Devoted to the photographic preservation of LGBTQ+ history, ClampArt has exhibited and represented a broad array of artists for over two decades. Here its founder shares his story, process, and advice for emerging artists
The year 2000 marked a turning point for New York-based gallerist Brian Clamp. After turning 30 and receiving his MA in Critical Studies in Modern Art from Columbia University, he had reached a crossroads. “I had been working as director of Owen Gallery on the Upper East Side, and wanted to get more involved with contemporary art, photography, and working with living artists,” says Clamp. “I decided to take the plunge and start my own gallery, not fully realising what I was getting into.”
That fall, he opened ClampArt, and worked as a private dealer from his West 27th Street loft. An avid practitioner of photography, Clamp also spent time at The Camera Club of New York (now known as Baxter St), getting to know a number of photographers whose work he admired. Through these relationships, Clamp developed the foundations for the gallery program.
In early 2003, Clamp signed a lease for a commercial space on West 25th Street, just as Chelsea was becoming the center of the downtown art world. “I was able to get a ground floor space in Chelsea for my first gallery without any backing,” he says.
In June 2003, Clamp presented what would become a career-defining exhibition: Boys of Summer: Photographs of and about Men. The group show included work by Robert Giard, Horst P. Horst, George Platt Lynes, Robert Mapplethorpe, Duane Michals, and Jack Pierson, among others. For the exhibition poster, Clamp chose to print Rich Thompson’s 1963 photograph of LGBTQ artist and activist Mel Roberts (1923-2007). This drew long overdue accolades for the artist, who had faced decades of state persecution for his homoerotic work.
“The gallery scene was different 20 years ago; people used to be afraid of LGBTQ artists and issues,” Clamp says. “Boys of Summer started to solidify who I was as a gallerist and set the direction for the gallery program.” Driven by a strong interest in portraiture and figurative work, alongside issues of marginalisation and the fight for civil rights, Clamp describes his curatorial process as “intuitive and deeply personal. It comes down to what you respond to.”
In 2016, ClampArt moved to its current locale, a 2,750-square-foot space with 19-foot ceilings on the main floor at 247 West 29th Street. Clamp has represented a broad array of artists over the past two decades including Mariette Pathy Allen, James Bidgood, Daniel Handal, Meryl Meisler, Pipo Nguyen-duy, Lori Nix/Kathleen Gerber, and Lissa Rivera. This month, the gallery presents Meryl Meisler: PARADISE LOST Bushwick Era Disco, looking back at New York in the late-70s and early-80s.
“It seems simple and straightforward… but there’s so much to be gained by getting out and connecting directly with people.”
As the gallery’s roster grows, Clamp considers taking on new artists based on the way their work fits within the organic whole. For artists seeking representation, he says: “[Build] your network of people to show your work, develop ideas, help you expand your network, and lead you to opportunities.”
Most importantly, Clamp notes the impact of engaging directly with the gallery: going to openings, getting to know artists on the roster, and becoming a part of the community. “When I have a hole in my exhibition schedule or am curating a group exhibition, the people who come to mind are those who I know personally or have spoken to recently,” he says. “It seems so simple [and] straightforward… but there’s so much to be gained by getting out and connecting directly with people.”
Meryl Meisler: PARADISE LOST Bushwick Era Disco will be exhibited at ClampArt, New York, from 03 June until 09 July 2021.