Todd von Ammon – Owner and Founder, von ammon co

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Todd von Ammon - Owner & Founder, von ammon co

Todd von Ammon is the owner of von ammon co in Washington DC, the district’s primary exhibition space for experimental contemporary art projects. 

AF: Hi Todd! We are so excited to chat with you, we are big fans of you and your gallery. To start this interview off, we would love to know more about your upbringing. Where are you from and what’s the arts community like there? 

TVA: I’m originally from San Francisco. The city is utterly unrecognizable to me today, having been kind of steamrolled and astroturfed by silicon valley in the last few decades. When I was growing up there, I’d say it was one of the most fertile grounds for radical, do-it-yourself culture; I spent my teens as a wallflower in the punk scene in the mission district, particularly a spot called Mission Records. The music was superb all the way through, but I always related the most of the material culture of that world. There were lots of terrific fanzines, and the music releases tended towards works of art, with beautifully grungy screen printed covers and rubber stamped spines. My first real forways into what I do now were via tape parties for my friends’ bands, where we would all hang out, eat pizza, and fold cassette sleeves. I think this is probably a bygone era of youth culture from what I gather, and I sound geriatric explaining it. I have been on the east coast for over 20 years, which is hell as well, but there’s a lot less affect here. 

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

TVA: My first real job was actually in an art gallery in San Francisco called Berggruen Gallery. This was 22 years ago. I’m very lucky to have found my career of choice as a teenager—I guess I learned where I wanted to spend my life. I am a lapsed painter, and it took me a while to realize that I preferred working in spaces where art is shown to the public rather than where it’s made. 

AF: You are the founder of von ammon co., a gallery in Washington DC! Tell us more about this project and what led you to starting your own gallery? 

TVA: An artist friend of mine and I decided to do a one-off project in a vacant retail space. I was spending a lot of time in DC for personal reasons, so it felt like the simplest place to do it. That one-off closed and I wanted to do another. That was 5 years and thirty three exhibitions ago. 

AF: You moved to the DMV from New York – what led you to Washington DC? What do you wish more people knew about the DC art scene? 

TVA: I like simplicity when it comes to work. This was the simplest solution available. New York has enough galleries. Nobody is going to thank you for being there. Artists are very careful about their NYC debut, or are already deeply committed to a gallerist there. DC has very few commercial galleries, but very many artists are drawn to the context of the US capital as well as the abundance of great museums and curators. Relatively few collectors, but sales happen if they’re going to, whether you’re in New York or DC or Atlanta. That’s just how the market has changed over the last 5 years. 

AF: What are some of the most challenging aspects of your role? What are some of the most fulfilling aspects? 

TVA: I don’t find it any more or less challenging than life in general, and I can’t really imagine doing anything else. 

AF: What does your daily routine look like, and what’s something you hope you can do more of in the coming year? 

TVA: I usually spend the morning writing and the evenings reading. I have terrific people who are on top of the logistics and stuff. This allows me to think more big picture about the program.

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? 

TVA: Whatever your aspirations are professionally, I think artists are the wellspring of it all, so try and get close to some whom you love and respect. The jobs and money will follow. 

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

TVA: I don’t personally believe this is something that needs to or should happen. The world is becoming dreadfully frictionless, and there’s so many ways to expose oneself and one’s work on the internet. Not to mention the terrifying proflagration of cryptocurrency and securities trading. I hold onto the likely unpopular belief (especially in this conversation) that the art world is wonderfully byzantine and idiosyncratic, has somehow resisted the dissolution into contemporary economics, and I’m happy with how tortuous and obscure it’s remained. I just don’t believe that mass exposure is always a good thing. 

AF: What is one Art Industry (or career) resource you love that is accessible to all? 

TVA: Art Frankly!

AF: Is there anything we can look forward to for von ammon co. or personal projects in the coming months or year? 

TVA: Our objective for the next couple of years is to include more projects by mid-career artists in the program, so that we may bring greater context to the work made by artists of my generation. We’ve also launched a publishing program, and plan to release 3 or 4 limited edition monographs per year.

AF: Thank you, Todd, for participating in Frank Talks, it has been our pleasure! To finish off, we’re curious: If you could own work by 5 different artists/craftspeople, who would be in your collection? 

TVA: Pieter Brueghel

Francisco de Zurburan

Victor Man

Henri Rousseau

Edouard Manet

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