Wolkowitz at his Chelsea gallery in front of Edward Burtynsky's Stepwell #2, Panna Meena, Amber, Rajasthan, India, 2010.
Step into Bryce Wolkowitz's airy
New York City gallery and you'll find that new-media art isn't as dry and techy as it may sound. One look at Alan Rath's Watcher VII—blinking eyes projected onto dual video screens that appear as if they're staring back at you, engaged, connected—and it's clear why Wolkowitz left Christie's 11 years ago to "jump into the pool" and expose buyers like designer Thom Browne and the general public (the Barclays Center, New York's Public Theater, and Chanel's SoHo store all house pieces by his artists) to the now-flourishing genre. The 40-year-old curator's refined-modern aesthetic spills over into his closet, too (it's full of Ralph Lauren and an "array of sports jackets"), which is exactly why he recently landed in a Bergdorf Goodman ad campaign.
You specialize in new-media art—everything from video sculpture to LED-based installations. What drew you to this kind of work?
I always had this desire to sell the most cutting-edge art. When I first opened, that was kinetic sculpture. I said to myself, "If I can sell a piece that incorporates robotics, then I know I can do this." I sold my first moving piece—by Alan Rath, called Rover—and it was a seminal moment for me. What it spoke to was an openness to this work. This is New York City. There are thousands of galleries. I didn't want to be just another gallery on the block.
Is it difficult to sell a buyer on the value of this type of art?
Coming to this medium as a collector myself, I always had the sense that minimizing the barrier to entry would mean making the art so beautiful—relative to its design, its packaging, its craftsmanship—that collectors wouldn't be scared by it. Apple's Jonathan Ive said, "Products are a form of communication. They demonstrate your value system, what you care about." I've curated these artists and these works of art because the craftsmanship means something to me.
What was your first big break as a gallery owner?
The signing of Jim Campbell and Alan Rath, two West Coast artists—both MIT grads with electrical-engineering backgrounds. These were artists I had idolized in college and graduate school, pioneers of this new form of art. So I was 28, knocking on their doors, not having a gallery open yet, and asking if I could be their representative. Although they weren't household names, I knew in my heart that they were among the most important new-media artists of their generation. The fact that I got them meant that other artists would look at the gallery with a degree of legitimacy.
At what age did you become interested in art?
When I was young, my parents were art collectors, mainly Pop and Color Field painting—Warhol, Jim Dine, Stella, Noland, Jules Olitski. In a lot of ways, I grew up in the auction rooms.
What was it Like having valuable works in your home as a kid?
I did spend my high-school years fending off friends—you know, begging them and fighting with them not to pull on the sock hanging off the Jim Dine painting.
You're also an art consultant. How would you advise someone to start collecting?
I think it's vitally important for collectors to be informed, right? There are three ways that a collector can build a collection. One is to do their research, to put in their time, to inform themselves—educate themselves, read books, understand the history. Second is to do that research and, hand in hand with a consultant, walk the path of building a collection. Or, third, saying to the consultant, "You build it for me."
What are some of your favorite pieces you own?
I'm fortunate in that I live with an array of work by artists I work with. I have an amazing 12-foot collage painting by José Parlé that sits next to a beautiful photographic work by the street artist JR.
Other than art, what else do you find yourself collecting?
I love watches. I picked up that addiction from my father at a young age. My go-to watch is a Franck Muller—on the back there's a great saying: "Master of complications."
What's the best gift you've ever received?
A dear friend of the family is Roger Sadowsky, who's one of the world's great guitar-makers. For graduation, he gave me a beautiful nylon-string acoustic guitar, and it's just—it gets me that much closer to sounding like Clapton.
What does your closet look like?
So, I'm a creature of habit in a lot of ways. I'll often wear Thom Browne and Ralph Lauren Purple Label. There are certain pieces that I feel very comfortable in that complement my silhouette, if you will—you know, whether that's black jeans, black jodhpur boots, jean shirt, black corduroy jacket. Like, that's a look, and I can pull that out on any given day and feel great in that.
What's your most prized possession?
When I got married, my father gave my wife and me a photograph by Edward Weston of Krishnamurti, the Indian philosopher. It hangs prominently in our living room, along with a famous quote by Krishnamurti: "The future is now." That's the credo I aspire to.
Pieces from Wolkowitz's personal collection (clockwise from top left): Alan Rath, Watcher VII, 2011 (which he keeps in his gallery); Airan Kang, Lighting Books, 2009; José Parlá, Dekalb Avenue Station, 2011.