Frank Talks

Hall W. Rockefeller – Art Critic, Writer & Founder of less than half

Hall W. Rockefeller - Art Critic, Writer & Founder of less than half
Hall W. Rockefeller - Art Critic, Writer & Founder of less than half

We are elated to speak this week with Hall W. Rockefeller! Hall is an art critic, writer, and founder of less than half, an online platform for female artists. She holds a master’s degree in art history and has written for Hyperallergic, BOMB, and Sculpture magazine. Please enjoy this entrepreneur’s Frank Talk below!

What was your first job in the Arts? 

I interned for the Marina Abramovic Institute, working on their Immaterial platform. 

What was the most useful or important thing you learned at that job?

I learned what a force she can be! Being a charismatic boss motivates your employees. 

Tell us a little more about yourself. When did you realize you wanted to pursue a career in this industry?

At some point in college I realized that not everyone was as interested in their visual world as I was, and it dawned on me that maybe my interest was an asset I could share with others. I was an art history major and went on to get a Master’s in the subject as well. 

What do you do now? 

I am the Founder & Director of less than half, an online platform for female artists. In addition to profiles and reviews of female artists, I publish a monthly newsletter on the subject of female artists, as well as lecture and give tours. As of late I’ve been working on the 50 Women Project, a series of profiles on women artists working around the United States. 

Where are you from? 

I was born and raised in New York City. 

What is the arts community like there? 

Unparalleled. Of course I knew this as a child, when I visited the Met on a weekly basis (my mother liked to take us on Friday afternoons), but it wasn’t until I started speaking to women in their studios across the city that I was able to catch a glimpse of the vast extent of this world. Between gallery walks and studio visits, there really is no end to what can be discovered. 

Has where you come from shaped what you do in the arts today?

Yes! I grew up in a home with art on the walls, in a city rich with cultures, chock full of institutions at my doorstep. But New York is by no means immune to the gender imbalance of which the art world is guilty. I certainly couldn’t name many more female artists other than Mary Cassat, Frida Kahlo, and Georgia O’Keeffe by the time I was in college. So in that respect, yes, New York shaped me in showing me that even this great diverse city failed in equitably championing the work of its residents, which showed me just how entrenched this problem is. 

What is the best piece of advice you can give about working in the art world?

It’s a social industry, often very collaborative, and very easy to access if you aren’t afraid to ask. I have cold emailed countless people––from artists to curators and everything in between––and many have responded, happy to help me or work with me on my latest project. It might seem hard to get into at first, but I started my website knowing no one. You learn fast––just make sure you have an online presence, say yes to every invitation that comes your way, and do as much as you can to get in front of people. You never know who you’ll meet at a gallery opening or lecture. (That being said, if you’re reading this and want to reach out––don’t hesitate!) 

What is one of your greatest accomplishments in your career so far?

I’m not sure I can answer that one yet! I certainly feel invigorated and motivated by my network of women I have built around me. 

What has been a challenge for you?

Working for myself, without the “normal” trappings of office life (regular hours, coworkers, etc.) has made discipline imperative for me, though it hasn’t been the easiest to come by. I have developed ways to create structure, including becoming a member of a writers’ space (shout out to Paragraph!). 

What is something you do every day at the office (or your current home office)?

I try to skim art headlines. I subscribe to many newsletters that round up information on the art world. My favorite is the Guardian’s Arts & Culture email which comes out every Friday. Breakfast with Art News is also good, and of course Art Frankly has a weekly round-up of headlines. 

What is one of the weirdest things you have had to do on the job in your career?

Have you ever heard of the Abramovic method?

What defines a good employee? What defines a good boss?

A good employee is able to think independently and not simply follow a to do list, but problem solves on her own. A good employee also internalizes the ethos of the organization, so that their actions on the job always align with the organization’s mission. A good boss is trusting––one who is willing to admit she is not an expert on everything. A good boss also creates an environment in which her employees feel comfortable speaking up about the environment of the office (and listens when they do). 

What do you think makes a person hirable?

I think if a person has demonstrated an interest in the general mission of the organization. In the case of my work, I would like to see that she reads about female artists on her own time or has shown a commitment to helping elevate underserved populations in previous jobs. 

What is your advice to making yourself stand out in your workplace? Any good tips for giving a great interview?

People perceive genuine interest and enthusiasm. Don’t be afraid to appear excited about the subject––though show that that enthusiasm is backed up by knowledge! 

Is there any advice you would like to give people entering the art world?

The art world is ripe for innovation––if you have good ideas and are interested in shaking it up, we need you. 

What is the best exhibition you have seen in the last year?

I really enjoyed the Whitney’s “Making Knowing: Craft in art 1950-2019,” and was especially happy to see a number of indigenous artists included, a demographic that still gets little attention in the art world, despite the current moment’s interest in inclusion. I also was stunned to see the work of 86-year-old feminist painter Juanita McNeely at James Fuentes this past winter. I couldn’t believe I had never heard of her. 

If you could own a work by 5 different artists, who would be in your collection?

Wow! What a difficult question––an Eva Hesse for sure. Frida Orupabo’s paper dolls, a Belkís Ayón print. One of Ivy Haldeman’s hot dog paintings, please!! One of Liliana Porter’s figurine works (they are so charming and funny). A Ruth Asawa. One of Dominique Fung’s paintings. That’s five, right? 

What artwork is in your home office?

A print from Dominique Fung and a sculpture by Kennedy Yanko. Soon I’ll have a SHENEQUA, a Chicago-based artist I came across in my research for the 50 Women Project. 

How do you think art can play a fundamental role in the world’s recovery?

This is what my whole job is about–– I think art can particularly play a role in the perennial problems of racism and inclusion which have recently reentered the spotlight (as if they ever left it). Art is the highest form of human expression. If we prevent a certain group of people from sharing their work––whether female artists or Black artists or Indigenous artists–– we are sending the message that they are less than human, which in turn makes it easier to systematically oppress them. I don’t think it’s the only solution, but celebrating, studying, and understanding the works of marginalized people is a step towards equality. 

How has your current job adapted to the new virtual landscape? What do you think can be done better?

The 50 Women Project has been a deeply satisfying project. Once lockdown started, I quickly realized that my world had shrunk to the size of my apartment while expanding to the size of the Internet. I have always admired women artists from around the country, but never had an opportunity to meet with them (as my website is usually New York-based). This seemed like a great opportunity to make something of that interest and build a network of talented women in the process. 

Since we are all at home and exploring more galleries and museums online, perhaps some for the first time, when the quarantine is lifted, what is your first art filled destination?

I’m excited to visit ArtYard in Frenchtown, NJ and Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton, NJ. (Shout out to New Jersey’s growing art scene.) 

And finally, do you think the art world should be more transparent?

Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. I am a huge believer in data––when it comes to female artists, numbers don’t lie. In Other Words and artnews recently did a survey on female artists in museum collections, and the numbers are worse than we supposed. Museum acquisitions for works by female artists peaked in 2009. 

I also think museums should be more transparent with their diversity statistics––both how many people of color they employ, as well as in which roles they are. 

And of course, money. I would love to see the numbers on works sold by galleries as well as more salary numbers. There have been great salary surveys recently (like the one by POWarts), but they need to be done more often. 

If you’re interested in the intersection of feminism and data I recommend the books Data Feminism and Invisible Women.