Founder of Ed. Varie and the Independent Art Book Fair. Art Director and Stylist.
Karen Schaupeter is an artist and curator, she is the founder of Ed. Varie, contemporary gallery in NY and LA, and the Independent Art Book Fair. She also works commercially as a Art Director and Stylist in the Fashion and Advertising Industry.
I think it would be fair to call you a very busy arts entrepreneur. What led you to what you’re currently doing in your career?
In a general sense I feel that where I am at is due to intuition, but also a relentless passion to keep trying, at all angles and costs. I started my own career in the arts as an artist, curator and gallery owner, but also I simultaneously maintain a career in the commercial photo world.
Also, I feel that one thing led to another. The saying “one closed door opens another” is really very true. So kind of meandering a path, and figuring out what’s going to work. Someone just recently introduced me as a “community architect,” and I thought that was really awesome because I’m kind of creating communities. Not all community doors have been opened yet, and I’d like to open another door or find a new way through different avenues of the art world. There isn't only one door that leads into it. On an emotional level I think that would be how I got to where I am.
On a physical level: intuition and spontaneity. I have a degree from Berkeley on The Practice of Art, and while I entered the college for art history, I decided that I wanted to take some time for my own practice, which ultimately led to the degree I chose. I spent 11 years in the Bay area, and moved to New York about 10 years ago. Again, this was spontaneous decision making and trusting my intuition.
Was there ever an end point for your career or where you planned to end up?
No, it was really step-by-step. I come from a German upbringing with a hard-working father. I was scrubbing the whitewalls of his tires in the 80’s for 25 cents a tire. We had to do all of the chores around the house, like pulling the weeds. Our neighbours would make fun of us because my dad couldn't afford to hire a landscaper to do this instead. The idea of being a professional artist didn't occur to me. I don't want to say that it was a lack of confidence, but I was in the Bay area in 1999 during the first ‘dot com’ boom, and you needed money (to live in an expensive city). I got into the photo industry when I left college. I had kind of gently stalked this photographer for a job. It turned out that she wasn't looking for a photo assistant but more of a studio manager. So, I got involved there and helped to establish her studio. She was also a producer, so I learned the production side of photo shoots as well
The things that have come to be my ‘bread and butter’ (art direction, fashion styling, set design for fashion and advertising photo industry) also happened through dedication, hard work, being responsible, and working 18 hours a day. Essentially, at that period in my life, (fresh out of college) I had no less than 3 jobs at a time, more likely 4 jobs. I was cocktail waitressing, working in a furniture store, and for two photographers. I don't see it as multi-tasking, but as tapping into different parts of your brain. As a stylist, I’ve been told countless times that I can't do fashion and props -- that you have to choose one or the other, because [people] don't believe that any one person could potentially do both well. In the arts, you should be able to be multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary. You don't have to do this to be a good artist, but I think that an artistic and creative mind can be open to a multitude of ways to creating.
You work quite closely with major clients on an international scale, offering creative services to large and small companies. Where does creative fulfillment come from for you?
When I decided to start Ed. Varie in 2009, I felt that was going to be my contribution to the art world. In terms of curating, to me, putting the pieces together, hanging the show and deciding how the (art)work works together definitely fulfills a creative outlet. I feel that bringing quality in the aesthetic and presentation gives me some of that creative fulfilment. I’m somebody who really likes to be hands on -- I've renovated every space that I've been in from the floor up. I definitely get creative fulfilment from this as well. Working in the photo industry requires you to be very hands on. On any given day, I could be building sets or putting wardrobe together, or working on a publishing project. On the work side there are definitely parts of the day that feel like work, but at the end of the day I'm still pretty lucky that I get to be around people who are putting creativity out into the world, and that we are making something together.
How do you approach the balance between creative vision and business relations?
Well, I would say I'm a big picture thinker. When it comes to the business side, with something like the admin work, generally speaking, is not my strongest suit. I'll get the invoices out, do the pre-production, get the show ready, do the press, all of that, but generally before a project is even done, I'm already moving on to the next one. I think that spirit has been indoctrinated into my life because that’s how the photo world works. I mean, Christmas was shot in July. I’ve already thought about Christmas; I don't even need to do Christmas! It's sometimes hard for me to be present because of this. I've had the support of interns and part-time managers at Ed. Varie, Jessica Adams, and Independent Art Book Fair (IABF) Fair Director Kayla Fanelli, that help reign me in and remind me of these things. I keep calendars and make lists endlessly. I've been running my own business and other people’s businesses for almost 20 years, so I don’t really even think about certain aspects anymore.
Do you feel that having a forward-thinking, current and evolving perspective is necessary to do what you do?
