Art Frankly: Olivia Smith – Co-Founder and Director of Magenta Plains Gallery

Link to article

Published on; October 27, 2018 by Karline Moeller

This week we sit down with Olivia Smith, who is the co-founder and director of Magenta Plains Gallery, in the Lower East Side of New York City. Originally from Dallas, Texas, Olivia Smith received her B.F.A. in 2011 from SMU Meadows School of the Arts in Studio Art, Art History, and English, with a concentration in Poetry. From 2013 – 2016, Smith acted as the Director of Exhibition A, where she worked in collaboration with over two hundred and fifty artists to produce and distribute museum-quality contemporary art editions. In 2016 along with artists David Deutsch and Chris Dorland, Olivia Smith co-founded Magenta Plains. With an emphasis on community, history, and newly emergent art, the gallery’s mission is to foster context and meaning for the development of new ideas as well as to present and preserve older generations of artists’ work. We are delighted to share this talented woman’s Frank Talk with you here.

What was your first job in the Arts?

My first year in New York City I was fortunate to complete internships at my two favorite non-profits: Artists Space and Creative Time. Eventually I began working at Exhibition A ( as a production assistant, and within that year I was able to transition into a leadership position there as Director. 

What was the most useful or important thing you learned at that job?

Oh, so many things! I learned about sales and the contemporary art market for the first time. I learned how to navigate communication with artists, how to work with tight deadlines, and how to deal with all aspects of a multifaceted business at once. I honed my marketing skills for e-commerce, and realized that in order to be a leader you have to be willing to start over from scratch in order to develop best practices. The most important thing I learned was to trust my instincts and my eye, and how to communicate more quickly and effectively. These lessons helped me grow into a more decisive art professional.

Tell us a little more about yourself. When did you realize you wanted to pursue a career in this industry?

There was never any question that art would play a huge role in my life. What has surprised me is my transition from artist to art dealer. This began to take shape in my college years, when a solitary studio practice no longer made sense to me. Instead, I worked in ways which were more social and interdisciplinary: organizing lecture series and dinners, creating public art installations, and collaborating on performances with dancers, musicians and actors. Once I landed the internship at Creative Time in New York, everything changed. Nato Thompson (then the curator of CT) told me one day, “Whatever you learn to do well, you’ll end up doing in life.” I took that advice very seriously and at that point, decided that I would pursue a career in the arts but not as an artist.

What do you do now?

I direct Magenta Plains, a gallery on the Lower East Side of New York City that I co-founded with artists David Deutsch and Chris Dorland in early 2016.

Where are you from?

Dallas, Texas.

What is the arts community like there?

The patronage in Dallas is very strong—there is a serious collector base and a focus on philanthropy that supports fantastic institutions. In The Dallas Arts District alone there is the The Dallas Museum of Art, The Nasher Sculpture Center, The Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center designed by I.M. Pei and multiple brand-new performing art centers. In Fort Worth, the Kimbell Art Museum designed by Louis Kahn and Renzo Piano and The Modern designed by Tadao Ando are world-renowned.

The Dallas Art Fair in April and the TWO x TWO annual auction in October are probably the largest contemporary art events each year. There is even a magazine dedicated to art, culture and design called Patron. Dallas Contemporary and The Power Station are two amazing non-profits dedicated to showcasing world-class contemporary art.

There are a few great galleries and artist-run spaces as well. I’ve observed that in the last ten years, more artists who graduate from local schools are staying in Dallas and building the community through their own initiatives such as opening DIY galleries and pop-up exhibitions.

Has where you come from shaped what you do in the arts today?

Growing up in Dallas gave me a thirst for something larger and more difficult to attain, which definitely lead to my move to New York City. I come from a family of academic musicians and creative entrepreneurs. I think the mix of art and business in my day-to-day now reflects my upbringing.

What is the best piece of advice you can give about working in the art world?

I would advise to maintain integrity and show up to support and see art exhibitions. Networking within your community is incredibly important and it pays off to attend specific, key events. Don’t be shy about introducing yourself and when you meet someone, ask as many questions as you can. Remember that you can never go wrong with curiosity, generosity and ingenuity. Always be learning.

What is one of your greatest accomplishments in your career so far?

I can honestly say that co-founding Magenta Plains is a dream come true. Specifically, I’m most proud of the fact that I presented the first solo exhibition by computer art pioneer, Lillian Schwartz, in September 2016 before her 90th birthday. Announcing our artist roster in March 2018 was a major moment for the gallery as a whole.

What has been a challenge for you?

Expanding a collector base from scratch in an oversaturated market.

What is something you do every day at work?

Look at the artworks in our current exhibition. Update a master sales spreadsheet and determine next steps for each transaction. Talk to the artists I’m working with.

