Genevieve Martin is the Director of External Affairs at The Art Students League of New York, an institution that counts Georgia O’Keeffe and Louise Bourgeois among its former students. The Art Students League of New York is a 150-year-old academy that is a public asset at the intersection of art and society. Genevieve herself has a career that has seen her work at Christie’s and The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Genevieve believes that mid-sized art nonprofits are responsible for engaging in the most experimental work and serve as social facilitators for larger institutions. We spoke to Genevieve about her beginnings in the art world, her career mentors and her art world sheroes.
How did you get into art?
My mother is a textile designer and spent a significant part of her career living in the massive artist live-work commune, Westbeth. The community complex actually spans an entire city block from West Street to Bethune Street which is why it’s named just that: West-Beth. It was originally the site of Bell Labs where some of the most novel technological inventions were conceived – including color tv, radar, the first binary computer and countless other creations. For a while during WWII it was even a venue for The Manhattan Project, a nationwide research endeavor that produced the first nuclear weapons. The conversion to artist housing was overseen by the renowned architect Richard Meier who conceived of Westbeth as an integrated self-sufficient community for creatives in all disciplines. The space was constantly crawling with innovation and I loved getting lost in its seemingly endless labyrinth of hallways and was always peering into open studios. The smell of my adolescence was imbued with the nuttiness of linseed oil and my first book was definitely Pantone Color Guide. While most develop art appreciation from an early encounter with a museum, my adoration was definitely sowed from within my home and this surely shaped my commitment to living artists and social practice. Westbeth always felt like it was an incubator for new ideas and forms, some albeit more benevolent than others.
What did you study, and how has that benefitted your career?
I began studying at The Art Students League early on; I was very set on being a serious artist and this is where all the serious artists attended, Pollock, Rothko, and 9 year old me. Begrudgingly I enrolled in children’s classes but quickly found myself fully immersed in adult figure drawing and painting courses. I was quick to achieve likeness and ultimately spent most of my career frustrated by that very ease. This innate skill became useful at the Metropolitan Museum of Art where I assisted their conservation studio in the production of facsimiles for several years and again when I produced facial prosthetics for veterans as part of a residency program at the VA Hospital. I was never interested in showing my art in galleries and enjoyed playing with the liminal space between art and craft, community and institution. I was one of the last graduating classes at The Cooper Union to receive a full-scholarship and they well-instilled a sense of responsibility to pay it forward by activating the creative potential of those around us; this led me to transition from making art to supporting artists.
At The Art Students League, you work to assert art as a public asset, why do you think that’s so important?
The Art Students League operates on a fundamentally different model of what an education and artwork should look like. There are no grades, no application, or portfolio reviews. No one gets turned away. This egalitarian format of study promotes unlikely and progressive mentor-protégé pairings, ultimately making The League a mirror of society. You don’t enroll in a class – you enter the centuries old tradition of the atelier in which a master instructor who inherited the collective artistic information from another atelier-trained artist mentors you. So, if you feel that the artworld feeds the narrow interests of the elite and is guilty of institutional racism, sexism or ageism, The League is a platform for a far broader range of voices and ideas. My role as Director of External Affairs privileges me with the opportunity to position the League as a social facilitator – a custodian of change; overseeing a series of initiatives aimed at addressing the real challenges artists, museum goers and educators face especially now during this global health crisis. At this moment, The League is transitioning from Atelier to e-telier, bringing the highest quality art education and public programming to larger audiences than ever.
Did you have any career mentors?
Gonzalo Casals, Arts Administrator, Ilaria Conti, Curator and Josephine Halvorson, Artist.
Who are your art sheroes?
Of course the aforementioned ladies as well as: Agnes Gund, Thelma Golden, Helen Molesworth, Cady Noland, Roberta Smith, Isabelle Graw, Dore Ashton and Maura Reilly.
Who are your favorite female artists?
I’m attracted to paintings that are transgressive but also humorous. I think a lot of people struggle to see a punchline on a canvas. You’re going to have to stop me because this list is never ending (and should be): Tala Madani, Nicole Eisenman, Talia Chetrit, Huguette Caland, Sarah Lucas, Genesis Belanger, Hiba Schahbaz (League workshop instructor), Joyce Pensato (League alum), Ambera Wellman (Studio Mate at Cooper), Sascha Braunig, Sophie Calle, Meriem Bennani (also Cooper Union Classmate) and Maria Lai.
What advice would you give to young women looking to make a career in the art world?
Mentorship is everything and it’s not exclusive to senior practitioners in the field. The passage of knowledge should occur at all levels. So many of us early in our career are responsible for junior employees and interns; these young women are worthy of our insight and attention. Take someone under your wing, you will both grow from it.