I think that it’s important, but I've never really (intentionally) thought about stuff like that. Like I mentioned before, it’s the intuition. I just do what I do. It might fall into the calendar of what’s cool, but I'm not a trend-setter in terms of wardrobe and stuff. Constant evolution as a mindset is important to me, and I think that stems more from where I'm from and the places I've lived rather than a doctrine I adhere to. I believe in change. I had 23 addresses by the time I was 22, so I was constantly on the move. I still have that nomadic gene in me.
Your work is entirely public and I imagine, quite reliant/dependent on reception and feedback. Do you consider how things are going to be received before production? Does this affect the decision-making aspect of your practice?
I would say that I definitely do consider these things as a creative director or stylist, as there is a target audience. For me, what's beautiful is that I don't care how it’s received in the art world. I'm going to do it anyway, and that’s the fun part. The calculations that have to be made are usually based on necessity, not on what we think will draw the ultimate crowd for a specific artist through the gallery. I feel like it's my job to show people something they haven't seen before, you know? Why do we want to keep showing the same stuff?
What do you find exciting in the fashion/art/publication world right now?
(Hah!) My fair! The Independent Art Book Fair! In publishing, one thing that’s very exciting is the major spearheading of independent periodicals. I know it’s a massive feat to fund an issue, let alone several issues. I love that the big glossies are here to stay, but the younger self-publishing (editorial) generation is very exciting! I've never really thought that print was dead. I think that print died for the people that shopped at Barnes and Nobles, but other people still want books, as there is a necessity and desire for tactile objects
As the founder of the Independent Art Book Fair, you stand as a leader in support of physical publication. In the age of the digital, why do you feel that it is important that printed material still remains prevalent and appreciated?
That question is like an entire interview! When I was going to school, I did a lot of performative work. We did installations and we were anti-documentation. We would maybe document a thread of what happened afterwards. The documentation process on platforms like Tumblr and Instagram were counterintuitive for me. I'm so happy my life wasn't documented back then. I'm happy that I didn't have that pressure. Part of my process as an artist back then involved printmaking, and printmaking became more like record keeping. It was process-based. I learned a lot about printmaking techniques during this time which led me to a greater understanding of fine art publishing.
When I first opened the gallery, I rented out desk space to a friend who was making independent publications. We started to collaborate on exhibitions and because there was a book launched for sale, suddenly, people thought that Ed. Varie was a bookstore. It was easy to put Ed. Varie in a category when there was no other way to categorize what it was at the time. People started to recognize that I was open to creativity and collaboration, so this effort led a lot of independent publishers to me because I was really the only one doing this. At that time there were no other art bookstores in Manhattan besides Printed Matter. I believe that there is room for printed material and independent publishers in the art world. A book is an economical and conceptual entrance point to an artist’s practice. It might be $20, and I'm not saying everyone has that amount of money, but it’s much more accessible than a $2500 painting. It's a way for the general public to share and support the arts.
Do you feel that it’s necessary to share work in public spaces with people?
I think that it’s up to the artist. I don't think that you have to. When people are doing things for their own practice, it's not as important for them to show the world and to get the feedback. Sometimes you just want to make your work and do your own thing. I wish I could eradicate the word "should" from my vocabulary entirely. I'm told I should do things daily, and I'm sure I tell people they should do things daily as well. I try to change it. Rather than tell an artist "you should show these,” I tell them, “If you want to show these, I think they're beautiful. But I don't think that you have to.” I think it’s important that artists have a level of a private life. There are very few opportunities in life where we can keep things to ourselves. We all want to feel validated and as part of a community. Artists make different kinds of work but they don’t have to show everything, and often shouldn’t.
What would you like to see more of?
Things being more “well-rounded” in every sense. There are hardly any normal-sized people represented in any magazine (or media), and that is one thing that has always bothered me about any industry that I've been involved in. I feel like it's so exclusive on that level. It's not well-rounded and it’s very one-track minded. In some ways, I feel like the art world can be that way. There will be hip mediums, and not hip mediums. This is one of the reasons I wanted to create Ed. Varie, to augment the areas lacking in the art world. I try to the best of my abilities to illuminate or point out artists that are really working from their heart and soul-- their core.
What do you find beautiful?
Lots of things! In our current situation, post election, I’ve found beauty in people standing up for themselves and banding together. I find being together with people very beautiful. I also find road trips, staring out at mountains and the sun, banal things like that, very beautiful. In terms of the art world, I’m less object based, but more about the expression and ultimately what that artist has put into that object, rather than the object itself. It's an emotional thing for sure. In terms of other beauty, I'm more of a brutalist. I like beauty and decay. I grew up in Detroit, so I find decay beautiful. There is sort of a kinetic energy in that. I find less beauty in new and shiny things. There is beauty in relationships and community. It’s important. Art communities keep me living and breathing and driving.
Interviewed by Jared Boechler