by Mariah Mann Mellus
Salt Lake City’s Unknown Gallery hit the scene in October of 2004, and, every month since, they have delivered a gallery experience like nothing Salt Lake has ever been offered before. Seven months after opening there are no signs of slowing down. The three co-creators generously sat down with me to offer some insight into how this gallery was conceived and what direction they plan to take in the future.
The trio is made up of Justin Zimonja, Owner and President, Amity Waldecker, Owner and Vice President and Jeremy Herridge, Manager and Curator. The three have a wonderful collaboration that stems from years of friendship.
They all grew up in Utah, each with his or her own passion: Justin in cinematography, Amity in cosmetology and Jeremy, the “Art Guy.” Their interests flourished into careers but their paths never strayed far from the visual and fine arts.
Jeremy, the “Art Guy,” received a BFA from The University of Utah. During his years of study, he became aware of the lack of promotion for emerging artists in the state. “I saw so much amazing art at the student and emerging level and it didn’t have a venue or a particular home; it didn’t get seen outside of this small realm of the school or a close group of friends. When Justin and Amity approached me with the idea for the gallery, it just seemed like it was meant to happen. I was very excited. I had been tossing around the idea in my head for years. When we all merged together, our visions were parallel to each others and we decide to go all in together.”
When I joke that “all in” is similar to “going for broke,” a nervous laughter breaks out among the group.
It is common knowledge that opening a gallery is not a get rich quick business, but these three have thought ahead and are creating successful business strategies, such as cross promoting their shows with established galleries in larger markets. Justin explains: “Blue Bottle Gallery and Aftermath Gallery in Seattle are two of the organizations we have discussed swapping artists and different possible show options. We have artists that we continually show but our vision is a gallery that is a stepping stone in the artist’s career.”
Jeremy reveals, “We don’t want to hoard the artist and sign them into a contract that would hinder or stifle them; we are totally open to having artists show in other galleries simultaneously.”
“So you do take a commission when it’s shown in your gallery?” I ask.
“Yes, we have to keep the lights on. It’s a traditional commission amount, but the cross promotion and open agreement sweetens the deal. Recently, Max Grundy who has participated in several of the shows, has been requested to send some of his “media fear” prints and merchandise up to one of the galleries in Seattle.”
“Do you try to find local artists first and is “local” a priority?” I ask. To which Amity responds, “We try to accommodate local artists; there is an amazing amount of talent here so we try to cater first to the Salt Lake artists. But we also like to bring in artists nationally and internationally that might add a certain flare to the show.”
As a sign of the international makeup of the gallery, the trio points out two artists in the current show, Claudia Wach-Beetz, who hails from Munich, and Will Varner, who lived and studied in Tonga. The Board Show (Skate and Snowboards – January 2005) featured work from artists all over the United States and Hawaii, and a group show out of California is scheduled for August.
The exhibition slated for June, the “Heavy Metal Show,” interests me so I ask, “What artists have signed on?” ȁWell the deadline has not approached,” Justin replies, “so we have some [artists] penciled in but not completely confirmed.”
“I have really enjoyed your themed shows. You’ve had the “Glamour” show and now ’Heavy Metal.’ Why themes?” I ask. Jeremy expounds, “The idea for the theme shows are to get artists working. I hate to say it would be like “Reflections” but… you throw out the topic and see what the different artist come up with.”
Justin points out that with a few pieces in the “Idols and Icons” show, currently on exhibit, a particular artist who primarily paints landscapes has seamlessly transfigured her work to depict this month’s theme.
Part of the cutting edge appeal this gallery offers is the sleek models — styled in accordance with the theme of the show — who attend the exhibition openings. Amity’s cosmetology background influenced this aspect of their plan. “It was always part of the plan; it seemed to be a good fit. We think it enhances the atmosphere and allows the stylist to step out of salon setting and explore their artistic side.” Kristin Fry, of Lunatic Fringe Salon (again with the cross promoting), allows her artistic side to be revealed when designing the models for the show. In past shows, she has painted the models right into the picture or made a two dimensional character come to life. I’m told she gets quite excited to see the photos of the new pieces and start coordinating the models and styles.
Unknown Gallery offers the metropolitan gallery experience, minus the high-pressure sales and over priced work. Easily achievable deadlines and no contracts provide the flexibility and respect that is often lacking in the artist/gallery experience. Emerging artists and virgin art patrons are introduced to each other for the first time. This gallery speaks to the public and the public continues to respond positively. Don’t miss this summer’s hottest shows at the hottest gallery Salt Lake has to offer. Unknown Gallery is located at 353 W. 200 South Downtown Slat Lake City Utah. Idols and Icons will be on display until June 10th with the Heavy Metal Show opening on June 17th in correlation with the monthly Salt Lake City Gallery Stroll. For more information on future or past shows held at Unknown Gallery or to submit work please visit their web page at www.unkgallery.com
This article originally appeared in the June 2005 edition of 15 Bytes