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Graham Wilson – Founder of Swivel Gallery

Graham Wilson - Founder of Swivel Gallery
Graham Wilson - Founder of Swivel Gallery

Graham Wilson is the founder of Swivel Gallery. According to Graham, “My favorite terms to describe myself are a shaker or mover. I’ve held many roles throughout the art world, as a heavily exhibited artist myself, an art handler, a manager, artist assistant.  It’s hard to nail down all of the sides of the game I have participated in, but each has led to my journey here at Swivel Gallery.”

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

My love for art was gradual, I was first introduced to it through beat generation novels in my late teens…I became obsessed and self-taught myself art history extensively.  I felt a kinship with the stories of artists, those stories resonated deeply in my beliefs at the time, and still to this day.  Those stories and the pursuit of something unspoken in the arts, made me realize I couldn’t do much else.

What was your first job in the Arts and what was the most useful or important thing you learned in that experience?

My first job in the arts was at Hauser & Wirth as an art handler, thanks to a good friend hiring me.  It was when the gallery had the 19th Street space that used to be the Roxy.  The space was massive, and the exhibitions matched. Most installations there were grueling and I found my first sense of community with that crew.  I was by far the youngest person there and the skills and mindset I was taught by my older coworkers, have still stuck with me now.  The most important of which was patience, and to do things right one time, the first time.

Where are you from and what is the arts community like there? Has your upbringing shaped what you do in the arts today?

I’m originally from Louisville, Kentucky and in my day there was relatively no arts existence there, which is why I didn’t really discover art until my move to New York.  However, that has shaped my intentions to always introduce as many people as I can to art, and to have patience in that.

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

Make the most of it.  Not all of it is pretty.  Take what you can from each experience and keep going.

What has been the greatest challenge of opening a gallery during the pandemic?

I think the greatest challenge has also been my biggest blessing—with things being a little slow it has allowed me to give the proper respect and attention to the artists, the visitors, and the people I engage with through the internet.  

Swivel Gallery’s mission is connected to the area’s community. Tell us more about why you chose to open an exhibition space in Bed-Stuy and what the reception has been from locals.

I’ve lived in this community since my move to New York, and in many ways, this community has raised me through my own struggles. The community’s adoption of me always made me feel at home, so I try as much as possible to use the gallery as a resource and promotion of local organizations and businesses, and we likewise have a permanent 10% sales pledge to the local community non-profits.  The neighborhood has really taken to the gallery, most locals have dubbed it the Baby Guggenheim, and we have really become a place that most everyone feels welcome in, it’s really a beautiful thing.

Your role at Swivel is multifaceted… what is one of the weirdest things you have had to do on the job?

I do almost everything, but my most dreaded task is crawling through the ceiling, which has happened a few times for special installation requirements.  It’s very small up there. *Sighs*

What do you think defines a good employee? And what defines a good boss?

A good employee is someone who shows up in earnest (also for pay) but tries to continually see ways they can do things better, I likewise say that not just for my benefit but also for theirs.  I think if you don’t feel like you are constantly learning it’s probably time to do something else.  And I think a good boss is likewise someone who is willing to teach what they know, willing to try and build someone up and help them develop. Of course, there are always menial tasks—I do many—but in a bigger sense trying to equip someone with tools that they can take with them when they leave. 

What are you most excited about in the art world this year?

I’m most excited about the prospect, knowing what I know, of watching my peers, my allies, close friends, and my artist grow even more this year and step into everything that is waiting for them.

How do you think the art world can become more transparent?

Only speaking from my own experience, share all information with your artists, support your artists in their other endeavors, even if it’s with other galleries, and likewise share helpful information for said galleries. I think there’s a lot of current practice that is not as helpful as it could be for the artists.

How do you think art should be shared and/or experienced moving forward? 

Like life, art is a constantly changing entity, and generally speaking, has become more popular than ever, due to the internet and more access, and changing generations in the United States that have placed more value on art. It’s wonderful to see and be part of, I think one essential thing that needs to, and somewhat is, happening is for art to extend beyond its major city hubs and to branch out to places with lesser access.

What is the best exhibitions you have seen recently?

Grief and Grievance at the New Museum and Kennedy Yanko at the Rubell Museum.

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

David Hammons, Jennifer Packer, Felix Gonzales Torres, Maya Lin, Eva Hesse.

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