Shortly after Carnegie International opened in Pittsburgh last weekend, Lexi Bishop, the former Christie’s contemporary art specialist who opened her own gallery on the city’s North Side last November, closed her second group show, Stranger Things. In a few months she will be celebrating the first anniversary of her gallery called Here with an exhibition dedicated to New York artist Rachel Mica Weiss.
“Pittsburgh is known for its potholes,” Bishop noted, not for its art galleries. Here is one of the few commercial art spaces in the city. But Bishop has lived in more than 15 cities over the course of her life and has developed artistic ties in each location. Maintaining relationships has become one of her core competencies as an art dealer. “I still rely heavily on my collectors from New York and LA,” she said.
Bishop lived in New York while working as a contemporary art specialist at Christie’s. After five years there, she was inspired to break into the gallery scene after her first experiment curating a pop-up show on the Lower East Side. Bishop then crossed the country to take a job at Nino Mier’s gallery in West Hollywood in 2019.
In LA she learned the back end of the gallery business, specifically how to deal with unexpected challenges such as those caused by Covid-19. But when she and her partner found themselves in Pittsburgh because of the pandemic, Bishop saw an actionable path to what once seemed out of reach — her own space.
Here rents less than $1,000 a month and is in the same historic neighborhood as the mattress factory known as the Mexican War Streets, where Andy Warhol and Gertrude Stein grew up. The Warhol Museum is also nearby. Bishop said the price point allows her to take greater risks.
She estimates that she acquired at least half of her artwork because it made her laugh. “They may not be obviously funny,” Bishop said. “The important thing is that they’re smart,” like Wade Kramm’s clear glass Invisible traffic cone, which would save no one from Kim Beck’s Pothole Positives series, cast in bronze from the city streets. Both artists live in Pittsburgh and were included in Stranger Things along with 10 others from LA, Costa Rica, San Francisco and New York.
Bishop’s overall approach to programming balances such an expression with a strategy. The reason for the group show was the release of the fourth season of the popular Netflix retro horror series stranger things, and the comeback of surrealism on the market. The opening of Carnegie International helped solidify its place on the schedule. “I wanted to make sure I had something that reflected my personal taste and vision,” Bishop said, drawing in industry folk who flocked to the city for the show.
She’s wanted to work with some of the artists she’s included on the show, like Joseph Bolstad and Andrea Smith, for a while. Gesturing to Oliver Clegg’s zeldaa lovely portrait of a smiling black cat, Bishop recalled first seeing the artist’s work in November 2019 at the Journal Gallery in New York, where Clegg was having a brief solo exhibition as part of her Tennis Elbow series of programs.
Most of the time, she searches for talent by word of mouth, asking the artists she admires who to contact. These networks drew Bishop to the gallery site in the first place.
“When you’re in an auction house, you really don’t like the artists,” she said. However, Bishop quickly found that she enjoys working directly with artists to build her career. Her affinity for emerging artists grew out of her penchant for risky work. “Without really thinking about it, I was hoping to have artists to grow with because representing an artist is almost like marriage,” Bishop said.
She also noted that “Pittsburgh artists have a ratings issue.” Their move to the city is a mutually beneficial opportunity not only to pursue their own dreams, but also to contribute to the development of the city’s arts scene.
The pairing of Pittsburgh-based artists with peers like Devra Fox, who has exhibited at the Hesse Flatow off the High Line in New York, and Rachel Youn, represented by Sargent’s Daughters on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, lends the formerly pejorative term “local Art” has a certain appeal.” And an influx of new tech money from companies that have moved to Pittsburgh, like Duolingo and Argo AI, means there’s a potential new, fledgling collector base there.
Bishop has also found that Pittsburgh’s facilities are more accessible than those in larger markets. It took her six months to have coffee with someone from the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, but Bishop has already co-founded the Carnegie Museum’s first Young Collectors Group, which now has 40 members.
Next on the Here schedule is an exhibit featuring Jamie Earnest, a young Carnegie Mellon grad who is originally from Alabama but has chosen to stay in the city – a trend that continues to enrich the cultural landscape.
Bishop hasn’t hosted any fairs yet, but plans to attend one next year – likely at the New Art Dealers Alliance (NADA) in New York, since Here became the group’s first Pittsburgh-based member in April.
And while she currently fills every role at the gallery personally, from caretaker to accountant, she also relies on instinct. “This is the first time in my life that I have not answered a white man,” Bishop said, adding that her past experiences have sharpened her eye. “Hope this works.”
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