This week we chat with Nina Johnson, of Nina Johnson Gallery. Nina Johnson is a contemporary art space in Miami, Florida. Since 2007, the gallery has produced exhibitions by emerging and established artists from around the world. The gallery works alongside artists to produce ambitious projects both within the confines of the gallery space and beyond. Nina has a lot of great advice to share – please enjoy reading her Frank Talk below!
What was your first job in the Arts?
I was an intern at the Bernice Steinbaum Gallery when I was in high school. I learned so much, not only about running a gallery, but about the role galleries play in educating their audiences.
What was the most useful or important thing you learned at that job?
Basically, I learned how to talk to people about contemporary art in an engaging manner that holds true to the artists’ intention.
Tell us a little more about yourself. When did you realize you wanted to pursue a career in this industry?
I’m a bit of an odd bird in that I started my first gallery internship when I was 15 and loved it, I had known prior to that I wanted to pursue a career in the arts but I found my niche in helping artists produce ambitious projects and then communicating what mattered about their practice to varied audiences. I also thrive in a commercial environment and owning a gallery allows me to touch all of these points of interest.
What do you do now?
I’m the director of Nina Johnson, a contemporary art gallery in Miami, FL.
Where are you from?
What is the arts community like there?
Miami has given me so much, it’s my hometown and where I grew up, where I started my business, where I matured as an art dealer, the city is a constant inspiration to me. We have so much new ground to cover and as a dealer that’s very exciting. I’m constantly introducing our audiences to an artist for the first time, and then bringing them back to see how the work has progressed, our current exhibition by Katie Stout is a great example of that. Miami audiences first got to see her work in 2015, it was her first solo exhibition, and now they’ve seen her become a force, she’s truly the leading designer of her generation.
Has where you come from shaped what you do in the arts today?
Of course! Who could say no to that question, the arts are a reflection of our time and place, naturally where we come from affects the lens through which we view creative work.
What is the best piece of advice you can give about working in the art world?
Ask artists, always ask artists, this all exists because of them, it’s everyone else’s job to help the rest of the world understand that…
What is one of your greatest accomplishments in your career so far?
It’s hard to pick out just one but I’ve been fortunate to show the work of some of the most influential artists of the past hundred years, it’s particularly sweet when those artists are women like Judy Chicago or Betty Woodman.
What has been a challenge for you?
Opening my gallery about 3 months before the 2008 financial crisis.
What is something you do every day at work?
Look at the art, I’m so fortunate to get to live with these objects for weeks or months at a time, our recent exhibition of new works by Terry Allen gets better every time I get the opportunity to walk a new visitor through, I’m always finding new details that I hadn’t seen prior, inside jokes or jabs that are so skillfully made in a manner only Terry can do.
What is one of the weirdest things you have had to do on the job in your career?
When Nicolas Lobo covered the gallery floor in several tons of bottles of an expired energy drink, Nexcite… figuring out what to do with it at the shows closing was no easy task.
What defines a good employee? What defines a good boss?
I look for people who are willing to be part of the team, who understand that as a gallery we’re here to facilitate someone else’s vision and are game to make that happen. I think a good boss is someone who can inspire their team to work seamlessly toward the same goal.
What do you think makes a person hirable?
A hirable candidate depends on the position, but a good attitude, a solid work ethic and a genial disposition never hurt!
What is your advice to making yourself stand out in your workplace?
Do your job well and efficiently.
What are things you can do proactively boost your CV?
Gain some solid work experience and relationships through internships whenever you can, pursue educational opportunities to stay relevant, and maintain a clean exit whenever possible.
Are there any tips you can give people entering the workforce?
Have a clear goal of what you want from a position before you go out looking.
In your experience, what are things to do and things to avoid during an interview?
Listen attentively, be open and don’t ever check your phone or your watch.
Any other anecdotes about your experience in the art world that you would like to share?
I’ve had wonderful experiences with some of the most interesting creative people in the world and often through relationships that have lasted decades; one of my favorite pieces to show people visiting our home is a painting Ann Craven gave me when I was her intern, I cherish that piece because Ann and I have remained friends and colleagues, and now as a dealer I show and champion her work. That is tremendously rewarding.
What is the best exhibition you have seen in the last year?
I could never pick just one!
If you could own a work by 5 different artists, who would be in your collection?
I am so fortunate to have built a diverse collection that contains the work of many artists (many more than 5), not sure you would want me to name them all here…