August 21 2014

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Since founding the Rivington Arms gallery in 2001, Melissa Bent and Mirabelle Marden (whose parents are the influential abstract artists Helen and Brice Marden) have been at the forefront of Manhattan’s downtown art scene. The former Sarah Lawrence classmates have launched the careers of artists such as Dash Snow and Dan Colen and currently represent a diverse roster of thoughtful and thought-provoking artists, including painter Mathew Cerletty and photographers Hannah Liden and Pinar Yolacan. They took time out from their current exhibit, “4 Weeks/4 Shows,” a series of weeklong exhibitions by four emerging talents, to have an e-mail exchange with us.

Who are the four artists you’re exhibiting now, and why did you decide to stage these truncated shows during the Biennial and Armory month?

Mirabelle Marden: In “4 Shows/4 Weeks” we’re giving four relatively unknown artists weeklong solo exhibitions. It’s exciting for us to change the pace at the gallery and take risks. We wanted to invigorate the gallery by doing something completely different, to remind ourselves how many possibilities there are when curating shows. It’s exciting to do things a little differently—that’s why we opened a gallery in the first place.

Why have you decided to stay away from Chelsea?

MM: We haven’t decided to stay away from anywhere; we’ve always just wanted to be on the Lower East Side/East Village. It makes sense for us and our gallery. And it’s proven to be a good decision, with the New Museum opening up two blocks from us.

Mirabelle, how does the work you respond to differ from the art you grew up around?

MM: My parents are both abstract painters, and at Rivington Arms we don’t show a lot of strictly abstract work. But my parents are also both very diverse collectors and their approach to art and their aesthetics have strongly affected me. I think having artists as parents has given me, as a gallery owner and director, a different perspective—I try to see things from the artist’s point of view at all times, putting the artist’s needs and interests first.

As you mature past being the cool kids’ gallery, how have your aesthetic and your gallery’s goals changed?

MM and Melissa Bent: We’ve always thought of Rivington Arms as an artist’s gallery. Our motivation has been to grow with our artists and promote them in the best way possible. Too often we’ve been nicknamed “the girls,” which is not only condescending (we know of no young male art dealers who are called boys) but also sexist. Our goals have always, and will always be, to strive to curate strong exhibitions and to work with artists whose work interests us and whom we respect.

Do you think your high profile is an asset or a distraction for your artists?

MM and MB: The only reason we have any sort of profile is because of our gallery. We wouldn’t be known without it, or our artists.

Yet it seems that what you wear, and where you wear it, receives more attention than most of your artists or their art. Are you concerned that some people might take you and the gallery less seriously as a result of the type of press you two get?

MM: I don’t need to justify the wide range of press we receive, or my personal taste. The fact that I love lots of things outside of the art world doesn’t interfere with being a gallerist. One of the reasons I wanted to own my own business was that I could set my own rules—I could wear what I wanted to work, for example. But I would never compromise my sexuality for fear of other people’s reactions. I prefer to feel good about myself, and to me that’s powerful.

Photo: Courtesy of Melissa Bent and Mirabelle Marden