In this next edition of the Women Working in the Arts series, we chat with Kimberly Pepper, Gallery Director and Senior Art Consultant at the Philadelphia-based gallery Morton Contemporary.
What was your first job in the arts? Was it an industry you always knew you wanted to work in?
I had always known I wanted to work in the arts, but wasn't sure how I would have a career in the field. I was a Clothing and Accessories Buyer for an incredible company in Philadelphia that was owned by Georgette Penzur, who was previously a gallerist in NYC. She opened my eyes to the contemporary art world and taught me what it took to run a business.
My first real job in the arts was working with a French art consortium, Carre D'artistes, as a gallery manager in Midtown Village. Debbie Morton opened a branch of the gallery in 2014, and I took a giant leap of faith to completely switch careers and follow my passion.
How has your career progressed since then?
It's been an exciting journey! From receiving gallery management and curation training in France to working at prestigious art shows like Art Basel Miami and the Hamptons Fine Art Fair, the adventures this career path has taken me on have been amazing.
Now at Morton Contemporary, the owner, Debbie and I have been given incredible opportunities to work with collections like the M.C Escher estate and emerging artists from around the world. We are currently curating artworks for a new venture in Washington D.C., Gallery 64, that’s in conjunction with the Rubell Museum. It's a fantastic project set to open later this year that we are honored to be a part of.
The most rewarding part of my career in the arts has been being able to share it with my 4-year-old son, Luca. Nothing makes me happier than when he asks to come to look at the new works in the gallery, and it’s been such a joy to encourage his appreciation of viewing and making art as much as possible.
Tell us about your role now with Morton Contemporary. What is exciting about your current/upcoming programming and how it relates to the Philadelphia art scene as a whole?
I'm the Gallery Director for Morton Contemporary Art Gallery, where Debbie Morton and I are thrilled to represent some of the world's top emerging and established contemporary artists. We opened in the Spring of 2020 and it’s been an amazing (and terrifying) transition opening something completely new in Philadelphia (especially during the pandemic!) There’s nothing quite like what we do as we present rotating collections from 30+ established and emerging international artists such as Adam Handler, Nathan Paddison, Cabell Molina, and Alloyius Mcilwaine. We recently opened our second location, THE LOFT AT MORTON CONTEMPORARY, where we have monthly solo exhibitions and host private and community events. Being able to host community and cultural events in our own space has been a rewarding part of joining the Philadelphia art scene.
A mission that is close to our hearts is supporting Philadelphia's local artists, collectives, and participating in philanthropic programs. At the forefront is one of our artists and dear friends, Suave Gonzalez, who has had a major hand in the Philadelphia Mural Arts program and recently won a Pulitzer Prize for audio reporting. As a local street artist, his goal is to confront the public with social justice, ignite dialogue, and inspire change. We are proud to represent him as one of our artists. Philly is thriving as an art destination and has provided endless support for the sort of gallery we have always envisioned could flourish here.
What are a few of the biggest changes you've noticed in the field? Do you have any predictions for the next five to ten years?
The online and international markets have been a boon for emerging artists! Over the past couple of years, we've seen up-and-coming artists’ works priced and sold in conjunction with contemporary masters at auctions. The pandemic has pushed everyone super far into the online sector, and a large number of sales seem to happen almost entirely via online bidding from overseas. Our gallery has practically quadrupled in international sales to collectors purchasing via our website.
Beyond auctions, a multitude of my clients–both business and residential– relocated during the pandemic into new spaces that they want to renovate. This led us to expand our online consultation services, and we've been offering virtual consultations that include AR inlays of pieces directly in clients’ homes. While I love the personal connection of clients coming to the gallery, for better or worse I think this is something that is here to stay.
What would be your top three tips for artists looking to work with a gallery?
● For starters, an eye-catching online presence! We are constantly looking at artists' Instagram profiles and websites while curating.
● Make a connection with the gallery before blindly approaching them and do your research on who they represent to see if your style would even be a good fit. If you are reaching out to a gallery, present a thoughtful and unique body of work rather than one or two pieces.
● Find a mentor. I’ve been lucky enough to have the influence of strong women as role models throughout my life and finding someone who is a few steps ahead in their journey can help illuminate the path forward.
Alicia Puig has been a contributing writer for Create! Magazine since 2017. Find more of her work: www.aliciapuig.com