Selective Focus: Joseph Nease Gallery

This week we hear from Amanda Hunter, manager at Joseph Nease Gallery, about the gallery’s first year in business in Downtown Duluth and what’s ahead.

AH: As background on our history, Joe Nease, the gallery owner and his partner, the painter Karen Owsley Nease, moved to Duluth from Kansas City about five years ago after falling in love with Duluth, the North Shore and Lake Superior during many years of vacationing here. Previously, Joe ran a successful gallery for 5 years in the thriving contemporary art scene of Kansas City, MO. The first Joseph Nease Gallery carried most of the best artists in that town, many who have gone on to prestigious careers and have won important awards in the art world such as the Joan Mitchell Foundation Award. Shows from that gallery were reviewed four times in a major national magazine.

Opening of “Sweep”, February 2018, a show about the many current
styles in contemporary painting. Photo credit: Peter Lande

Once the Nease’s felt settled in town, and started to get to know many of the artists and arts venues around, Joe started thinking of opening a gallery here, this time within the context of Duluth’s own rich arts community, which is growing exponentially. He had maintained many of those relationships with the artists he previously represented and still had an interest in furthering their careers, and exposing them to a new geographical area. Also, he discovered artists in Duluth that he wanted to represent and/or work with to develop their careers further, and he felt he could take the lessons learned during that first gallery experience and apply them to this current gallery, making it even better. Joe saw a niche that a gallery like ours could fill, and ways that we could partner with other arts venues in the area. He bought our current building in downtown, on 23 W. 1st Street, and took great care in remodeling and restoring this historic building. In fact, restoration projects continue! Most recently the terracotta tile on the face of the building was restored. We opened our doors officially on Oct. 21, 2018.

Installation view of “James Brinsfield – A Twenty Year Retrospective”, now showing at the gallery. Photo credit: Peter Lande

Selling art as a for-profit brick and mortar art gallery has always been a challenging endeavor. This is especially true in our current era in which the method by which many people buy art is changing to online buying, and folks are bombarded by visuals – the created image and forms of “free” art are always around us, information comes at us fast and continuously.

Installation by James Woodfill, “Wayfinding,” a work in the gallery’s Three States show, October – January 2018. Photo credit: Peter Lande

While we also have an online version of our gallery, having a bricks and mortar gallery is a statement in itself. It is as simple as providing a space in which art can be really “experienced”, looked at and deeply observed. Multiple times, visitors have remarked that they enter our space and are able to step away from whatever noise was distracting them a few minutes before. Our aim is to be a welcoming place, intelligently and professionally operated, showing continually interesting work, and advancing our artists’ careers. We really enjoy working with our artists to increase their exposure by bringing their work to the attention of the public, to curators, art writers, and other significant art professionals and patrons – this is part of our mission. We also enjoy helping patrons find work that is meaningful to them, and a good investment of their resources.

Certainly as we live in Duluth we also want this to be another component of our resurgent downtown.

For the type of gallery we have, one may ask why we have chosen Duluth as a location. Duluth is an artistic community. There are public institutions such as the Tweed and DAI that do a great job at what they do and serve the community. There are already quite a few gallery spaces that find support within the community, and many artists. Maybe, because we are coming into this community, somewhat as outsiders (I moved here four years ago from Northeast Minneapolis) we felt we could be a valuable contributor to the arts community, bringing in some new things that would complement, positively challenge and support what’s already here.

No Place Like Utopia by Matthew Kluber from the show Three States, October – January 2018. Photo credit: Peter Lande

At Joseph Nease Gallery we have a specific vision for the type of work we show – a particular aesthetic that is loosely common among all the art we put on our walls – this is so viewers know what to expect (although we will still throw in some surprises to keep folks on their toes!). This aesthetic is apparent when you walk into our space. However, we are lovers of many forms of art. We appreciate the cultural and socio-economic value artistic expression brings to this community, and we want to support that in any way we can. Arts and artists thrive in an atmosphere of engaged feedback with other artists and creative thinkers.

