PGH Photo Fair is visiting some friends of the fair and we’ll be sharing snippets over the coming weeks. Last week trusted advisor and arts enthusiast Chris Fleischner welcomed us into his family home in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood. Team member Tori Meglio spoke with Chris about the PGH Photo Fair, his motivations for collecting, and the arts in Pittsburgh.
Chris and Dawn Fleischner have a quintessential Pittsburgh boomerang story. The couple met in Northern California and now co-own, CalWest Educators Placement, where they’ve dedicated their professional lives to recruiting diverse faculty and leaders for independent schools to ensure that students see themselves in their teachers and administrators. Returning to Pittsburgh to be closer to Chris’s family, the Fleischner’s jumped into the arts and cultural offerings of the region. They are actively involved in several arts organizations including the Carnegie Museum of Art and Pittsburgh Ballet Theater.
Tori: Please tell me a bit about how you started collecting artwork and why you gravitate towards photography?
Chris: Photography was what my wife and I started collecting shortly after we were dating. It was our go-to relationship activity - visit a gallery in San Francisco - explore a city through some of the museums or galleries, and then over time, start collecting as we had the means to do so. Our first piece is not up at the moment, but the artist was an assistant photography professor at a community college in Northern California. The piece was a beautiful black and white Bay Area photograph landscape in black and white. Early on, we were collecting mostly black and white photography. Then we went to color photography, and later we started getting comfortable in sculpture and painting. Now we love collecting all different mediums.
Tori: Were you studying the artists and seeking them out, or was it going to the gallery and finding something that you and Dawn both enjoyed?
Chris: More the latter in our early days. As we became more experienced collectors, we began seeking out certain artists or hearing things, and tracking those people down and trying to collect their works. But a lot of times, it was almost happenstance. One of the things I loved about PGH Photo Fair was galleries coming in from all over the country or from other countries even, and it exposed us to many artists that we didn't know about. A number of the pieces now in our collection were artists I had not heard of before, photographers that I wasn't aware of, but through PGH Photo Fair I learned about them, and had a chance to talk to the galleries about their artwork and methods and other details. I would buy some works on the spot or after thinking about it overnight, and others I would continue to research and consider buying them a year later.
Tori: Have you attended other national fairs or photo collector events?
Chris: I have not done the photo events, but I've attended Frieze, in LA, New York, and London. And those are fun, but they're just overwhelming. I feel PGH Photo Fair is a beautiful size. You can go in, enjoy it, come back again later in the day, and it's energizing. Having done Frieze a couple of times, it's overwhelming and exhausting.
Tori: Do you think PGH Photo Fair is accessible for any level of collector?
Chris: I really like the Carnegie Museum of Art because it feels like a very central location in Pittsburgh. The way the Fair administrators set up in the Hall of Sculpture is a beautiful, intuitive layout. It's really easy to peruse the aisles and talk to the participating gallerists, they're all super friendly and knowledgeable. I'll often go in once on Saturday and then maybe again on Sunday, depending on my availability. Because you’re able to come and go rather than trying to take in too much at once, it's easier to absorb all the artwork and make purchasing decisions.
Tori: Do you have any advice for novice or new collectors to feel more confident in the space?
Chris: Advice I would give to a new collector or patron is to approach the day with a collector's mindset. I think it might be hard if somebody's walking the Fair for the first time, to think about maybe buying a piece that day. But if you've done your research ahead of time, attended the Speaker Series, browsed the website, and the galleries' pages, then hopefully, you’ll be confident and eager to learn more about one or more artists and enjoy the chance to acquire some amazing photography or artworks.
Tori: Tell me about your experience with the lectures in the Speaker Series leading up to PGH Photo Fair.
Chris: Sure. I really, really like the Speaker Series. It's enjoyable to hear in-depth insights and stories, from a photographer, a curator, the galleries, and others. I think that PGH Photo has done a wonderful job curating a range of topics over the years. The event is a true public service. Even if somebody isn’t able to attend the Fair, which would be a loss, if they've gone to the Speaker Series, they're gaining knowledge; they're getting insight; they're receiving just some incredible first-hand exposure to the community.
Tori: You have some beautiful pieces of photography displayed here for us, are they all from PGH Photo and could you tell me about your favorites?