What is one of the weirdest things you have had to do on the job in your career?

As an intern at Artists Space, I accompanied an art handler to the 2012 benefit honoree Alan Vega’s apartment. Being so new to the city I didn’t yet have a New York driver’s license, so it was determined that instead waiting in the van and moving it if necessary, I would go up to Vega’s apartment and pick up the piece. I feigned confidence and marched into the luxury Wall Street apartment building, announced myself as the art handler, and the concierge sent me up to Vega’s apartment. Upon entering, Vega directed me to a large wall sculpture shaped like a cross about the same size as my entire body. Somehow I got that thing into the elevator and onto the truck without damaging it and it hung proudly on the wall later that week at the benefit. 

What defines a good employee? What defines a good boss?

For both: honesty, integrity, mutual respect, passion, tenacity, resourcefulness, patience.

What do you think makes a person hirable?

I’m always interested in hiring people who are well spoken and who are confident in their own skin. Other good traits are curiosity and a willingness to learn, which indicates growth potential.

What is your advice to making yourself stand out in your workplace?

Notice what isn’t happening and take initiative to fill in the gaps. Do everything with good intention and integrity, even if it’s restocking the beverages in your company’s refrigerator. Initiate ideas, create new solutions. Offer to help others with their work.

What are things you can do to proactively boost your CV?

Join art councils or organizations, or volunteer in the arts. Create DIY opportunities and curate an exhibition or performance series in your apartment or any space you have access to, even if it’s the bathtub.

Are there any tips you can give people entering the workforce?

Be consistent with your attendance at events that are related to your interests. Have a one-minute speech prepared when you are introduced to someone who asks what you do or what you are interested in doing. Be discerning about internships and entry-level jobs—only accept positions at organizations you deeply respect.

In your experience, what are things to do and things to avoid during an interview?

Do your homework on the organization you are interviewing with and ask the interviewer specific questions about the organization’s history, mission, or their experience within it. Do express your genuine interest in the position, and be specific. Make eye contact and be yourself.

What is the best exhibition you have seen in the last year?

Bruce Nauman: Disappearing Acts at The Schaulager in Basel, Switzerland. So excited this exhibition has finally made its way to New York so I can see it in a new context!

If you could own a work by 5 different artists, who would be in your collection?

Vija Celmins, Roni Horn, Jenny Holzer, Barbara Kruger, Cady Noland.


SMU Meadows: How to Get Your Art into Galleries and Exhibitions

Link to article

Published on; October 31, 2018

Meadows School of the Arts recently reached out to alumna Olivia Smith (B.F.A. Art ’11), director and co-founder of contemporary art gallery Magenta Plains in New York City, for her advice on the best way forartists to get their work into galleries and exhibitions.

Smith has been part of the art world for the better part of a decade, including internships at the Chinati Foundation museum in Marfa, Texas; Artists Space gallery in New York; and New York-based arts organization Creative Time.

From 2013 to 2016, she was director of New York’s Exhibition A, where she worked in collaboration with over 250 artists to produce and distribute museum-quality contemporary art editions. While at Exhibition A, she curated and managed artwork placement in hotels in Miami, Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Mexico and Australia.

Smith became director of Magenta Plains in 2016.

What is the best way to approach a gallery manager or public space curator? Any must-do’sor don’t-do’s?

First you must identify what kind of space is the best fit for the type of work you make. The most effective way to increase your chance of exhibiting is to align yourself with the community in which you desire to participate. Are you more suited to exhibit with a public art nonprofit that funds socially engaged projects or a commercial gallery that presents emerging painters?

What other artists exhibit at the space you are targeting, and how would your work create conversation or create contrast with the gallery's existing program? Be honest with yourself and make sure the mission of the gallery and your own ideas have common ground. Secondly, tap your network or ask a friend—the art world is social. Art dealers and curators often discover new artists through the artists they are already working with.

Do not cold call, email your portfolio to every gallery in town, or walk into a gallery and approach the curator about your work without a scheduled meeting. This is off-putting and unprofessional. Instead, attend events or opening receptions and, if the opportunity arises, casually invite the person of interest over for a studio visit. It's more important to trust the process, be strategic and remain consistent than to try and force things to fruition.

Magenta Plains
Interior of Magenta Plains; art by William Wegman.

How important is the artist’s website and/or social media in promoting/establishing an art career?

