Darren Ching and Debra Klomp Ching are the eponymous owners and directors of one of New York’s genuine gallery success stories of recent years, the Klompching Gallery in DUMBO. During its short life, Klompching has won a real reputation as a Brooklyn destination for anyone interested in the more stimulating various directions being taken by contemporary photography. Without anything approaching a house style, its program of exhibitions has presented a succession of artists – my favorites have included Cornelia Hediger, Lisa M. Robinson, and Helen Sear – who offer photographic work of intelligence, wit, and sensitivity, and who occasionally ask taxing questions of your photographic assumptions.
This record means, somewhat reassuringly in the current economic climate, that Darren and Debra have enjoyed a good measure of market success. It has also led to the burgeoning of their critical reputations: earlier this month they served as curators of the U.S. component of Toronto’s new Flash Forward Festival of emerging photography.
Before setting up Klompching, Debra was the executive director of Pavilion, a photography organization in Leeds, England that commissions, curates, and exhibits photography and artists’ film and video. Darren is the creative director of Photo District News. They explain their teamwork thus: “Somehow our two heads work well together. We come to photography from very different points and we meet at different points, not always in the middle. But everything we do is unanimous, so we have to reach a point where both our points of view merge. That’s been quite a good thing for us.”
This weekend they celebrate their gallery’s third anniversary, so while I was over there seeing Phillip Toledano’s excellent current show recently, I asked them to explain, on the fingers of one hand, the secrets of their success:
Each year has been a massive learning experience: just the amount of knowledge that we gain in each year pushes us forward. One of the most important things about coming up to our third anniversary is still being in business! As a young gallery we’ve not only survived one of the worst economies in recent times without having to go into debt, but we’ve established our name, and established a reputation and a brand, which is remarkable. We’re quite proud of that.
As a culture we’re entirely saturated by photography. Just walk down the street – there are magazines, newspapers, billboards … What a gallery does is just allow people a context to look at an image that’s not trying to sell them something, but an image that’s trying to speak to them on a visceral or esthetic level. It’s important to have that context in the realm of photography.
We’ve stuck to our guns esthetically in terms of the artists we’ve chosen to represent. Our long-term vision has always been to work with emerging photographers, and as we grow as a gallery, to help our artists grow and develop their status. That’s been happening with a number of artists that we work with. We launched the gallery with an artist called Simon Roberts (who has since had a second solo show here) but he’s also had his first solo museum show in the UK and was appointed as the official election artist there. He’s made an incredible journey. We also placed the entire body of work of another of our artists in a public collection. That is a lasting legacy. As a commercial gallery we’re not providing a public service, but as advocates for our artists we want to be sure that we not only sell their work so that they have an income, we also want to be sure that their talent and their reputation is recognized and endorsed.
The great thing about being in DUMBO is that we can create interesting ambitious exhibitions in a space that we consider to be really beautiful and of a high standard. If we were in an area that might bring more physical exposure to the artists, we would not be able to mount the same standard of exhibitions, because we would probably have to sacrifice space for location. DUMBO is continuing to develop, and we view that very optimistically. We walk down the street and we see all the luxury condos, and we see that as a source of potential clients. But DUMBO is also a very easy area to get to. Most of our clients are in Manhattan, but we have clients all over the world. Ninety per cent of them see work online.
This is a unique time to be an art gallery. It’s challenging and exciting. Even though the economy has been down, the excitement around the photography market has grown. In just a short period of time you have more people coming into the photography market as collectors. We’re working with the assumption that the next year is going to be a challenge for the art market. Optimistically, we think that there is going to be a slow but steady recovery. We wrote a very good business plan when we established the gallery, and though we’ve reviewed it each year, we’ve pretty much stuck to that original business plan and maintained its vision. We don’t think the market’s going to be back to where it was in another year, but it’s just simple cause and effect: if a gallery can keep putting up good shows, the more people who’ll be drawn in, and the more people we get coming through our doors, or looking at our work on websites and blogs, the more sales we’ll have. Everything is interlinked.
On the fingers of one hand is based on an original idea by Jacquelyn Lewis.