Danielle Dewar & Marlee Katz – Co-Founders, Tchotchke Gallery


Danielle Dewar & Marlee Katz - Co-Founders, Tchotchke Gallery

With a background at blue-chip galleries in Manhattan, as well as possessing her own artistic practice, Danielle holds a unique skill set that enables her to effectively identify and relate to promising emerging artists. Marlee advanced at numerous galleries and advisory firms where she became skilled in building thoughtfully curated fine art collections while fostering relationships between artists and collectors.

Both Danielle and Marlee graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Art and have an implicit understanding of the art-making process. Each went on to pursue their Master’s Degree, Danielle focusing on writing and literature at Appalachian State University and Marlee attending the Visual Arts Administration program at New York University.

AF: Hi Danielle & Marlee! We are absolutely delighted to chat with the two of you.  To start this interview off, we want to ask you our classic first question: Where are you both from and what are the arts communities like there? 

DD: I’m very proudly from North Carolina and can attest to the fact that the arts communities in the South are a force to be reckoned with. The art scene in Raleigh, where my family is based now, is a lot like the state as a whole–dynamic, expanding, and welcoming. The triangle is home to several museums and galleries, including the North Carolina Museum of Art and the Contemporary Art Museum Raleigh, both of which feature a mix of national and international exhibitions. In addition, there are numerous art studios, artist collectives, and public art installations popping up all throughout the area as well.

Some other hotspots for fine art in the state include Charlotte, Asheville, and Winston-Salem. Film is also a huge deal in Wilmington where a lot of your favorite television shows and movies have probably been filmed or are currently filmed. And this is all separate from the craft scene in North Carolina, with places like Penland School of Craft and the pottery town of Seagrove. 

All that being said, North Carolina may not be the first place that comes to mind when you think of the arts but if you ask me, it should definitely be up higher on the list!

MK: I grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and until recently, did not realize how much of a growing art hub the city is. Many artists that we’ve shown such as Josiah Ellner (on our gallery program), Jordin Alanis, Mallory Stowe, and Shelby Kahr (in our forthcoming High Maintenance show) either grew up in or attended art school in the state. Local spaces, such as Green Gallery, are now staples at art fairs like NADA and are part of programs with blue-chip galleries like David Zwirner’s Platform. The ability to have these Midwest connections with artists and institutions off the bat is something that I have become very excited and proud of after being a Midwesterner in New York for the past eight years.

AF: What was your first ever job? What did you learn from this experience?  

DD: My first job was as a kindergarten teacher! Working with children taught me invaluable lessons such as the importance of patience, communication, and creativity–crucial skills in the art world. Additionally, working as a kindergarten teacher taught me how to manage time effectively, a skill that is necessary for art world professionals like myself and Marlee who need to balance their creative work with the less nuanced, logistic side of running a gallery. Ultimately though, my role as a teacher taught me to think outside the box, a valuable asset in the art world where innovation and originality are highly valued.

MK: My first job was at a clothing store in the mall near my hometown. It was my first role in sales where I worked the retail floor and had to connect with customers. At first, I was nervous to engage with people I didn’t know and would find myself folding more than talking, but after a few encounters helping people find the right size or showing them something new in the store, I began to feel more confident making suggestions, telling them about our promotions, and making sure they had a positive experience in the store. Even though these encounters were short-lived, I learned how important it was to confidently form connections with people. These interactions, however long or short, led to trust and maintaining that sentiment has carried through in all professional experiences I have had since. 

AF: How did the two of you meet? What was the process like deciding to collaborate together?  

MK: Danielle and I met while working at a secondary market gallery in Midtown. Often, we would discuss the idea of starting a gallery one day that focused on young, emerging artists – artists that we could connect with in real life. Like many others, the pandemic changed our circumstances and we decided it was now or never to give our idea a go. We spent many months deciding what the gallery would be called, what it would focus on, and what audiences we would cater to. Our vision and goals for the gallery were shared and luckily we were able to dive right on into building Tchotchke!

AF: You are co-founders of Tchotchke Gallery, a gallery space located in Brooklyn, NY.  Tell us more about Tchotchke, how it began, and what your hopes are for the gallery! 

