Gallery Founder and Director Isabella Hutchinson has over three decades of experience in the acquisition and sale of modern and contemporary Latin American art. She founded Hutchinson Modern & Contemporary in 2001 after a successful career at the helm of Sotheby’s Latin American Art Department in New York. During her tenure at the auction house, Ms. Hutchinson tripled annual sales of Latin American art, and was instrumental in expanding the array of artists offered by the company. She continues to possess in-depth knowledge of the market for works by modern masters, including Wifredo Lam, Matta, Xul Solar, Leonora Carrington, and Joaquín Torres-García, among others. Opening its ground floor gallery space in October 2020, Hutchinson Modern & Contemporary specializes in modern and contemporary art of the Americas, with a focus on Latin American, Caribbean and Latinx art. Ms. Hutchinson is a long-time collector of fine art, and therefore has a keen understanding of what it means to assemble a cohesive collection that blends works of historical and personal significance. In addition to her work at Hutchinson Modern & Contemporary, Isabella is a Trustee of Studio in a School, is a member of the Americas Society’s Arts of the Americas Circle and of ArtTable.
What was the most important thing you learned at your first job in the Arts?
My first job was at Sotheby’s New York in the Latin American Art department. I learned how to observe artworks, by looking at their surface, the brushstroke, the condition, the frame and its labels on the reverse, as they are all part of the story of one work of art. Most importantly, I learned to take the time needed to understand a work and to consider a painting by its quality, not by my personal taste.
Where are you from and what is the arts community like there? How has your upbringing shaped what you do in the arts today?
I grew up in San Francisco, a city that taught me that visual, performing and culinary arts make life so exciting as there is always something new to learn about. The various communities in the city gave me an awareness and acceptance of other cultures and aesthetics, and all were celebrated. My first exposure to conceptual art was at 13 years of age when my mother drove my sister and I to see Christo’s Running Fence. By the time I was 15, we moved to Washington, D.C. and with the freedom the subway system gave me, I started going alone to museums both Saturday and Sunday. This is when I learned how artwork connected to my emotional life, and I always left the museums feeling happier. I learned about the gallery world when I moved to New York after college.
You’ve been at the helm of Hutchinson Modern & Contemporary for over 20 years, what prompted your decision to leave the auction house world to start a gallery?
I left Sotheby’s in 2001, ready for a change and became a private art dealer specialized in the secondary market, focusing on the Latin American modern masters. A few years ago I realized that I wanted to contribute more to this field by promoting artists through exhibitions. This required a ground floor space which I found in the same building my office was in! My first exhibition opened in October of 2020, of the Dominican-born New York artist, Freddy Rodríguez. It gave me so much satisfaction to see international clients respond to his work. Quality is universal.
What is the best piece of advice you can give about working in the art world?
Always stay curious. So much of what I learned was from looking at a lot of art, but also from listening to people speak about the art market, about provenance, about expertise and much more. There is so much unwritten history in the art world, so listen as well as look.
What do you think defines a good employee? And what defines a good supervisor?
I always say that my career was started thanks to timing and luck, yet I do know that my hard work, reliability and honesty are what allowed me to be a good employee and to advance my career. A good supervisor is one who has the generosity to teach their employees, to inspire them, and to be clear about expectations. And always give them credit when it is due.
What are you most excited for this year at your company or in the art world as a whole?
This year Hutchinson Modern & Contemporary, will have six exhibitions, following last year’s program of highlighting various Latin American and Latino/a artists.
What is the best exhibition you have seen recently?
I thought that the Ad Reinhardt exhibition that I saw at the Fundación Juan March in Madrid this past October was extraordinary.
If you could own work by 5 different artists, who would be in your collection?
I am very lucky to be surrounded by works of art, many of them works on paper, in the apartment that I share with my husband. Our collection is mainly Latin American and Latinx art. The works were chosen for their historical significance and/or they caught my attention with their message. I rotate some of the works a few times a year, so that I see them in different “conversations” with other works. Subtle works might actually be far stronger than one first realizes. It is amazing to see how art can vibrate differently depending on where it is placed and what it is placed next to.