I first met Joan Robledo-Palop when my colleague inquired by happenstance about an available Sonia Delaunay from Robledo-Palop’s gallery, Zeit Contemporary Art. We were hoping to include the Delaunay in a show curated by the art advising company I work for, Samuels Creative. We then proceeded to meet with Robledo-Palop at UOVO, an art storage facility to see the work in person. His passion for the work and art, in general, came through immediately, as he effortlessly situated the Delaunay in the larger art historical canon for us. I remember being instantly impressed by his calm, collected, and knowledgeable demeanor.
Ever since that first meeting, I continue to be impressed by Robledo-Palop’s drive and determination to make his mark on the New York art world and beyond. He founded Zeit Contemporary Art in 2016, and in just three years the gallery has amassed a formidable online presence, with over 120,000 followers on IG. A following that exceeds many popular art influencers. Crisscrossing between the digital and material sphere, Robledo-Palop is producing amazing shows and content in both physical and virtual spaces.
Joan Robledo-Palop in the light of a Dan Flavin work (previous) and in front of a Josef Albers work at his exhibition “Minimal Means” in New York, 2019. Photographed by Res.
Robledo-Palop’s entry into the art world began with formalized training in the History of the Art at the Universitat de València, Spain, and continued with an MA in European Studies from Yale University, where he wrote his dissertation on the art of Francisco de Goya.
I was curious to hear the story behind Zeit Contemporary Art and how Robledo-Palop successfully wears many hats simultaneously, including, but not limited to: art historian, curator, art collector, and social media maverick. This profile is a deeper look into the mind of an art dealer truly of this generation, one who values research and respects the past but is cognizant of staying relevant and abreast of contemporary technology.
Nina Blumberg: You founded Zeit Contemporary Art in 2016, what led you to create your own company?
Joan Robledo-Palop: My first job while I was still an undergraduate student was as a museum curator organizing exhibitions and publishing the accompanying catalogs. Later on, I taught at universities and lectured in museums and art institutions. At some point, I started collecting, befriending a lot of artists and advising collectors about what was good to acquire. While I was at Yale, I remember my friends coming to my apartment in New Haven to see works by Andy Warhol, Joan Miró and Picasso hanging together with works by my artist-friends. It was very fun, and there was a point when I realized that I was not the typical scholar or museum professional. I really wanted to delve deeper into the world of art,
Did you not feel comfortable in your role as a museum professional and scholar?
I didn’t like the idea of doing what others do. I have not followed a traditional professional path. When those around me saw a future museum director in me, I went into academia. When they assumed I was about to become a university professor, I became a gallerist. I feel that in order to be a good gallerist, in addition to business acumen, you must have the vision of a museum director and the skills of a scholar. In addition, having my own firm gives me a lot of freedom. Among many other things, I work with living artists and produce research-based exhibition projects, such as “Minimal Means: Concrete Inventions in the US, Brazil, and Spain,” currently on view in New York.
It’s a great show with many unexpected pairings. What possibility does having a gallery offer that working as a curator at a museum does not?
Thank you. “Minimal Means” is my dream-exhibition where I tell a different story about the development of abstraction in the mid-twentieth century. I show that three different parts of the world were doing their own versions of what was called Minimalism in the United States, Neo-Concretism in Brazil and Normative art or Geometric Abstraction in Spain. Showing the work of Sol LeWitt and Elena Asins together is a radical disruption of the traditional canon of the official history of art that would have been difficult to realize in a traditional museum setting.
Artists are obviously the most important part in the ecosystem we call the “art world.”
– Joan Robledo-Palop
Yes, it is definitely unorthodox, but makes so much sense. You work with both historical and emerging artists- how is that experience for you? Do you find it challenging to balance?
I love to do both. It’s an honor when you have a close relationship with an artist and have the privilege of seeing the unfolding of their careers, studio visit after studio visit, exhibition after exhibition. If I just worked with historical artists, I would be an antiquarian. I like to provide a frame of reference for young artists and their collectors. It’s very impactful to see the work of Bryson Rand and Vincent Tiley close to Peter Hujar and Robert Rauschenberg, or the work of Julia Rooney with Miró and Calder. Artists are obviously the most important part in the ecosystem we call the “art world” and these dialogues benefit artists across generations.
What do you think makes a work of art or an artist “great”? How can you tell if someone is worth taking a chance on?
Each period redefines what it means to be a great artist. Nevertheless, there are some reiterations about what makes the work of an artist special and worthy of consideration for curators, art historians, collectors, and other artists. The first aspect that makes an artist great is their exceptional intelligence. As we know, intelligence has many definitions and manifestations. Applied to this case, intelligence means resilience, eloquence, transculturality/cosmopolitanism, and the aptitude to radically transform the medium and work beyond its constraints. The second one is a great understanding of their time. History often penetrates in their work in no obvious or expected ways. This is something that cannot be learned or taught in an MFA program. It’s about a natural empathetic relationship with others and the world. The third aspect is what I like to refer as “the function of art to reveal truth.” Great artists create a world, which is so important, powerful and real that the rest of humanity cannot leave it behind. Sometimes, for the general public, it takes a couple of generations to figure it out.
Wow, that is profound. When did you become interested in art?
I think I was 3 or 4 years old when I started to realize that being surrounded by art made me very happy. My parents love art and I grew up in Spain, where art is something that everybody experiences in their everyday lives. As you know, Spain has produced artists such as Velázquez, Goya, Picasso, Dalí, Miró and Tàpies, just to name a few. Their legacy is everywhere. It goes without saying that Spain has an impressive and decentralized network of both public and private museums.
