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Edgy Madison Avenue Gallery 'Crashes' Uptown Art Scene

By Amy Zimmer | July 18, 2012 10:46am
Lina Mati, one of the founders of the Collective Council gallery on the Upper East Side, describes her gallery's work as
Lina Mati, one of the founders of the Collective Council gallery on the Upper East Side, describes her gallery's work as "Downtown crashes Uptown."
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DNAinfo/Amy Zimmer

UPPER EAST SIDE — Sandwiched on Madison Avenue between the mod home accessories of design guru Jonathan Adler and the 18th and 19th Century English furniture and porcelain at Guild Antiques, sits a different breed of art space.

A group of "artists, art experts and taste-makers" recently formed the Collective Council to run a second location of the Midtown Gallery Les Looms, at 1091 Madison Ave. They mix high-end and low-end, new and old, textiles and ceramics in a space that encourages people to feel inspired to start — or continue — collecting.

“It’s ‘Downtown crashes Uptown,” said Lina Mati, 33, one of the founders of the Collective Council.

Mati said that unlike most galleries in the area, the space launched without the help of any big backers, but it does have the good fortune of having a large inventory to choose from. Members collaboratively curate the array of work on display, designed to suit any budget — from $100 to six figures, Mati said.

Mati, an artist whose mother raised her “between Downtown and Europe going to art galleries and salons,” always dreamed of creating a grassroots space like the Council.

The Collective Council features work by its 11 members — including jewelry made by Mati, Lara Knutson’s soft sculpture and jewelry, Daniel Michalik's cork furniture, John Lindell's plates and experimental scents and Patrick Townsend’s lighting designs and lamps. It curates tapestries, textiles and rugs from Gallery Les Looms and art and antiques from Arthaz, a company that handles private estate art collections on Second Avenue and 55th Street run by Mati’s mother, Suzanne C. Nagy, who is also an artist and a member of the Collective Council.

“Over the years we’ve seen things going from warehouse to warehouse and not see the light of day,” Mati, 33, said of her mother's antique goods. “My dream was always to give these pieces their shining moment.”

The space breaks the mold of galleries that tend to focus on one period or type of work. In one corner of the Collective Council space, for instance, a 17th Century tapestry is hung next to a Pablo Picasso print.

The unexpected juxtaposition is designed to “surprise and excite,” Mati said. “I want there to be a little magic in here.”

She also wants to get people thinking of the possibilities of collecting for their own homes.

“Your home is one of your biggest accessories,” she said. “But people get nervous and close up and will be too afraid to buy what people think of as a ‘real’ piece.”

She wants to change that by making her space more accessible to first-time buyers, talking to walk-ins about the works and letting them to feel relaxed around it by encouraging them to touch or pick up some of the art.

“We were told that some people would be offended by putting sculpture on top of books or paintings on the floor,” Mati said. “It’s the counter. People say, ‘This is so cool.’ It’s something fresh and not a chain store.”

She added, “I think people up here are not afraid to take risks [with collecting].”

Even the members of the collective have been inspired to break down some of their own boundaries around art. Knutson, for instance, took remnants from a 16th Century tapestry from Arthaz and wove them into a vase.

Mati said they “lucked out” when they found the long vacant space, which “saw our cause and wanted to be part of it.”

She and the others fell in love with the storefront’s nooks and crannies that allow for displaying different types of works, like a back room filled with exotic carpets and textiles.

Still, there have been some hiccups.

The air conditioner recently broke down and can’t be fixed before the Council’s next opening on Wednesday, July 25.

But Mati has turned it into an opportunity for some fun.

The show’s theme will revolve around summer and heat. It was inspired by a piece the Council got from Arthaz — a wild-looking sombrero with tubular structures growing out of it from 1963 by the contemporary Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama, whose splashy retrospective recently opened at the Whitney Museum of Art.

Instead of the standard cheese and crackers at art openings, this one will have chilled wine and snow cones — spurred by Mati’s 2-year-old son’s enthusiasm for An Icy Introduction’s shaved ices at the SoHo stand and a chance conversation with the spot’s “snoball-logist.”

“I feel like an odd ball out, but in a good way,” Mati of her crash-landing on the Upper East Side, but added that she relishes the challenge.