Ebony L. Haynes Discusses Her Plans for David Zwirner

The dealer and founder of Black Art Sessions envisions a ‘low and slow’ programme of exhibitions

BY Ebony L. Haynes AND Evan Moffitt in Interviews | 09 OCT 20

Ebony L. Haynes, 2020. Courtesy: David Zwirner; photograph: Elliott Jerome Brown, Jr.

Evan Moffitt: First of all, congratulations on your exciting new role with David Zwirner! In addition to your previous position at Martos, you ran the Lower East Side gallery Shoot the Lobster for several years, where you showed a wide range of primarily younger artists. Will your programme there inform what you show at this new space? Have you developed a broad rubric for the kinds of artists or exhibitions you’d like to present? Will your programme include a number of artists represented by Zwirner?

Ebony L. Haynes: Thanks, Evan! I think everything that I’ve done up to this point will inform what I do in this new space, on some level. I don’t have a rubric, but I know that I will probably be focusing on solo presentations. Of course, some group shows will definitely find their way in there, when appropriate. There will be a range of artists, young and old; some may be represented by a gallery, and others may not. The primary focus, which I’ve always been drawn to, will be conceptually interesting practices and projects that perhaps might present a bit of a challenge for other commercial spaces that work with a traditional model of artist representation and more frequent shows and turnaround. These will be what I like to call ‘low and slow’ shows. Artists represented by Zwirner may find their way in there, but there is nothing planned and no expectation or obligation.

This model will give each show more space and time, and thus hopefully a chance for more people to see them. Artists spend so much time working on a show (as does a gallery), and it’s often sad to see things get packed up so soon. This will afford us the opportunity to really share an exhibition with the world and archive it with a publication.

EM: You’ve said that you intend to hire an all-Black gallery staff – a very clear step to address racial inequities in the art world. Was this something you always knew you wanted to do? How do you intend to make the space a platform for professional advancement in the arts?

ELH: This is definitely something I’ve always wanted to do and, although I have hired Black interns or staff when I’ve been afforded the opportunity, this is the biggest opportunity to do so that I’ve had! Creating a space for real professional practice for anyone is important. But a space for professional experience in the commercial art world exclusively for Black people doesn’t currently exist, and creating one is of personal interest to me as a Black woman. My dream is for this space to be an incubator for learning about the commercial art world; a space to gain real, applicable experience. This would then create a network of ‘alumni’ that could forge on in the art world together – eventually changing the way the room looks, and also becoming a great resource for galleries and museums seeking new, competent and creative staff.

EM: How did you first begin working with artists? Were you always drawn to the commercial art world?

ELH: I haven’t always worked in the art world, but I was first drawn to the commercial side of it once I realized that ‘commercial’ is not a four-letter word. Selling an artist’s work actually empowers them to live as an artist – live from the work they create – and also to participate in a larger conversation about the market and the canon, which are not mutually exclusive. Quite the opposite, in fact.

EM: This summer, you launched Black Art Sessions with Cassandra Press. Can you tell us a bit more about that programme, and how you conceived it?

ELH: The idea for the Black Art Sessions came to me after I was interviewed for Momus: The Podcast. I realized that I’m always talking about how schools should create more opportunities for real professional practice and more access and representation for BIPOC students in general. So, one day I realized I could be the ‘thing’ that provides more access and representation, and I offered my free services to Black art students on Instagram (although being an active student is not a rigid requirement to participate). I had no idea or expectation as to what the response might be but, needless to say, the sessions are always full and I have no plans to stop. Cassandra Press generously offered to host the sessions on their platform, which already champions and produces radical pedagogical content.

EM: What concrete steps can other commercial galleries take to make the art world less ‘pale, male and stale’?

ELH: One thing other galleries might consider is: if you are interested in and working with female, queer and BIPOC artists, then you should see the value in creating a team that reflects the programme. Taking concrete steps to get there means more ‘doing’ and less ‘trying’.

Ebony L. Haynes is a Director at David Zwirner, guest professor and critic at the Yale School of Art, and founder of the Black Art Sessions. She lives in New York, USA.

Evan Moffitt is a writer, editor and critic based in New York, USA.