I am imagining you as a child casually wandering around the Prado Museum.
Ha, well although art was a totally natural thing for me, I never took it for granted or thought it was easy to grasp in all its complexity. My curiosity led me to devote a great part of my youth and adult life to study art and learn as much as possible about its historical and philosophical dimensions. This drive led me to study art history, and pursue graduate degrees in art history and history both in Europe and here in the United States.
Tell me about your time at Yale.
I had a wonderful time at Yale. It was a buffet for the intellect. I not only expanded my perspective and skills at being a good professional in the field of art but also allowed me to surround myself with high standards of excellence. I was very lucky with the advisers I had, the mentors I still have and the friends that remain and will remain from my experience there.
Instagram has enriched our experience with the world of images in the same way that the invention of the Guttenberg press transformed the traditional circulation of written knowledge.
I must mention that I am so impressed by your Instagram account. Have Instagram and social media affected your strategy at all as a young gallerist?
I love to spend hours on Instagram! Instagram is expanding and changing the ways we look at art. It provides us with instant access to works of art in large and small museums, galleries and artist’s studios, and to the most interesting pieces exhibited at art fairs and biennials happening simultaneously around the globe. If I miss an event or exhibition I use a geotag to find works. In my opinion, it is one of the app’s most useful tools. Although we are still assessing the impact that Instagram is having on art, it is without a doubt that Instagram has enriched our experience with the world of images in the same way that the invention of the Guttenberg press transformed the traditional circulation of written knowledge.
Your gallery’s program includes online exhibitions. Tell me more.
Zeit Contemporary Art has pioneered online exhibitions, which I see totally related to the world of Instagram and social media. Zeit has organized online shows featuring Eddie Aparicio, Bryson Rand, Julia Rooney, and, most recently Zoe Walsh curated by artist Bianca Boragi. We will have another online show in March devoted to the work of artist and activist Vincent Tiley curated by the brilliant Evan Garza. I consider Vincent Tiley one of the great artists working today. His work is related to bodies and the challenges of living in and occupying a queer body. It’s work that speaks to humanity. These shows have been a huge success because the online format has connected their work with a public that doesn’t step into a gallery in New York or Hong Kong, but is genuinely interested in embracing new art and becoming its first collector.
What are 3 books on your bookshelf that would tell our readers something about you as a dealer and curator?
This is a difficult question because I love books as much as I love art, but here you go: “Ernst Beyeler. A Passion for Art. Interviews” by Christophe Mory, “The Rise: Creativity, the Gift of Failure, and the Search for Mastery” by Sarah Lewis, “Interviews on Art” by Robert Storr. Because I have so many books here and there, I need to add a fourth one, “Buscadores de belleza. Historias de los grandes coleccionistas de arte” by Cindy Mack and María Dolores Jiménez Blanco. It’s a pity it has not been translated into English yet.
What is coming up in 2019 for you and Zeit Contemporary Art?
2019 has had a great start with the pop-up exhibition “Minimal Means.” It has been open for a few weeks now and the response has been excellent. It has connected us with great collectors, artists, and art lovers from around the globe. Some people were already interested in the artists included in the exhibition, others have discovered them for the first time. I love to hear feedback from the public, to tour visitors around the exhibition, and to hear the emotional responses that the works of art produce in them.
I already mentioned Vincent’s exhibit, after that, we are planning to show new work by Julia Rooney. She uses discarded and quotidian objects as a source or as an actual material in the work. Her paintings and objects reflect on domestic spaces and environments and how we deal with them. Her art has experienced a great transformation in the past year and I cannot wait to see the totality of works we are going to present.
Ok, wrapping up. 3 shows you’re looking forward to in 2019.
“Joan Miró. Birth of the World” at MoMA, New York, curated by Anne Umland, “Matthew Barney: Redoubt” at Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, CT, curated by Pamela Franks, and “Préhistoire” at Centre Pompidou, Paris, curated by Cécile Debray, Rémi Labrusse, and Maria Stavrinaki.
3 favorite art museums.
The Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg, Russia as it is one of the largest art museums in the world with an unparalleled encyclopedic collection. Their holdings by Malevich and the early and cubist works by Picasso always leave me speechless!
IVAM – Institut Valencià d’Art Modern in Valencia, Spain. The museum opened in 1989 and this year marks the 30th anniversary of the institution. It’s the home to the most important collection of works by Julio González, Josep Renau, John Heartfield, and photography between the two World Wars. The collection is very strong in the 1930s, a collecting area dismissed until then by major art institutions.
Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford, CT, USA. It was founded in 1842 and is one of the oldest art museums in the US. When I lived in New Haven, it was always very fun to go to Hartford and dive into the rich collections of this institution. This museum collected modern and contemporary art from Europe and the US in real time, becoming the first museum in North America to devote an exhibition to Surrealism in 1931.
And, finally, 3 favorite art world people to follow on Insta,
@thingsizzyloves, @brettgorvy, and, of course, you @artstagram__!
Haha – so flattered to be included with such esteemed art Instagrammers! See you on Thursday.
Don’t miss the Artist Talk led by Bianca Boragi and Julia Rooney in the context of the exhibition “Minimal Means: Concrete Inventions in the US, Brazil and Spain,” Thursday, February 21st, 6-7:30PM, reception 7:30-8PM on 111 E70th, New York, NY, 10021.
Please RSVP contact[at]zeitcontemporaryart.