Aspen gallerist Darren Quintenz’s expanding view of art
ASPEN – Even at the age of 12, Darren Quintenz was focused. By his own account he was “pretty motivated, always a high achiever in school.” He knew what he liked – native American culture. And on a family trip to Aspen, Quintenz got a pretty clear sense of what he wanted to do with his life: Walking into Christopher Cardozo Fine Art, Quintenz, not yet a teenager, got his first glimpse of the work of Edward S. Curtis, the photographer who, in the early 20th century, made an extensive survey, visual and otherwise, of the ways of native North American tribes. The Quintenz family, which lived in Columbus, Ohio, made frequent visits to Aspen, and Darren spent much of that time in the Cardozo Gallery, learning what he could about Curtis’ photographs. At 17, Quintenz asked if he could spend a summer working at the gallery; Cardozo said yes, and Quintenz’s future was sealed. “He was nice enough to let me work with him, and my interest in Curtis got deeper,” Quintenz said. At Dartmouth, Quintenz split his time between studying – English, and native American studies, which fortuitously became a recognized major in his senior year – and working, from a distance, with Cardozo. While still in college, Quintenz helped his boss on the book, “Sacred Legacy: Edward S. Curtis and the North American Indian,” which Simon & Schuster printed 70,000 copies of, and a subsequent European tour under the same name.In early adulthood, Quintenz became a private art dealer, specializing in vintage American photography. In 2006, he moved to Aspen to open his first gallery, Quintenz & Company Fine Art, which also focused almost exclusively on older American photographs.But the path has not quite been as straight and narrow as it might seem. Quintenz, it turns out, wasn’t interested in only Edward Curtis and his images of native American life. He was interested in the whole big ball of art. What began as a precocious adolescent interest in American Indians has turned into a broad embrace of art – paintings as well as photographs, contemporary works along with vintage, abstract pieces and figurative, famous artists and those just becoming established.Quintenz, who is 35, now has two galleries in downtown Aspen – one on the 500 block of East Hyman Avenue, the other in The Residences at The Little Nell. Neither one is, at the moment, showing vintage photographs. The Hyman Avenue spot, which opened last May, has a sensational exhibition of paintings by Andrew Roberts-Gray, a Glenwood Springs artist who is having a breakthrough with his work, a blend of landscape and technology-oriented abstraction. The space in the Residences, which opened in November, features color-field oil paintings by New York-born, California-based Ruth Pastine.Quintenz says he isn’t done with photography or with vintage work. This coming summer, he will have an exhibition by Chicago photographer Doug Fogelson, and he continues to devote much time to his private dealing business, a large part of which involves vintage photographs. But he is more in growth mode, getting into contemporary art for the first time just a year ago, and focusing mostly on contemporary exhibitions since.”A big part of that was being curious and wanting to try new things,” Quintenz said. “That’s why I eventually moved out of Curtis paintings. It gets repetitive to do the same thing. “I appreciate Curtis’ work and his place in the market. His photographs are, to a fault, romantic. So it sparks your imagination, what native American life was like, and the tragedy of its collapse. But it doesn’t have the power over me that it did when I was younger. But he’s an important artist and some of his images are very powerful.”••••Quintenz began expanding his appreciation of art early on; by the end of college, his admiration for Edward Curtis had turned into a passion for vintage photography in general. Based in Columbus, he made connections with prominent dealers, and bought and sold works by most of the iconic American photographers of the first half of the 20th century: Ansel Adams, Alfred Stieglitz, Harry Callahan. A particular favorite was Edward Weston, and Quintenz developed a passion for Weston’s version of modernism. He also reached outside the U.S., representing Luis Gonzalez Palma, a photographer born in Guatemala and living in Argentina.”The world of photography opened up as I got more curious about more and more things,” Quintenz said.He also developed a philosophy toward dealing art: immerse yourself in the highest quality work possible. Quintenz doesn’t see himself as a salesman in the least – perhaps because he recognized that he’d never reach the level of his mentor Cardozo, who he calls the greatest salesman of any type he’s ever known. Quintenz, by contrast, is low-key, and to the extent possible, lets the art speak for itself.”It’s never the way I thought about working with art,” Quintenz said of the idea of himself as a salesman. “When things are really great, you don’t have to sell them. You just have to help them understand why they’re great. Ultra-blue chips – these things always sell. There’s not much you have to do – make sure they’re in great shape, have the provenance, make sure they’re authentic. The goal is to represent that they have integrity and quality, educate people, and hopefully they’ll want to add them to their collection. When you can educate them about why it’s valuable, you create a basis for them and them can feel comfortable collecting.” Despite his view on salesmanship, it was a desire to connect with people that prompted Quintenz to open a gallery. “I’d always thought dealing privately was fine. But I needed a way to connect with a broader base of people,” he said. “Having a gallery – it wasn’t so much selling stuff off the walls, but finding people who wanted to collect art at a high level and helping them acquire great things.”One of the things that attracted Quintenz to photography was the fact that it is relatively underappreciated. “Both intellectually and from a financial standpoint,” he said. “The value of a great photograph is a fraction of the value of a great painting. I’ve always thought there was a great deal of room in photography. And that also means the very best things are accessible in a way that great works in other media are not.”That relative lack of appreciation cuts the other way too. Collectors on the whole approach photography with more skepticism than, say, oil paintings. “A lot of vintage photography and a lot of the photography I like is not big format,” Quintenz said. “Convincing someone that a 3-by-5 inch piece, a Harry Callahan piece – his works are usually 8-by-10 or smaller – is something that will go in their big home, that’s not easy. Photography is a niche market.”Good for Quintenz, then, that his interests aren’t narrowly focused.”We’ve tried to broaden our reach to contemporary art, because maybe there’s a way to appeal to more people,” he said. “It’s just about trying to show people more things.”email@example.com
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