DD: Tchotchke Gallery was founded by myself and my co-founder Marlee Katz in 2020. We both have a strong background in the arts, with experience working at various galleries and advisory firms in Manhattan. Our goal with Tchotchke was and is to shake up the traditional gallery model and make contemporary art accessible to a wider audience. As co-founders, Marlee and I have both witnessed firsthand the exclusivity and elitism present in this industry. Thus, we wanted to create a space that breaks down those barriers and encourages more people to engage with art in a meaningful way.

Our hopes for Tchotchke are to continue to grow and expand our community, bringing exciting new talent to the forefront while also providing an accessible and welcoming space for collectors to discover and engage with art. We’re excited to see where this journey takes us and look forward to continuing to support emerging artists in meaningful ways.

AF: Why did you decide on the name ‘Tchotchke Gallery’? 

MK: Tchotchke is a Yiddish word for a small collectible or trinket, often something that is decorative and does not have a significant monetary value. We wanted to play on this word and make note that something of personal significance inherently has value, whether it be monetary or not. Art collecting is about finding artists and artworks, or Tchotchkes, that have deep personal meaning and value to the person living with them. 

AF: We recently had the chance to visit your wonderful exhibition featuring artist Debora Koo. How do you find the artists you want to work with? 

DD: As gallerists who support emerging artists, we definitely try our best to do our due-diligence and research. Whether it be through scouring Instagram and MFA programs, or through word-of-mouth, we’re always on the lookout as it is something we both find immense joy in. Having long-standing relationships with artists, curators, and collectors also doesn’t hurt in scoping out new artists.
Once we land on an artist that we both feel strongly about, Marlee and I take the time to get to know them, their work, and their goals; thus, engaging in ongoing conversations to foster a collaborative and supportive relationship. Through building strong, genuine bonds with artists, we often discover new talent organically as they typically introduce us to their friends who also make art, allowing our network to grow even larger.

AF: If you could offer a piece of advice to an emerging artist, what would it be? What about an aspiring gallerist?  

DD: For emerging artists, I would advise that you remain rooted in your beliefs and not to waver in your convictions. As an artist, you have a unique vision and perspective that is entirely your own. It’s essential to trust and believe in yourself, even when inevitably faced with criticism or rejection. Create from a place of authenticity and remember that art is subjective. Not everyone will connect with your work, but that doesn’t diminish its value. Keep pushing yourself, experimenting, and growing as an artist. Finally, don’t be afraid to take risks and step out of your comfort zone. The art world rewards those who are bold and innovative. 

Similarly, if I were to give advice to aspiring gallerists, it would be to not let fear hold you back. Embracing fear can be a powerful tool for growth and development. As my favorite saying goes, “no risk, no reward”. Success often comes from taking chances and jumping in with both feet. 

MK: For both artists and aspiring gallerists, building your web is so important. Finding like minded creatives and individuals in the business to connect with and have as allies will get you far. For artists, finding your voice and going with your gut is crucial, and for gallerists, seeking out mentors and people you can trust, especially in an industry that can be very isolating, helps to strengthen and keep the web strong. Nothing is more important than having people in your corner and there are so many wonderful humans in this industry.

AF: What does your daily routine look like, and what’s something you hope you can do

more of in the coming months? 

DD: I wish I could say that I’m a morning person but despite my best efforts, the only thing I’m capable of when I first wake up is pretending not to be so my dog doesn’t notice (Honey is definitely a morning person). After we’re both up, I get her ready for the day and then I’ll usually have my first cup of coffee while checking emails or scrolling the Vanderpump Rules subreddit because Scandoval has continued to consume my freetime.  

After this, I’ll have a little morning walk around Greenpoint and then head to the gallery with Honey, always stopping by Land to Sea for an iced lavender matcha. The workday at the gallery is never monotonous, but it does usually involve opening up shop, chatting with guests, and tackling the never-ending list of tasks for the week. More often than not, this includes corresponding with artists and collectors, research, meeting with people in the industry over Zoom, reaching out to journalists, creating marketing materials, and writing – lots and lots of writing. 