Social media can be a fantastic tool, especially in the art world. It is true that artists are discovered on social media and that works of art are often sold in the DM’s [direct messages]. Decide whether your Instagram account is strictly professional or personal, or figure out how the two can work in tandem to develop your social media voice. Post high-resolution images, show the process of making your work, and highlight “behind the scenes.” Promote your community and post your friends’ artwork, too. Quality over quantity is always my suggestion when it comes to posting on social media. As far as websites go, simplicity is key—as is having your most recent work easily accessible. When I'm vetting an artist, I want to look at as many relevant images as I can. I’m often looking very quickly, so consider easy navigation and quick-loading images. Unless you have had a long career, I suggest you don’t share work older than three to five years online—especially if you are a young artist. Keep your CV and images up to date and make sure your email is easy to find.

Is networking within your local art community important? If so, why?

As an artist, studio time and making quality work is your number one priority. However, networking within your local community (or the community of your choosing) is the second most-important thing. It can be hard to take time away from the studio or force yourself to be social when your mind is focused on your next move in the studio, but it can pay off to attend specific, key events. Have a one-minute speech prepared when you are introduced to someone who asks what type of art you make. Don’t underestimate the power of basic social skills and coming across confidently. Try to act comfortable around people you admire or consider important rather than acting nervous or self-deprecating. Fake it until you make it. Or, take a DIY approach and curate an exhibition or performance series in your apartment or in an abandoned convenience store. Show up and support your friends’ art exhibitions or offer to lend a hand with their installations. Share your friends’ artwork and they will share yours. One can never go wrong with generosity and ingenuity.

Magenta Plains
Exterior of Magenta Plains; art by Peter Sutherland.

What other advice can you offer students who are starting their art career?

Making a career out of being a full-time studio artist is rarely ever possible unless you have some outside source of funding or you’ve made it to the point where you are selling a lot of art for decently high prices. Be realistic about the steps it takes to reach that goal and stay determined. For most people, taking a part-time job at an art organization, teaching art, or working in the service industry is a must. If you choose to be an artist you are choosing to sacrifice time for your studio and money for the materials you need. You must always be your own self-motivator and not let yourself get bogged down with self-doubt.

You must also learn basic business skills in order to look out for your own best interests. As with any industry, people take advantage of other people and personalities can conflict. Do not work for free—ever. Do not let anyone take advantage of your creativity and your hard work in exchange for “exposure.” Stay organized, start a database of collectors and maintain your inventory through a software. Know how to send invoices, draft consignments, and insure your artwork. Use basic marketing skills and always keep a professional demeanor.

Magenta Plains
Group show at Magenta Plains, art by Peter Nagy, Barry Le Va, Anne Libby.

Let’s turn the lens on you for a moment. How did you establish yourself in the art world when you were starting out?

I moved to New York City the year after I received my B.F.A. and was fortunate to complete internships at my two favorite organizations—Artists Space and Creative Time. Eventually I began working at Exhibition A as a production assistant, and within a few months I was able to transition into a leadership position there. I worked long hours and, through experience, learned how to run a business and develop best practices. In the evenings I attended sometimes up to eight or more exhibition opening events in Chelsea, the Lower East Side or Brooklyn. During this time, Instagram was taking off as a platform and I was looking at and sharing a lot of art that I liked on my feed, and as a result, my following grew. Because of the nature of my job at Exhibition A—I met a lot of artists in a short amount of time—and my consistency with viewing and posting art, opportunities presented themselves to me. I began curating exhibitions independently, and ultimately, that work was noticed by the very people I ended up opening a gallery with in 2016.

Before you go, tell us a bit about your time as an SMU Meadows art student.

When I look back on my undergraduate experience in the SMU Meadows art department, I’m most grateful for the scale and intimacy of the classes, my relationships with professors who were genuinely invested in my growth as an artist, and the interdisciplinary experience I was able to participate in. There seemed no limit to the possibilities when it came to collaboration, and there was a certain freedom to use the building as needed for experimentation.

Learn more about Olivia Smith,Magenta Plains gallery, and the Division of Art at SMU Meadows School of the Arts.

Follow SMU Meadows Division of Art on Instagram and Facebook; sign up for the weekly Division of Art newsletter.

Photos courtesy of Magenta Plains.


Know Wave: Interview with Kah Bee Chow and Sandra Mujinga

Link to audio recording

In an intimate interview on KNOW WAVE, Olivia Smith of Magenta Plains speaks to Kah Bee Chow and Sandra Mujinga about their life and work on the occasion of their exhibition, Skip Zone, at Magenta Plains in New York City.


Artsy Webinar: Making Sales in the Offseason

Link to webinar recording


Join John Thomson of Foxy Production, Olivia Smith of Magenta Plains, and Justina Gomez Romero of Praxis for a discussion on success in the offseason.

From finding the right cadence for collector communications to what you can do when your gallery is struggling, they shared stories and suggestions for year-round success.



OBSzine #3: Art, Poetry, and the Pathos of Communication