Tali Wertheimer on New Lower East Side Space Two Rams

Set to open March 15, new gallery Two Rams promises to bring some meditative bliss to the Lower East Side. For the gallery’s inaugural show, co–founders and –directors Tali Wertheimerand Brandon Coburn will present a series of endurance drawings by New York-based artist Lia Chavez that were produced during several hours of blindfolded meditation. As a preview to her show, Chavez is planning to do a performance piece at the Spring/Break Art Show, for which she will meditate all day every day during the fair’s five-day run. Chavez will be live-tweeting the experience. Before the gallery opens later this month, we spoke to Werthheimer about the origins of the space’s name, how working for RoseLee Goldberg impacted her view of performance art, and her hopes to “produce a biennial in a box.”

Tell me about the name Two Rams. Does that refer to the two directors?

The name came from a story my meditation teacher, David Harshada Wagner, shared with me a few days after Brandon [Coburn] and I decided to open the gallery.

Picture two rams standing on top of a hill watching a herd of beautiful sheep grazing. The young ram looks to the old ram, and shouts “let’s run down the hill and fuck a sheep.” The old ram steadily replies, “no let’s walk down the hill and fuck all the sheep.”

They key to success in any endeavor is to temper passion with wisdom and judgment. In a way, I would say that Brandon is the wise ram so it can be applied to our dynamic partnership, but this wasn’t done purposely. I am just inspired by the story.

Why did you choose the Lower East Side as the location for the gallery?

Brandon has held the lease to 215 Bowery for a while. He was renting it out as a pop-up location to international galleries that wanted to show their artists in New York outside of an art-fair context. I love this neighborhood. My grandparents owned a china shop on Grand and Ludlow and my family would hang out there on Sundays. I have a lot of pride operating a business in this neighborhood. And the galleries are fantastic! There are too many galleries I love to name them all and I don’t want to exclude anyone, so I will just say that we are very happy to be a part of this community.

In your opinion, what are the challenges facing people who want to open galleries today?

That’s a really interesting question, but it’s also a historical one, and I don’t know what it was like to open a gallery 30 years ago. I used to work for Metro Pictures, and, my God, was their first gallery space a knockout. What a huge space in SoHo! I guess that’s different from today where new galleries don’t have access to large spaces, but I don’t see that as a challenge. I think it’s a benefit to create a cohesive story in an intimate environment. It has the opportunity to be especially captivating and immersive.

Why Lia Chavez for the first show?

The exhibition features mixed media drawings on delicate Japanese paper created through a process that converts sensory deprivation into drawing. “Carceri,” which literally means isolated places, were inspired by Saint Francis of Assisi’s journeys into caves to meditate where he wore blinders, claiming the spiritual light he experienced in meditation was so great that any additional physical light would be lethal.

Lia’s works were generated through several hours in a meditative state while continually blindfolded without sound. The listening facilitated by extreme forms of aural and visual silence has been central to her process and has proven to be a useful tool for generating natural breakthroughs of perception.

I have been a fan of Lia’s for a long time. Her work is very generous, by which I mean she makes art with the intention of empowering others through sharing love and light. It’s going to be hard for people to see work like this and not be cynical about it, because people confuse optimism and activism with naïveté.

What other artists are you representing?

We aren’t representing artists yet. For now we are doing projects. Our next exhibition will be a solo show of paintings by Ryan Schneider.

Is there an ethos to the type of art you will show?

We are so new as a gallery, so I can’t promise what we’ll grow into over the next few years. We don’t have any rules of what we will and won’t show. We will have performance, painting, sculpture, installation. I like music a lot. Hopefully we will have a lot of music. If I had to say the gallery has a consistent theme, I would say we are dedicated to promoting artists who are uplifting culture.

You worked for Performa in the past. Will the gallery have an emphasis on performance work?

It’s impossible to work with RoseLee Goldberg for two years and not gain a firm understanding of the incredible communicatory power of performance art. A lot of people use the word dialogue to describe the effect of a painting on a wall —it promotes a dialogue or it’s in dialogue with something. But with a performance, the artist can literally have a conversation with you if he/she chooses.

Two Rams’s first project will be a presentation of a durational performance by Lia Chavez during Armory Week at Spring/Break Art Show. Lia will be meditating throughout the entire run of the show — that’s 8-10 consecutive hours a day for 5 days — and also sharing her visions in real-time through social media channels. Her performance is about sharing the gifts of the divine connection. She is putting her body in a really difficult situation to harness that power and I think that is just about as generous as you can get.

The press release says the gallery will collaborate “with prominent galleries from important art centers around the world to bring ambitious and adventurous projects to New York.” What does that mean? You’ll mount shows from other spaces?

To be a truly international arts center, the city needs an infrastructure to support cultural exchange. The question has always been how to do this and the answer has been the biennial, which brings artists together, presents hundreds of projects, and provides a forum to discuss them. In Europe there are so many biennials because the government allocates millions to arts programming. That’s not the case here.

I worked in development at Performa and I can tell you that the biennial is possible because of the generosity of a small group of patrons who understand that arts innovation is imperative to a healthy society. Brandon and I are building an ecosystem in which galleries from around the world can afford to present experimental projects here by renting the gallery for a fraction of the price of exhibiting at the fairs. The list of galleries we are working with will be very carefully curated. In effect, our aim is to produce a biennial in a box.

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