Years ago, Adam Yokell was sitting in the art library of London’s Victoria and Albert museum, applying for an LSAT course.
Maybe it wasn’t the most likely place for a future lawyer to begin his career, but then again he didn’t become just any lawyer–until recently, he was the in-house counsel for Artsy, an online platform that connects artists and galleries with collectors. And now he’s striking out on his own to follow a long-time goal, opening a small gallery called Hometown in Bushwick.
Art and law may seem like a surprising combination, but for Yokell they’ve been the two poles his career circles around–basically, he’s an art history major with a habit he couldn’t quit. He fell into art history at Colgate, enticed by an intro course his freshman year, served as a student curator at their museum, and went on to do a year-long Christie’s education program.
Of course, the art world can often be cloistered and hard to break into (not to mention low-paying). Like many young art lovers, Yokell eventually decided he needed another pathway to pursue his passion–hence, law school.
But he didn’t lose sight of his original passion. “My interest was always to be involved in art in one way or another,” Yokell said, in the midst of setting up for his gallery’s second show. “In practicing law and serving as a lawyer, my intention was always to do it in the art context and be part of the art world and art industry through that way.”
It wasn’t always easy, but about five years ago he landed at Artsy during its wee start-up days, helping smooth the road as it grew into a big-time company. During his time there he dealt with everything from day-to-day necessities, like office leases, to working on partnership arrangements, such as collaborations with Vogue and W magazine, or coming to terms on policies with galleries, museums and the like.
This wasn’t the most straightforward preparation for running a gallery, but Yokell said it put him front and center in negotiations with artists and helped him get into the nuts and bolts of the business side, to see things from the gallerists’ and artists’ perspective. “The planning that goes into the contract process is often one and the same with the actual activity process,” he explained. “As we’re talking through what are we going to do, what’s the best way to structure this, what do we think makes sense logistically, operationally, etc.”
Finally, last year he decided to take the leap and work full-time representing artists. “The more I thought about it, the more I realized it was the only thing I wanted to be doing at this point,” he said. “Looking for artists, working with them directly, helping to kind of further support their careers and promote their work and get the word out about people I was excited about and that I believed in.”
So far Yokell said he is gravitating towards artwork with a tactile and handmade quality to it, as well as deep research behind the concept. The gallery’s second show, “Passing Index,” opens tomorrow night at 5:30 p.m and plays the exuberantly layered sculptures of Yasue Maetake off of Lilian Kreutzberger’s geometrical cutout wooden panels.
According to Yokell, though the two artists work very differently, some themes in their art overlap. Maetake’s sculptures of welded metals and burnt resin formations is “thinking about what people are striving for in their lives and what they value and how that is manifested in the things that they make,” he said. The pieces are structurally strong, but telegraph frailty through the materials and whimsical design.
Kreutzberger’s work explores how culture and identity is reflected through the built environment, recently looking at historical examples of architectural failures and the limitations of trying to build “utopias.” Her panels in the show began when she was designing a model of an impossible building using a laser cutter on wood –but then she realized the panels she was cutting out of were also creating fascinating designs. “That became the basis for these wall reliefs that are going to be in this show, made with laser cutter to cut the wood, but then hand-applying plaster. The last step, plaster is dyed with paint, oftentimes,” Yokell said. “So all these works have a physical surface to them that lets you know that there’s been an artist’s hand on the work.”
In many ways Hometown is also a homecoming for Yokell, an opportunity to dive fully into the itch he wasn’t fully able to scratch years ago and a testament to letting your passion guide you. “In retrospect,” he said of his career path, “it felt like the decisions made themselves, because it felt, like, on a gut level, this is what you were interested in and kind of felt like you wanted or needed to be doing.”
Hometown, 1002 Metropolitan Avenue, #21, near Morgan Avenue. “Passing Index” opens on April 30, 5:30-8 p.m, and runs April 30-June 19.
Correction: A quote in which Yokell speaks about Kreutzberger’s work was revised because it imprecisely joined two statements. His statement about ‘the cyclical nature and ephemerality’ was not meant to refer to the artist’s work.