Klowden Mann, 2010-2020 7.10.20

Pat and Deb in front of Rebecca Farr’s work at the opening for her show, “Sweet Broken Now” in 2014, photo by Steven Rimlinger


Dearest friends,

It turns out that there is no right way to write this letter. Running a gallery is a funny thing—on some level, the work is so constant and the need for optimistic hustling so absurd that you think about closing all the time, and yet on another level the love for the work and your artists is such that you refuse to think about closing EVER.  So, you’d think I would be prepared, or have written this letter in my head many times over when I received such letters from the many galleries I loved who were announcing imminent closure, but in truth I made the words so inconceivable for so long that writing them feels equally inconceivable. Yet here we are, and I am closing the gallery, and I am going to find the language to say how proud I am of this space, of the people who circled their voices and vulnerabilities and strength through it, and this time.

This is an intensely demanding job, and if you do it right, it requires a huge piece of your soul. It has also been my dream job since I was twelve years old and first read about Alfred Stieglitz’s 291 Gallery in New York, that site of myth-making and culture and drama and lived history at the very beginning of the 20th century. Ooh, twelve year old Deb thought, I want that. And 41 year old me still loves it with that same kind of passion, elated with my artists whenever they get a review from a critic who truly sees them and their work, when a curator they admire wants to do a studio visit or spends long hours walking through their show, when we sell a piece they weren’t expecting to sell, when they can feel the ways in which they are contributing to the cultural conversation after great questions from the audience during an artist talk. And I love it maybe most of all in those moments when I get to walk into the gallery in the early morning, or when I am the last to close up, and I stop and take a minute to look around and feel the magic of this space and this work. In those moments and so many others, I feel with every inch of my being that designating physical space for visual arts and artists is an intensely powerful act—now more than ever. I can’t believe I’ve been lucky enough to fulfill that act in the gallery realm for a decade.

My mother–artist and brilliant mind Patricia Doede Klowden–and I opened the gallery in the Fall of 2010, when the country was mid-Great Recession and my boys were six months old and two years old. As one of my artists used to say of the our first year in business, it wasn’t a visit to the gallery unless she had a long talk with me on our back couch while I was nursing my youngest, and many discussions with artists and collectors and writers happened with one of the babies on my back while the other was in the back kitchen with my mom, eating apple slices in a highchair, probably while she got out the drill to install a small show in the back hallway. I didn’t sleep much in those first years, writing press releases and replying to many of the day’s emails after the boys finally fell asleep, hanging shows with my mom on the insanely space-consuming large aluminum ladder she insisted we get (it wouldn’t fit through the inside doorway between the back and the exhibition space so we literally had to roll the ladder out the back and all the way around the block in order to get it through the front door, but damn was she right that it was the best ladder ever), and adjusting the lighting while the littlest was in a playpen construction of some kind in the center of the main space. Much of that time is blurry with flashes of clear focus and laughter, as well as rigorous philosophical conversations and stunning moments of humility; opening a gallery in LA in the midst of the recession was an intense task, but an incredibly rewarding one.

The core of the gallery existed in those early years, before the LA art world took us seriously, let alone the international art world. My tenets for the gallery are mostly the same now as they were then, evidenced by notes between me and my mom from 2010 that I found the other day in one of my many notebooks: the belief that emotion and intellect are at their best when they are in the same room, that artists are vital and the closest thing we have to material philosophers in the 21st century, that human beings are capable of being phenomenal artists and phenomenal parents at the same time (and that when the commercial art world kicks women artists off gallery rosters when they have babies, it is egregiously sexist), that voices from a wide range of backgrounds are essential to understanding lived history of this moment in time and in giving us access to a path forward, and that generosity and kindness are necessary components of true strength, power, and vision, not detriments to them.

And now, in this time of pandemic and necessary uprising, it is time for me to speak these values to this city that I love so much in a different way, and in a new form. I am so grateful for this path that I will get to walk next; we are sitting in a moment with unparalleled possibility for change, and it is up to us to find new ways to collaborate, to empower one another, and to imagine and enact a more equitable future. I can’t wait to invite you to join me in this work.

To my artists: what a joy and an honor it has been to make shows and conversations with you over this long arc of time. You are my family, and I will have your back always–thank you thank you thank you for believing in me. To my staff, current and former: I have been the luckiest to find such wonderful humans to do the constant, hugely important and often publicly invisible work with me of keeping a space going and supporting artists while doing so. Your voices have been part of every element of the gallery, and I am so grateful. You are extraordinary, and I can’t wait to see what you do next. To my visitors and collectors and writers and curators and all who have supported in a variety of ways: thank you so much for making us part of your rounds for all of these years. It has been such an honor. To my parents, who were present at at least 100 of those openings, not to mention artist talks, strategy sessions around the kitchen table, so many phone calls: I don’t even have the words, and I love you endlessly. And to Geoff and the boys, each of whom is proud enough of the gallery to express sadness that it is ending, no matter how much time it took away from them: I have no idea how I got so lucky. I love you all so much.

Deb Klowden Mann

Deb and her sons on the gallery floor, 2018