We are delighted to bring you this week’s Frank Talk with Max Marshall! Max is the founder and director of Deli Gallery, a contemporary art gallery in Brooklyn established in 2015. Deli Gallery has participated in art fairs worldwide including NADA New York, Expo Chicago, NADA Miami, Upstairs Fair, Material Art Fair, and Swab Art Fair. Previous to Deli, Max has held positions at Matthew Marks Gallery and Pace Gallery. Please enjoy this read!
What was your first job in the Arts?
While still in undergrad in Texas, I was lucky enough to get an unpaid internship at a small, newly formed commercial gallery run by Sonia Dutton. Sonia had just moved to Texas from NYC actually, so it was a great first experience as a lot of her programming was connected to a contemporary scene that I feel Austin does not typically do a good job of connecting with in general.
After I moved to NYC in 2011 to work for an artist as his studio manager, he ended up bailing on me, so I scrambled to find a job. I ended up somehow getting a job as a dealer’s assistant at Pace Gallery with almost no real experience. I’ve since heard that the dealer likes to hire relatively inexperienced people so that he can exploit them and subject them to horrible working conditions.
What was the most useful or important thing you learned at that job?
Wow. You mean besides learning how to dodge an object being thrown at your head by your boss? That seems pretty useful!
But seriously, there were two major things I learned during my three years working at Pace- the first was how to remain calm during stressful situations. The art world is filled with “pressure-filled” experiences, interactions, deadlines, and circumstances. The moment you take a step back and realize that nothing you’re dealing with day-to-day is all that crucial… is the moment you become a lot better at your job because you’re able to approach these situations with more clarity and decisiveness.
Another crucial thing I learned at the time is the value of the dealer and artist relationship. Arne Glimcher established and maintained many beautiful, respectful, and fruitful relationships with artists over decades. This was the core of the gallery and the root of its success.
Tell us a little more about yourself. When did you realize you wanted to pursue a career in this industry?
It was through my three years at Pace and subsequent three years at Matthew Marks Gallery that I realized that in order to enact systemic change in an environment that throughout history has heavily favored white, cis, male artists- this is best done from within. In order to make an attempt to dismantle a system, it’s favorable to know the intricacies of how the system works internally.
What do you do now?
I own and operate Deli Gallery in East Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
Where are you from?
Born in Santa Monica, CA but grew up in Austin, TX.
What is the arts community like there?
The Arts community in Austin is a beautiful one! I say this with capital “a” Arts because it’s a really wide-ranging set of visual art, performing arts, music, literature, etc. In terms of visual art, there is a big community for it but sadly the community is one without substantial backers or funding. Communities in Houston and Dallas are much more sustainable because there is more wealth and more supporters for smaller communities of artists and galleries. It’s a sad reality that in America, small galleries and individual artists sorely depend on capitalist models in order to survive.
Has where you come from shaped what you do in the arts today?
I work with and am close with a few artists from Texas, but beyond that… I’d say not really. I left Texas because there wasn’t really much going on there. The artists that I work with from Texas also left for the same reasons.
What is the best piece of advice you can give about working in the art world?
Be versatile. The more skills you have to offer the more opportunities you will be afforded.
What is one of your greatest accomplishments in your career so far?
This is tough! I would say being self-employed and continuing to keep the lights on at the gallery is an ongoing “greatest accomplishment” that I truly do feel so lucky to have as my reality. I would also say that working with the extremely talented and dedicated artists through the past years has been such a pleasure and gives me so much energy to push forward.
What has been a challenge for you?
I would say that when working with emerging artists the challenge is always education. This is also the most exciting element to working with someone relatively new or unknown to a given audience. The way that Deli is structured is to give an individual artist a platform and to amplify their voice, but this mechanism is often done through my work to contextualize the work first.
What is something you do every day at the office (or your current home office)?
Every day, no matter what is going on at the gallery or in the world, I am always checking in with our artists. The gallery does not function without the artists and it’s my priority to support, interact with, and provide resources to them whenever possible.
What is one of the weirdest things you have had to do on the job in your career?
So this is another strange Pace Gallery one… My boss had traveled to some luxe country for a museum opening but forgot to pack underwear. He decided that his time traveling was better spent doing whatever it was he was there to do than to go to a store and buy underwear. So he sent me to his apartment, I packed his underwear into a FedEx, and spent $200+ overnighting them to Europe.
What defines a good employee? What defines a good boss?
There are obviously many ways to answer this question! Something that I often return to as a quality of a good employee is someone who is looking for different ways to invest parts of themselves into the job. This can look like many things, but if you’re not invested in what you’re doing then you should probably consider a different career. The answer to what defines a good boss is the converse of this- allowing those who work with you to gain ownership and authorship over what you’re assigning them to do.
What do you think makes a person hirable?
I often find myself realizing that there are always multiple people who are capable or have the necessary skills to fill any given role, so what you’re really hiring is the human being attached to those skills. It’s never about the right or wrong candidate, but more about what’s the best fit for your company or your culture.
What is your advice to making yourself stand out in your workplace? Any good tips for a giving a great interview?
Stay calm, be confident, and don’t hide your truest self.
Is there any advice you would like to give people entering the art world?
Maybe consider a more important career like civil rights lawyer or social worker? Hah, but really, if you’re not invested in or believe that the art world can have lasting effects on society and making for a more just and equal future for those in need- then perhaps don’t join this line of work. Go and do the other jobs that can work towards those same goals.
Any other anecdotes about your working experience that you would like to share?
Lol- I think I’ve shared enough anecdotes.
What is the best exhibition you have seen in the last year?
Ja’Tovia Gary at The Hammer back in February left me in tears and speechless. Such a powerful video piece and well constructed, considered environment.
If you could own a work by 5 different artists, who would be in your collection?
Toyin Ojih Odutola, Deana Lawson, Melvin Edwards, EJ Hill, Faith Ringgold
Have you seen any virtual exhibitions recently that you would like to comment on?
Overall, I think the takeaway from this experience is that online can be a space for meaningful interactions with art. It doesn’t necessarily mean all content is considered in such a way, but I think Matthew Marks’ Bob Gober online exhibition is a beautiful example of rich research, contextualization, and generosity of information.
What artwork is in your home office?
Eep! I live with my partner and we’ve had the pleasure of mixing the wonderful things we’ve accumulated through the years. I’ll list them in the order from where I’m typing right now – Pope.L, Lex Brown, Cajsa von Zeipel, Erin Jane Nelson, Ficus Interfaith, Milano Chow, Jonathan Lyndon Chase, Vaginal Davis, Alexandria Tarver, Skye Volmar, Heidi Lau, Lila de Magalhaes. I’ll stop there…
What is your greatest WFH challenge? Or a WFH luxury you don’t want to lose ever again?
Being self-employed and running your own business is a luxury in itself. It’s such a joy to work on your own thing and that hasn’t changed working from home. I am excited for this American-driven notion that employees must be in the office and work long hours in order to be productive. I think people are seeing that’s just not true now, and in fact the opposite might be more true. Several friends who work in other industries have already been told that offices are optional through the end of 2020. I hope the art world follows suit, but I don’t have much hope for that.
How do you think art can play a fundamental role in the world’s recovery?
Art being fundamental in the world’s recovery is a generous way to put it. I think we fundamentally need things like universal healthcare, defunding the police, diversifying leadership and corporations. I see my role in the world’s recovery is to take care of my community as best I can.
And finally, do you think the art world should be more transparent?
Transparency is a crucial step towards equality.