Chris: This piece [showing] by the Artie Virkant, It's beautifully made through digital editing software, not photographing an image but generating something and then printing it out and then cutting it in an exact format. We were blown away by the technical aspects of creating this, and it’s so beautiful to look at, too. Dawn and I weren't necessarily planning on buying a piece that first year we attended PGH Photo, but when we saw Virkant’s work, we both said, "wow, that's just incredible." We admired the color and the geometry complemented other shapes throughout our collection. That's one of the themes that we go by and so this piece was a joyful addition. And the print above our dog, Mischief, is by Silvio Wolf and we purchased it from the Aperture booth at PGH Photo several years ago.
Tori: I've heard you say a few times those pieces aren't up right now, or they're in another space. Could you explain your philosophy about buying a piece for a particular space versus buying a piece to add to an archive?
Chris: I'm originally from Pittsburgh. When my family and I moved in 2009 from California, we were able to buy a house that was a healthy bit larger than what we had in California. All of a sudden we had a lot of wall space. So PGH Photo Fair was perfect timing because over the years, even if we didn't know exactly where the artwork or photography was going to go, we knew that we wanted to collect, and we had the space to do it.
I don't follow a strict schedule, for rotating the artwork on the walls. For example, there used to be Sebastion Delgado prints that I purchased in Los Angeles and had up for probably two and a half years, and then decided I wanted to get something different. Kind of form to fit. This last Photo Fair, I purposely bought smaller pieces like this Erica Baum from Bureau. I also have two photos from the Miyako Yoshinago Gallery that I adore which are currently out of rotation but will be getting well-deserved display next year.
Tori: Has there ever been a piece you wish you’d purchased but didn’t?
Chris: There was an amazing piece at by Christiane Feser titled, Nullpunkte shown by Gitterman Gallery that I really admire. It was an archival pigment print with an element of 3D pins and a spot-light under glass. We couldn’t find a place for it in our home. I was so ready to buy it, and I had nowhere to put it, and so I said to Tom Gitterman, "I would love to buy that, and it's not right to just have it just stay in a crate or wrapped up," so I had to let that one go, and that was tough [laughter].
Usually, when we buy, we're buying because the work really resonates with us. There’s sometimes a toss up between getting a second piece from an artist we know versus getting a piece from another artist, and there's no right or wrong on that type of decision. We've got several Martin Klimas pieces. He had the series where he dropped ceramic figures from a ladder, and the act of the ceramic piece hitting the ground and breaking, the shutter was somehow connected to the noise. It's an intimate capture of the breaking process, so part of it's broken and part of it's not because the shockwaves haven't gone through the entire figures. It’s a fascinating image and intellectually stimulating.
We had another one from a similar series where they covered a speaker with waterproof material, put paint on it, and then played a single note from a song, and as the paint jumped, the image was snapped. We have Sign of the Time by Prince, it’s purple and it's awesome.
So those are two from the same photographer, Klimas and then we waited a few years to get a third piece of his because we ended up purchasing this [pointing] really great Roy Decarava. We have a number of artists of color and this piece resonated with us. We excitingly welcomed it into our collection because we didn't have any Decarava’s. He's such an important figure historically and this piece had outstanding composition.
Tori: Photobooks are a fabulous entry point to photography collection. I see you have some on display here. Are they from PGH Photo Fair?
Photobooks are such fun. This one [showing] is from Only Photography, Roland Angst is his name, and he comes to Pittsburgh from Berlin, Germany to sell both prints and photo books. I find that I'm really connecting with the photo books that he has. This book curates works by Kenneth Josephson, Stephane Duroy, Gerry Johansson, and Wilhelm Schuermann. Each book is limited edition, and they're beautiful because it gives you a chance to have multiple works by an artist.
About the Photographer:
Ivette Spradlin is a Cuban-American photographer, video artist, and educator whose work centers around the emotional aspects of transition, adaptation, and balance in one's life. She received her BFA in Photography from the University of Georgia and her MFA in Photography from Tyler School of Art. She is a Creative Capital and Flight School Fellow, Artist Opportunity Grant awardee, and an Art on the Walls artist through the Pittsburgh Arts Council. Her photography has been published in Next Level Magazine and featured on BBC. Her films have screened nationally, including at the Carnegie Museum of Art and at the Transmodern Film Festival in Baltimore. In 2014, her Oval Portrait photographs were part of a Magenta Foundation public art project in downtown Pittsburgh, and Unseen was featured in the Pittsburgh Biennial. Recently, her video You Are Gone, I Am Here won Best In Show in the Three Rivers Arts Festival Juried Exhibition.
She lives in Pittsburgh, PA and teaches at Carnegie Mellon University and Pittsburgh Filmmakers.