Gallery Guide: A Conversation with Candice Madey of On Stellar Rays


When opening her gallery, On Stellar Rays, on Orchard Street last September, one can imagine Candice Madey receiving her fair share of consoling pats on the wrist. As it has been reported endlessly in the media, now is an exceptionally bad time to involve oneself in anything that unites art production with the financial sector. Perhaps the art world is wrapped in a metaphorical cocoon, anticipating its metamorphoses: a necessary process, but not always as exhilarating as one may hope for. Galleries like Madey’s aren’t rolling over and playing dead; nor are they commodifying themselves to be the art world’s version of an off-price retail shop.

Madey, who earned her MBA from Ohio State, uses her gallery to present programming that is conceptually challenging. The artists who show at On Stellar Rays make exciting work, but it not easy; it requires patience. That Madey employs her business education and her artistic intellect in tandem is one thing that is so exciting about the space: it is built to last, but not for a quick profit. Younger, more independent-minded galleries don’t always follow the most concrete, long-term business models (many artists and gallerists resist to the idea that, at some point, bills and rent must be paid). As a young, educated, and passionate visionary who is able to balance the demands of her artists and her programming with the realities of finance, Madey represents a new type of gallerist and curator. On Stellar Rays’ most recent show “Do Jaguar,” a performance piece by artist Georgia Sagri had very few physical objects for sale, apart from a fantastic series of lushly disturbing images of wounds printed on scarves. This show is almost the embodiment of Madey’s ethos: a thoroughly thought-out conceptual leap underpinned with a finely honed sense of fiscal acuity. Her next exhibition, opening June 20th, is a group show titled Lover, which Madey curated in collaboration with artist Kate Gilmore.

AW: What lead you to open On Stellar Rays? When you were in grad school, did you have the idea that you were going to be involved in the art world?

CM: Yes, always. I could easily say I decided to open this gallery twelve years ago – everything I’ve done has lead up to this. I don’t think I took the traditional track at all; I bounced around and did a lot of different things. I worked at Christie’s for a bit, I worked for an estate, I worked for galleries in Chelsea. But typically I worked in smaller-scale institutions. And at every gallery job I had, I worked as a registrar, as a curator and doing sales — I always combined those things.

AW: You majored inArt History as an undergradute. Why did you decide to pursue an MBA?

CM: I looked into Art History programs when I was getting my masters’ degree. I always felt, since it’s such a strong interest for me, that my art education is always happening in some regard. It’s an ongoing process. Business, on the other hand — I would never go read accounting books for pleasure. And I wanted the structure of a program, as there are practical things you learn on a day-to-day basis [in graduate school]. I took a lot of finance classes, a field which possesses its own language. To understand the financial market is very important to me as it changes how I look at the art market.

AW: For so many art makers and people involved in the art world (especially younger people) the financial sector is an opaque glass wall. It’s the thing that people don’t understand and don’t want to understand as it is so antithetical to the somewhat irrational process of making art.

CM:That’s why my business education is important to me. At the same time, the first year of this gallery has been so consumed with administrative responsibility, so I am always trying to think of ways to integrate my continuing education in art with my business responsibilities.

AW: Integration is important to your programming. You have a very supportive relationship with your artists; I remember coming here when JJ PEET was preparing for his show, and he had turned the basement of the gallery into a private workspace. It reminded me of how, in the 1980s, Jean-Michel Basquiat was living and working in the basement of Annina Nosei’s gallery. Only your relationship with PEET isn’t based on him churning out paintings for you to sell. It’s less cut and dried. A lot of the work you show, as well as some of your collateral programming (On Stellar Rays’ artists have created performance pieces where they sell t-shirts and CDs on the street in front of the gallery), has some basis in Relational Aesthetics, but none of it feels completely a part of that movement.

CW: I am reading Claire Bishop’s book Participation at the moment. It’s brilliant, because it includes older essays about work from the 1960s as well as more contemporary work. I am not certain that the artists typically associated with Relational Aesthetics interest me as much as thinking about other genres, and looking at art as we experience music, or film, or live readings of poetry. This idea of producing rather than consuming is interesting to me. It is more demanding (though I am also careful to show work that is accessible). Obscure and opaquely intellectual work for the sake of that bores me. Showing work that pushes, yet also can relate to people outside of the art world is a constant challenge and balancing act. This also creates challenges in a commercial space, but I feel that as long as I can find a way to support the artists in making work I am satisfied. My business model assumes that there are enough people out there who will in turn support the gallery — and who will support this way of working as an artist and as a gallery.