Susan Almrud: Taking Creative Risks
Susan Almrud knows a lot about taking creative risks. After running her own gallery here in Vancouver, she decided to head to the open waters of New York and a career as an art dealer. Now, she works alongside high profile artists who have much scrutinized bodies of work and more paintings to do.
We were delighted to talk to Susan about the own risks she has taken in her career and her observations on creative risk after being so immersed in the art world.
i. How do you describe who you are in your career/what you do professionally?
I am an art advisor and private dealer specializing in the global contemporary art market. Previously I owned my own art gallery and stepped away from that for a job to create a life with less structure and obligation. I needed more freedom which created more passion.
ii. What are some specific things you have done in your career to date that bring you the most pride?
Changed direction when things didn’t work out with my gallery. I found I didn’t love what I was doing, so I closed my gallery in 2006 and never looked back. The hardest thing was giving up the identity it gave me but you then realize you have an opportunity to create a new one.
I made it on my own with little to no financial help from the outside and took huge financial risks to make things happen. I’ve had to trust my instincts and intuition and just know that nothing would happen without taking action. This comes from knowing what you want to accomplish and being committed to it. My favorite quote comes from Albert Einstein:
I’ve always found this to be true. I like to keep the energy moving.
iii. What were some of the challenges you experienced in your various career switches and what are some specific things you did to overcome or address those challenges?
• Fear (pushed through it – thank you to my life coach)
• Lack of financial support (struggled past it).
• Lack of experience (kept on going anyway – I call it fake it til you make it).
Not one of those things stopped me yet they were present and something I had to address.
iv. What are some unique aspects of the art buying world right now?
The competition for the best works is very high and you have to be very discerning.
v. What are some key risks that artists face in their careers?
• Over saturating the market with too much work.
• Hitting high prices at auction too soon due to speculation because it is very difficult to maintain anything quick and fast.
vi. Who are 2 or 3 artists from the past whose artistic vision or risk-taking you particularly admire?
• I’m a big fan of Christopher Wool. During his show at the Guggenheim and when his market grew so quickly, he maintained his artistic integrity without being affected by the vast attention and price increases.
In terms of risk taking, I think this is something all artists do all the time. Putting their ideas and thoughts into the public sphere to be commented on – it takes enormous confidence and courage.
Despite his huge success, I think Jeff Koons is the ultimate risk taker with his art. If you look at his career overall, he has created some very personal work that breaks boundaries, both in the physical aspect of what he creates and the emotional.
Ai WeiWei is another artist I admire for his risk taking. Creating artwork and speaking up despite tremendous personal consequences is an enormous stake and one he continues to do in his career.
vii. In your experience, what are some reasons why artists might want to shift away from a style or subject of work for which they are known?
Development is critical to art and life. Without it, we stagnate and lose motivation. It’s the same for artists, their own motivation and how they are perceived.
viii. What are some challenges that these artists might face when they are trying to break new creative ground?
• Criticism. Loss of support and interest. The (art) world is very discerning and judgmental.
ix. What risks might artists face if they keep doing what people expect them to do?
Criticism. Loss of support and interest. It takes enormous courage and confidence and depth to be an artist.
x. Are there any cases where it would make sense for an artist to stick quite closely to what they are known for?
Financial reasons often hold artists back from changing.
xi. Who are some artists, historic or current, whom you admire for their ability to take new and unexpected creative risks? What are some specific shifts they have made and why do you admire their approach?
Henri Matisse was bed ridden when he began making his cutouts. His physical limitations prevented him from making paintings, but they did not prevent him from creating. While laying in bed, he had his assistants bring him scissors and paper and the rest is history.
xii. What happens in today’s art market when a known artist is putting quite different work out there? How, for instance, might this impact auctions?
The market can drop, slow down or take off even greater depending on many factors, including how the work is perceived. Many collectors are dedicated patrons and continue to support an artist throughout their careers through ups and downs and changes in direction. Speculative collectors don’t do this and this is a big part of a capricious art market.
xiii. What kind of things will you do in introducing clients to a new direction of work for an artist?
Discussions related to the work overall, art history and the artists oeuvre to understand and connect with a new direction and what the artist is thinking. Encourage them to also take risks as the artist has done.
Header: Henri Matisse. La tristesse du roi. 1952