Jay Magidson: New art, new start
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
BASALT – For 18 years, Jay Magidson existed near the upper rings of the contemporary art world. He had a gallery in downtown Aspen that bore his name – Magidson Fine Art. Magidson matched nationally known artists with collectors who could spend five figures on a piece of art.
Magidson’s circumstances have changed considerably since he closed Magidson Fine Art, in 2008. He still directs a gallery – only the name outside is not his own, but that of Ann Korologos, the gallery’s owner. His work address is in Basalt, not Aspen. Instead of dealing in contemporary art, Magidson works with traditional imagery of the American West – cows, Indians, mountain landscapes.
Perhaps the most dramatic shift is that he is no longer the big boss. Where he once answered to no one regarding his roster of artists or the direction of the gallery, Magidson now buys into the vision of Korologos, a former U.S. Secretary of Labor who only recently got into the business of selling art.
“I miss being the dictator – you’ve got to be honest about that,” he said one rainy afternoon at the Ann Korologos Gallery, which he has been directing for two years. “When it’s all yours, you don’t have to ask anybody. But it’s good to have somebody slow down the process. You get to fix the mistakes before they are mistakes.”
The decision to shut Magidson Fine Art seems to have been made with some degree of haste. Magidson notes that, as the recession began, he was probably the first Aspen business to go down. And he had no idea what was next in his career.
In Magidson’s eyes, this was no mistake. For one thing, the move downvalley has cut the commuting time from his home in Missouri Heights significantly – a major relief for the married father of two. The extra time has also been spent on writing a sci-fi novel that he has been in the works for years; Magidson vows it will be published no later than October.
On the professional side, Magidson has taken a sanguine view of the changes. He has expanded his knowledge of art, gained a newfound sense of what a gallery can offer, and learned the art of team play. And after occupying a relatively cramped space during the Magidson Fine Art years, he has a deep appreciation for the roomy dimensions of the Ann Korologos Gallery, located in the former Town Center Booksellers building.
“It’s a momentous improvement,” the 52-year-old said of the overall changes. “It’s amazing how much better it is. It’s funny how life smacks you around and then gives you a little gift.”
Magidson was among the first to feel the smack of the economic downturn; he closed his gallery in December of 2008, three months after the stock market nose-dived. “It just wasn’t working financially,” he said. “It was a terrific move – but I didn’t know it at the time.”
At a time when he was “maximally underemployed,” Ann Korologos came into the picture. A Secretary of Labor under Ronald Reagan, and the chair of the Aspen Institute from 1996-2000, she was also a powerhouse in the business world, having served on the boards of Microsoft and General Motors. Korologos had a major interest in art, and with her husband, Tom, a former U.S. Ambassador to Belgium, owned a home in Emma. Magidson had made her acquaintance in 2007, when he still owned his gallery, and the two spoke often about art issues.
“It was a great connection right away,” Magidson said. “She loved art. We stayed in touch.”
Among the main topics of conversation was the Basalt Gallery, which Korologos had recently purchased. The gallery emphasized regional artists, and Korologos believed there was potential to raise its vision. She turned to Magidson for advice.
“She asked me, very friendly, how she could improve the gallery. That went on regularly for two months,” Magidson recalled. After Magidson Fine Art closed, Korologos proceeded to ask for more than advice; she wanted Magidson to run her gallery. “I was a little shell-shocked. I wasn’t ready to open another gallery. But she’s a terrific person and bright and just oozes success. I caught her enthusiasm. Because at the end of a business, you don’t have that. You’ve lost enthusiasm. I was hungry for that. Her proposal was: Make the gallery a success.”
Very soon after being hired, Magidson saw a way to make that happen. Town Center Booksellers had folded, and the building, in the middle of Midland Avenue, was available.
“The world was changing, rents were cheap, and I said, ‘Ann, if we’re going to do this, let’s really do it,” Magidson said. “The other gallery was just a gallery – art on the walls, a regional gallery. Even the name was generic, no personality. Not much personality.” To signal the new ambition, Magidson persuaded Korologos to attach her name to the business.
In addition to the Korologos name, Magidson is happy to have the owner’s artistic taste drive the gallery. “Ann asked, Is this going to be hard for you? Are you going to want to put your own vision on it, your style?” Magidson said. “I said, It’s the opposite. I want it to be your taste. There can’t be two chefs in the kitchen, and there can’t be two visions in a gallery. Her vision was already here, and I didn’t want to change that.”
Magidson has his say in the gallery’s offerings. He brought in Tomas Lasansky, a portraitist who showed at Magidson Fine Art (Lasansky has a one-person show in August at the Korologos Gallery), and has Korologos’ ear to discuss potential artists and directions.
On the other end, Magidson has enthusiastically bought in to Korologos’ taste. Magidson, whose father had owned prominent galleries in New York and San Francisco, has taken on the role of a student in the subject of Western art.
“I love learning. And if you love art, you can find beauty in anything,” he said. “It’s like loving music – you can move from jazz to classical, and it’s a different experience.”
Magidson’s perception has been altered by working with landscapes. He sees colors in a different way; sometimes, he notices the precise scenes of nature that inspired the artists he works with.
The part of the job that seems to satisfy Magidson most satisfied is the connection to the community. Magidson Fine Art was too small, and too much of a one-person operation, to throw events beyond the standard openings. At the Korologos Gallery, he is freed up to have poetry readings (with the next one scheduled for May 31), book signings (Madeleine Albright appeared last summer; Condoleezza Rice postponed an appearance that had been scheduled for this coming August), and to put more energy into talks that introduce artists, educate audiences and make the gallery something of a community space: “More than just talking to individual collectors with a glass of wine,” he said.
Openings at the gallery have been well-attended, and Magidson said that, in the summer, there is more foot traffic into the gallery than he ever saw in Aspen. “That was a shock to me,” he said.
While he has jumped from one artistic style to a very different kind, Magidson said that dealing with his current artists is no different than his last crop. He has come to the realization that artists are artists, no matter the genre.
“It’s the same thing. They’re staring at a blank canvas and saying, ‘OK, what do I do now? It’s the same anxiety every artist has: What am I going to say?” he said. “And they send their new painting off and think, Is that the last good thing I’m ever going to do? And of course, it isn’t.”
Magidson’s focus is forward. He has helped put the Korologos Gallery in the social media realm, blogging articles every other day and posting videos to Youtube monthly. Magidson said the extensive use of social media is unusual for an art gallery, and for a small business.
The next big horizon to conquer may be China. Korologos returned from a trip there recently, and came back with the idea of bringing art of the American West to the East.
“The West is unique to the world – giant expanses, the Grand Canyon, cowboys and Indians. People are fascinated with it,” Magidson said. Korologos returned with enthusiasm for the country, and Magidson appears to have gotten infected.
“It’s alive; they’re doing stuff. They’re growing; they believe in the future,” he said of China. “Let’s sell them something for a change. That could be pretty fun. I better brush up on my Chinese.”
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