On a recent afternoon in Bushwick, Brooklyn, Adam Yokell, former lead counsel for the online art resource platform Artsy, walked me around his newly established gallery, Hometown. This being the space’s first exhibition—an “open concept show,” Yokell said—much of Yokell’s sensibility and rationale behind his recent career shift was demonstrated by what hung on the walls.
“This is Yasue Maetake,” said Yokell, introducing me to a grid of found metal ensconced within a mesh of handmade paper, appearing at once both jagged and soft. On the opposite wall, Brooklyn-based artist Michael Uttaro’s ink drawing of tessellated plants on a bedsheet exuded a similar quality. Yokell himself might also be described by such terms; his professional background contrasts his calm manner.
Yokell first joined Artsy in 2011, serving as the company’s go-to legal eagle for the next four years and eight months. During that time the company would grow from a group of “roughly 15” to a number now closer to ten times that. At Artsy, Yokell worked with a variety of people, from CEOs to curators. Along with ensuring the company established proper business practices, much of Yokell’s job came down to “communication.” In that regard, he believes his new job is not too different.
“In starting this gallery, I wanted to spend more time around people making work,” said Yokell.
This desire has been enough to hang a first show, but the ever-looming question of appealing to the broader market remains. Yokell brought up famed art dealer and critic Dave Hickey as a kind of model. “Hickey didn’t want to be a picture merchant or a curator because he said, ‘picture merchants sell people what they want and curators show what they think the public needs.’ His vision as an art dealer, he calls it an ‘Emersonian Dream,’ is that sometimes there’s this intersection of what you want and what you need.”
For Yokell there is merit in this vision, which he describes as taking “an optimistic approach.” To that end, Yokell hopes to slowly build up his program over time, developing a reputation that will resonate with collectors and by association, artists alike. Much of this thinking resonates in his choice of humble locale as a means for “keeping things simple.”
Having studied art history at Colgate College, Yokell’s first taste for curating came as a student worker for the school’s Picker Art Gallery. “It was a show about Abstract Expressionism and the surrounding criticism,” said Yokell, recalling the experience that “cemented” his decision to pursue a career involving art. Acting accordingly, Yokell completed a master’s at Christie’s Education in London, specializing in modern and contemporary art. The following year Yokell returned to New York more sure of his passion but less certain of how to turn it into a viable career. A law degree and four years at Artsy later, he came full circle back to what sparked his interest in art in the first place.
In naming his space “Hometown,” Yokell hopes to create an “inclusive” environment. “I think the name is related on some level to an idea of directness,” he said.