: Ingenious Zeus by Manny Farber

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. When you think art gallery you usually think of a place, but when dealing with celebrated gallery owner Mark Quint it can also be a state of mind. The Quint Gallery of Contemporary Art is, of course, located in La Jolla but, over its almost thirty year history, Quint Gallery has moved some shows downtown or to backyards, or industrial workplaces to serve the needs of an artist. Now a retrospective of the work presented by Mark Quint is also being exhibited outside the gallery in a new show at the California Center for the Arts Escondido. The exhibit is called "Quint: Three Decades of Contemporary Art.

The show is a tribute to a man whose eye for art is credited with improving the cultural climate of our city. It's a pleasure to welcome Mark Quint to These Days. Good morning, Mark.

MARK QUINT (Gallery Owner): Good morning. Thank you for having me.

CAVANAUGH: Now, I just paraphrased Hugh Davies, the Director of the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, who says you have improved the cultural life of San Diego, and he goes on to say that no one has done more in the last 30 years to develop the San Diego art scene. And I'd be interested to hear what you think your gallery has done for the local art world.

QUINT: Oh, boy, that's quite a question because it's been done in such small increments that – I started out just trying to kind of help myself. I was jobless, started a small gallery. And started working with artists from this region, artists from Los Angeles, and quickly realized that there was a real need to let artists do what they do best, which is plan exhibitions and show the work the way they like to show it. So…

CAVANAUGH: Right.

QUINT: …what I've really done is step back and give an artist a space to work and tried to connect them with local collectors, local curators, and then curators outside the area, and other dealers and other collectors outside.

CAVANAUGH: Now what was the art world like, the art scene here in San Diego, when you opened your first gallery back in 1981?

QUINT: There were three or four small galleries. Jose Tasende, which was probably the largest gallery at the time. Tom Babior in La Jolla. There was a scene starting to happen in downtown San Diego. I opened in '81 in La Jolla and moved downtown in '83. There were a few really good galleries. Patty Aande Gallery, PawnShop Gallery downtown, so it was kind of rough, tumble, not much money. There was…

CAVANAUGH: Uh-huh.

QUINT: There were very few collectors at that time, at least collectors for artists from this region. So it was a grassroots situation at that time, and it – the ebb and flow of the gallery scene since. You have a great couple years as far as excitement, then it seems to die off. I think we're in an interesting period right now because of the economic climate. There's not a lot of hope of sales, so people tend to take some more risk. And it's – I like what's going on right now.

CAVANAUGH: When you opened up in '81, what did you see that – What was lacking that you wanted to bring to the art world here in San Diego?

QUINT: You know, I had been away from San Diego for ten years. Out of high school, I – I grew up here in San Diego. I moved to San Francisco out of high school, went to art school at the San Francisco Art Institute. Moved to Hawaii and taught school. Moved back to San Diego and I, like I say, I'd been gone for ten years, so I didn't know if there was a lack of art in San Diego. I didn't really know the situation here, so I really jumped into it out of the blue. Opened a closet-sized gallery, very tiny, and just started out. It seemed very exciting to me at the time. I was 27 years old, I was dealing with young artists that didn't expect much in the way of sales. They just wanted to get the work out. So I thought it was a thriving art situation. In hindsight, I realize that it's – there wasn't a heck of a lot going on. UCSD had a fantastic program going, great professors. And that was really the scene: San Diego State, UCSD, and the small colleges; Mesa's always had a good art program, Palomar.

CAVANAUGH: I'm wondering, over this almost 30 years of the Quint Gallery, what are those exhibits that really stand out in your mind. I spoke about the ones that took place outside the gallery, you set up in industrial spaces and so forth. That was an innovation here in San Diego, wasn't it?

QUINT: It seemed to be. I started – At one point the art market really collapsed, I'd say in '88-'89. I had a gallery downtown, so I started showing work out of my house and then I collaborated on a project that we – that was called Quint Krichman Projects, and it was a residency program. And with my partner, Michael Krichman, we would invite artists from – nationally, from New York and so forth, and internationally, London, to come here and work from anywhere from four month – I mean, four weeks to six months. And we'd introduce collectors, curators, to the artists while they were here. They could actually see them work, then we'd show the work after and in large studios and exhibition spaces we had up in Miramar. So that's kind of a, you know, out of the box type…

CAVANAUGH: Right.

QUINT: …exhibition situation.

CAVANAUGH: What kind of shows stick in your mind?

QUINT: Well, a show that sticks in my mind because people keep mentioning it is a show I had in 1983 where I invited an artist from New York to come out and do an exhibition. And she came. Her name was Moira Sheehan. And she arrived without anything as far as materials. She came to San Diego during a storm, big storm, palm trees had been pushed over, a lot of destruction at that time. And she had always thought of San Diego or Southern California as having no weather…

CAVANAUGH: Uh-huh.