After the gallery closes, I’ve been ending the day with exactly what I’d like to do more of in the coming months–prioritizing time spent with friends!

MK: I start most mornings with a workout (usually Peloton) and coffee (I am a Dunkin gal) and depending on what day it is, glue myself to my desk chair or head to the gallery. I go through emails, chat with Danielle, work on sales for our current show and continue to plan logistics for the next. We are currently programmed out until November and are finalizing plans for the end of 2023 and what 2024 will look like. Each week I try to go to one or two studio visits and in the coming months I hope to go to even more. There is nothing better than connecting with artists one-on-one and learning about their practice, what excites them and many times meeting their dogs (Danielle and I are big dog people). After the day is done or the gallery closes, I spend time with my dog, Butter, walking around East Williamsburg, cooking with my husband, and watching our next show – currently we are binging Ted Lasso. 

AF: As you know, Art Frankly is a community that cares about job transparency and supporting fellow art professionals. What is the best piece of advice you can give about working in the art world?  

DD: It is crucial to maintain a level-headed perspective when navigating the art world. You’re going to meet a lot of egos here. Grow a thick skin and don’t let anyone’s treatment of you influence your self-worth or, in turn, how you treat others. Always stay true to your values.

MK: Job transparency is something that the art world lacks and as a young professional thrown into this industry, one can often be taken advantage of. Know your worth, spend time figuring out what is important to you in a work environment, and do your research. Sometimes the people you work with are more important than the company. Ask questions. If something feels off it probably is. Know what your growth potential looks like in a role. If you don’t see it, don’t work there. Find a mentor and let them help you. There is nothing wrong with asking for help. 

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

DD: I personally believe that the art world could become more transparent by hitting pause on pandering to the 1%. It’s been said time and time again but I’ll say it again, we need to address the systemic issues that have infiltrated the industry, such as underrepresentation of artists from marginalized communities and a lack of transparency around pricing, provenance, and sales. 

We should aim to create an environment where emerging artists and gallerists have access to resources and opportunities that allow them to thrive, regardless of their background or identity. This could look like more clear and open pricing policies, providing greater access to funding and grants, and fostering a more collaborative, less competitive culture within the industry.

MK: I do think there have been strides to make the art world more transparent. Younger galleries like ourself cater to a broader audience of collectors – both new and seasoned. We offer payment plans through Art Money, never stray away from sharing pricing, and lean on education, encouraging people to feel comfortable reaching out or walking through our doors. Younger generations are collecting more frequently and feel empowered to support artists in their community or communities they feel connected to. Social media has changed the power dynamic and given artists agency to network and sell their own work, connecting with who they want, when they want. Leaning into and supporting these changes will allow for more art world transparency – we just need to continue talking and doing something about it! 

AF:  Is there anything we can look forward to for Tchotchke or other projects in the coming months or year? 

DD: Absolutely. There’s so much excitement happening at the gallery in the upcoming months! We have a jam-packed schedule for 2023 that we’re thrilled to share with you all. After wrapping up our current exhibition, Not From Venus, we’re gearing up for our biggest show yet: High Maintenance. It’s an all-girls group exhibition featuring 32 talented female-identifying artists from all over the world. Trust us, it’s going to be killer.

We’ve also got some incredible solo shows lined up for our program artists Rachael Tarravechia, Elena Redmond, and Josiah Ellner throughout the end of Summer and Fall. Plus, we’ve got a duo show with some fresh new faces that we can’t wait to introduce you all to, as well as a group exhibition to close out the year. We wish we could tell you more, but we want to keep some surprises up our sleeve!

AF: Thank you, Danielle and Marlee, for participating in Frank Talks! It has been wonderful chatting with you. To finish off, we want to know: If you could own work by 5 different artists/craftspeople, who would be in your collection? 

DD: It would be a dream to own work by Ronnie Fernandez, Jordan Casteel, Mikey Yates, Anastasiya Tarasenko, and Jenna Gribbon. 

MK: This answer could change tomorrow, but right now I would love to own work by Jeanine Brito, Dennis Scholl, Cielo Félix-Hernández, Lisa Yuskavage, and Alexis Ralaivao. I could go on and on!

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