An Intriguing Art Gallery in Philadelphia by Michael Hopkins

Stanek Gallery
While doing research for an article concerning unsolicited submissions to galleries by artists, I came across Stanek Gallery in Philadelphia.

After further examination, I found an intriguing approach to running a commercial art gallery by co-founders Katherine Stanek and Deborah Fine.

The gallery is located in the Old City Arts District, and has been open since November of 2015.

I talked to Katherine Stanek about what she thinks makes her gallery different.

The Stanek Gallery uses outside curators to select artists for each exhibition, and by having a new curator for each exhibition, new art and artists are a constant.

Michael Hopkins: Can you tell me who some of these curators are?

Katherine Stanek: The curator for the current show is Hilarie V. Hawley. She is the curator for the Pennsylvania Trust and The Fellowship of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. The next show currently in the early stages of development will be curated by Ross Mitchell of the Barnes Foundation.

Stanek and Fine do however make suggestions about artists for exhibition.

Stanek Gallery

View from front door

MH: When you or your partner suggests artists to a curator, do they turn down the suggestion on occasion?

KS: Sometimes. They are empowered to see their vision through. We are only suggesting an artist because we think it will work with the vision. Having worked with two curators in this context so far, one took most of our suggestions, and the other one took none. If we are too heavy handed, we compromise the curator’s vision and defeat our purpose.

MH: That purpose is?

KS: A traditional gallery has a single point of view. Our goal is to have different points of view with every show. If we influence the curator too much, it becomes our point of view, which defeats the purpose.

Stanek Gallery

View of collector’s lounge

MH: You talked about the front gallery space as being “uncluttered, “where viewers could contemplate each piece as an “individual entity,” you also said the space was “museum like,” just curious about saying “museum like?” While I do to a certain extent understand what you’re saying here, museums can have a wide variety of how they display work from stacking art from floor to ceiling to a more minimal presentation?

KS: Good question. You are right. Some museum’s exhibit work salon style stacking ceiling to floor. It is probably best said that our exhibition program is more like that of a museum, showing a rotating collection of artists and works curated by different people and the gallery space exhibits these collections together, mindful of how they transition from one collection to the other allowing for the best viewing experience.

Stanek Gallery

View from front desk

MH: You talked about “slowing the viewer down to experience the work. “What exactly does that? Is it the space left between each piece?

KS: This relates to the previous questions. There is not one element that fosters this but a number of elements. I believe that art is a conversation. If you walk into a room and there are twenty people shouting one sentence, you don’t really hear anyone and you don’t stick around. If there is one person with a lot to say but what they are saying doesn’t interest you, still, you are not going to stick around. If you walk into the end of the conversation, you may be intrigued, but again no dialogue. What we are doing is introducing you to several conversations (group shows). Not just one sentence but a complete thought (not a single object but a collection of works from a single artist). You have the opportunity to enter the dialogue (proper spacing and mindful presentation in relationship to other work in the room). If you want to know how that conversation relates to the others in the room, you can sit down and participate in a collaborative conversation (collectors lounge). If you want to know how the conversation began, you have the opportunity to ask (onsite studio). All these components slow the viewer down by creating an art experience.

Stanek Gallery

Building front at night

MH: In the back of your gallery is the collector’s lounge, the gallery space in front of that is just referred to as “the gallery?”

KS: There are three spaces within the building. The front space is referred to as “the gallery.” This is a formal display of works in proper lighting and with proper space. There are two spaces in the back. One is the collector’s lounge, which is set up like a living room with at least one work from each artist in the exhibition allowing the viewer to slow down, sit, and enjoy the show from the curator’s point of view. The third space is my studio. I have a larger space elsewhere but this one is used to compose, do studies, sketch, bring in models etc. The idea here is art is not just exhibited here, it is created here, and it lives here.

Stanek Gallery

Building front corner of 3rd and New Street

MH: Your studio space within the gallery, can visitors interact with you during your creative process?

KS: No, visitors are not invited to watch me while I work. They are invited into the space during formal openings or by appointment at which time they can see my studio set up and works in progress and ask questions. I got the idea from the staged studio museums of Daniel Chester French and St. Gaudens on the east coast. In my case, of course, I am a living artist and works are actually in progress and not just staged.

By taking these approaches, Stanek feels that she is “deconstructing the current system of viewing art.”

Stanek Gallery

Full gallery opening night

MH: Have there been sales advantages to your approach?

KS: We are one week into our second show so I do not have a basis of comparison. However, I can confidently say if the galleries that recently closed experienced the same attendance and sales we have experienced thus far, they would probably be open today.

Gallery partners Deborah Fine and Katherine Stanek

Gallery partners Deborah Fine and Katherine Stanek standing in front of their work

MH: Are you aware of any other galleries that use your approach?

KS: I can confidently say no because we did not copy an existing structure. We set up our exhibition program and gallery structure by creating an evolving set of rules that serve as our solutions to the issues we believe contribute to the closing of galleries. In practice, if something doesn’t work, we modify it until it does. We are not locked into a previous decision or something that has already been done.

Top Image: Full view of gallery

Get more information on the gallery here.
More information on Katherine Stanek here.
More information on Deborah Fine here.


Michael Hopkins is a writer and artist who makes drawings, paintings and sculptures. He has work in numerous museum collections including the Art Institute of Chicago. He has work in numerous corporate art collections including the Progressive Collection and the Wellcome Trust Collection in London, England. He is a Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant recipient.