QUINT: …so she was amazed by this. And her whole – her idea was to take a palm tree and push it through the gallery from the front door, parking lot, through the front window, through two walls, ending up in the back room, the office. Well, she couldn't find a palm tree that would work so she ended up with taking a telephone pole and pushing it through the gallery and it – called it "Cupid's Arrow." And it was spectacular. It was so simple but everybody that saw it still talks about it to this day.

CAVANAUGH: I can see why that would…

QUINT: Yeah.

CAVANAUGH: …stick in your mind. Yeah, absolutely. I'm wondering, I'm intrigued by something you said earlier about the idea when you came to San Diego, there were so few collectors. Is it part, do you think, of a gallery's job to nurture collectors?

QUINT: Oh, definitely. I think it's part of the job because that's how you keep the gallery going. You know, we'd like to think of it as money comes in because you're doing a good job. Well, money comes in to keep the gallery in business because collectors are interested in buying and supporting artists and the work you're showing. So the only way to do that is to nurture collectors. And, you know, some collectors, they fill up their wall space and then they're gone. Other collectors, you know, have warehouses and store work and rotate it. So you're always having to meet new people, to nurture new collectors, so it is a big part of the business.

CAVANAUGH: I'm speaking with Mark Quint and we're talking about the fact that there's a retrospective of the work his gallery has done. It's called "Three Decades of Contemporary Art," and it's currently at the California Center for the Arts Escondido, now through December 31st. And speaking of the collection, Mark, what is in this Escondido exhibition? Which artists are featured?

QUINT: Well, I'm showing 49 different artists, about 105 different artworks, from very young artists, the youngest or the newest artist I'm showing, Kelsey Brookes is an artist that I'll be having an exhibit with in November. Oldest, well, I'm showing Manny Farber, who I've worked with for 25 years, passed away last year. Italo Scanga, another artist that passed away, was a teacher for a long time at UCSD. Showing artists from London, Germany, so it's very eclectic, from abstraction to figurative to realism, the whole gamut.

CAVANAUGH: I wonder what your feelings are when you see that, when you see this exhibition and it's based on the shows that have been in your gallery. What kind of feelings go through your mind? Do you – Are you reminded of certain instances, certain artists, you know, because you're seeing a big chunk of your life's work there.

QUINT: Yeah, it was quite an experience because I tend or probably most people in the contemporary art world, you're moving on to the next thing. I mean, it is contemporary. So you tend to forget a lot that you've done. And then you see the work that you put into it. You remember the shows. One piece I'm showing is by an artist, Tara Donovan, who'll be showing at San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art in, I believe, October. It's two million straight pins that are configured in a square that takes about two days to build. I've shown her, not one person shows but she did numerous group shows, and it's just – the work that is – goes into these labor intensive pieces. It really brings back the memory of the hard work throughout, you know, the last 28 years…

CAVANAUGH: Yeah.

QUINT: …working with artists.

CAVANAUGH: And I don't want to fail to mention that you and collector Michael Krichman, who you already talked about, not only began this residency program in San Diego for artists, nationally and internationally, but also about – it kind of morphed into the Insight Art Biennial that we have with Tijuana. Tell us a little bit about that.

QUINT: Right. I started "Insight" along with artist Ernie Silva in, I believe it was, in '92. At that time, San Diego was still – it was in a recession with art. And there were – there's so many venues in San Diego, going from San Diego and Tijuana, going from Oceanside down to Tijuana and out east, San Diego State, we've got all the community colleges, we've got the universities, we've got nonprofit spaces, for profit galleries, and there was no collaboration in between a lot of these organizations. So we put together a show of installation art. We invited 40 different organizations to participate, which they did. And we started "Insight." And it's continuing, still going on. Michael Krichman took it over, along with Carmen Cuenca, who's the Tijuana – the Mexican director. And it's been going ever since.

CAVANAUGH: Now I have to ask you, I heard something about your gallery in La Jolla. I heard that it – you're not crazy about having too many tourists in the gallery.

QUINT: No.

CAVANAUGH: Is that correct?

QUINT: No, no. I love tourists. I'm a tourist. I did, at one point, have the gallery on Girard Street and the type of work I show is not your normal landscape type—and I'm going to say tourist—tourist art.

CAVANAUGH: Uh-huh.

QUINT: So a lot of people would walk in the gallery and immediately walk out or say, what is this? My kid could do it. That type of observations. And, you know, it was at that time, probably when I made that remark, I was running a show along with one other person and it was – it just takes up too much time trying to explain contemporary art to everybody that walks in the gallery. So I moved into my warehouse space, which is a little hidden, about a block away off of Girard, so that's where the tourist reference came from.

CAVANAUGH: And if people, if tourists want to be introduced…

QUINT: Oh…

CAVANAUGH: …to your artwork, now they have a place to do it.

QUINT: …we're all tourists, yes. Yeah.

CAVANAUGH: The "Three Decades of Contemporary Art" is, of course, the exhibition that is now at the California Center for the Arts Escondido. The full name is "Quint: Three Decades of Contemporary Art." It's running now through December 31st. And, Mark Quint, I want to thank you so much for talking to us on These Days.

QUINT: Thank you so much for having me. It's been a pleasure.

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