A dialogue between the “still” and “moving” image, Artist talk with filmmaker Allen Killian-Moore about his film Permanent State of Exception and photographer Tim White about his exhibition of new phtographic works, May 2018.

Early on, Joe decided he wanted his gallery to be a part of downtown and the revitalization that has been happening here. We saw an opportunity for discovery between our out of town artists and the new audience that they would encounter in Duluth. We saw an opportunity to bring new collectors to Duluth, who were looking for that bricks and mortar “white box gallery feel”, and once in Duluth would discover all of the other wonderful attributes of the city and its arts community. We saw an opportunity for our arts community in general, in encountering the work of new nationally-known artists, in town – positively impacting the local artists’ work, and vice versa.

Also, we live here and enjoy living here! So it makes sense to plant your seeds where you sow!

In our first year there have been some challenges, but many rewards. And I don’t think the challenges we have had were unexpected. I know Joe did a lot of research and planning before deciding to open the gallery, and since then we’ve really sought out experts in marketing and promotion to help us to make thoughtful and wise decisions. While Duluth has a long established arts community and many creative entrepreneurs, it is still a developing arts market. This means we are experiencing the same challenges and rewards as that growing market. Currently we are working to establish a collector base in Duluth, as well as nationally/internationally. We are encouraging folks here, to make the same sort of investment that they make in work they buy in Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, in the work they find here.

Stacked spaces – Imaginary places #4, Oil painting on paper by Warren Rosser, whose show Transitions: Color + Space is currently on view at the gallery.

One of the main rewards by far has been the warm welcome of the local arts community, though that wasn’t unexpected either! Recently, after months of productive conversation and planning, the downtown arts community came together as the Downtown Duluth Arts Collective to form a monthly, year-round Downtown Arts Walk. We are coming up on our third month, and it has been super gratifying to work with so many different and exciting arts venues (currently at 26) to bring attention to the thriving Downtown arts scene!

Installation by Kathy McTavish, “ticket,” a work in the gallery’s Three States show, October – January 2018. Photo credit: Peter Lande

Another reward has been working as a team with Joe and with so many thoughtful and fascinating artists dedicated to their work and the craft to create it. It’s pretty amazing to speak to these artists, hear the huge conceptual ideas they are working with, see how they have translated that into their work, and then devise a plan with Joe of how to install the work to best communicate those ideas.

If you asked us a year ago before we opened, what response we were hoping for, we would say by and large, the response we have received has met those expectations! We are in this for the long haul, and will continue to pursue the goals we have set for our gallery and to be an advocate for and partner to the arts community!

Here is what we have going on now and in the near future:

Our current exhibitions, James Brinsfield: A Twenty Year Retrospective and Transitions: Color + Space, Smaller Works by Warren Rosser, are both up through September 29. These two exhibitions feature work by respected abstract painters, who also happen to be colleagues, from Kansas City. Warren Rosser will be at the gallery on August 31 during the Downtown Arts Walk event.

In October, we will be featuring a two week pop-up of Karen Owsley Nease’s Wave Paintings, to coincide with their use as the basis for the choreography of and projected backdrop for the Minnesota Ballet’s fall performance of the Rite of Spring.

Beginning in November, we will be featuring a preview show of three artists represented by the gallery that will be having solo shows within the next two years. We also will be featuring a curated Holiday Pop-up Shop of small, more affordable works by artists we have shown in the last year.

Somewhere in there we will also have a one year celebration, and of course as a member of the newly created Downtown Duluth Arts Collective, we will be participating in the monthly Downtown Arts Walks, happening the final Friday of every month – August 31, September 28, October 26, November 30 – with a special Winter Solstice Arts Walk happening December 21.



Artsy site (online gallery):


Instagram: @joseph_nease_gallery


And if you email me at [email protected], I’ll put you on our handy dandy email list to let you know about upcoming events!

No Comments

Leave a Comment

Only registered members can post a comment , Login / Register Here

Read previous post:
R.I.P. Carter Hotel

The Duluth News Tribune reports the vacant Carter Hotel building at 17 N. Second Ave. E. will be torn down....