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Gallery Heist

New on the Block

At 24 years old, Juianne Yates is one of San Francisco's youngest gallery owners. Her space, Gallery Heist celebrates its one-year anniversary this November. Despite the down economy and limited experience, Yates has made Heist a staple in the SF art scene. We sat down with Yates at a nearby cafe to get her take on her experience in San Francisco.

SF Station: Let's start at the beginning. What is your background in the arts?

Juianne Yates: I'm learning how to tell it short! My background is being a creative, myself. Growing up, I did acting, singing, and music, but not any visual art.

SFS: How did you become so involved in the visual arts?

JY: Right before I left LA I interned with this fashion, music, and arts event, Project Ethos. During my time there, I got to work directly with the artists and I found I wanted to work with the artists more. When I moved up to SF, I was unemployed. Five months later, I was totally broke, and then I got hired at Hyde Street Gallery.

SFS: How was that experience?

JY: I was super intimidated because I had no experience in a gallery setting. But I got in there and within six weeks I was curating and running the place. It was the first thing I totally jumped into and gave myself completely to, and I don't even know why.

SFS: When did you break away and decide to open Heist?

JY: I worked at Hyde Street for about a year. I did a show with Brett Amory and he pretty much introduced me to this whole SF art scene. I started going to openings at Fecal Face, White Walls, 111 Minna, and I was so inspired. I wanted to work with those artists, but I couldn't show that type of work at Hyde Street so I started playing around with the idea of working my own place. I ran Hyde Street as if it were mine so it really gave me experience on how to run a gallery. I left the gallery, started negotiating on a space and finally opened Heist last November.

SFS: Did you go into it with a business plan or did you wing it?

JY: I did write a business plan, but for my first year there was really just a huge list of artists I wanted to show. I guess, going into it, there was a handful of galleries that were showing the type of work that I was into, but I felt like some of the artists had become benchwarmers. I wanted to open a place for them.

SFS: How would you classify that genre of art, or those artists?

JY: I don't want to be pigeonholed into “lowbrow” art, but most of the artists I show would fit into the lowbrow scene. I want to show technically sound, cohesive art that also shows a level of social awareness. Political art. My dad was very political and he taught me to be aware of what was out there and not buy into everything.

SFS: After a year, has that vision changed at all?

JY: If anything, I feel like that it's gotten stronger; the vision has become clearer. I've started looking on an international level and pulling in talent from around the world.

SFS: How do you go about finding and selecting artists?

JY: It might be a naive approach, but I go off the theory that it doesn't hurt to ask! I find most of my artists online and then I ask them if they will show with me. I'm serious about what I'm doing and I'm willing to work my ass off for them. I've been pretty successful in booking the artists I want just by asking.

SFS: Do you represent any artists?

JY: In your first year, you're building up your gallery and building a collector base — trying to figure out. As far as representing any artist in particular, I think you will see that in the second year. I'm not naming any names, but there have already been some issues there.

SFS: With artists?

JY: Just the politics of the art world. It's on all levels, everywhere. The art scene is challenging.

SFS: In what ways? Is it because of competition?

JY: Yes, artists aren't competitive, but galleries are. Artists say this is a great city for the arts community, but galleries are territorial. I've found artists and given them their first solo shows and then they were snatched up by other galleries and came back to me saying, “We can't show with you anymore.” I hate that. It's sort of just the nature of the business though. That's the thing — it is a business and, at the end of the day, it's a product being sold. If you see an artist you're interested in, you have to grab them!

SFS: Does any of that turn you off from running a gallery?

JY: Running the gallery — I feel like it's something that chose me. I know there are bigger galleries and people have tons of knowledge and experience on me, but you can't compare yourself to others. Everyone is on their own path and will go at their own pace, and if you have enough passion and energy you can achieve anything.

SFS: That's an awesome approach to life and work. So, let's talk a bit about the good that comes from running a gallery. What is your favorite part about it?

JY: Installation day! Installing is my favorite. I love getting together with the artist and actually getting to be physical and hands-on with the work. Curating is like painting, too, because you have this empty canvas (the walls) and you arrange the work.

SFS: Tell me about the next show you are curating.

JY: Adam Caldwell. His stuff is gorgeous; he messes around with perspective a lot. We just did a studio visit and figured out the mural he'll be doing. He's taking over a whole wall and painting it so it will look like you're looking into another room. This will be the October show and then in November look out for our one-year anniversary show!