Mark Van Wagner and his wife, Tonja Pulfer, were sitting beneath the remnants of their last art exhibit, Jedd Garet’s striking “Wall F-Flower” and Emily Quinn’s winsome “The Performer.”
Risk-taking for their Marquee Projects, Inc. gallery means tapping unknown artists of all ages to show their talent as well as including those from around the country and locally. That will continue in their Bellport Village space this year.
But also, they will participate in the Volta New York 2020 in March, a showcase for creative discovery and midcareer artists. (The show is an incarnation of the Volta Basel show.) It’s a first for them. They are representing the paintings of John Perrault. (Perrault was a Bellport resident, “Village Voice” and “ARTnews” art critic, painter and sculptor who died in 2015.)
Van Wagner and Pulfer discussed last year’s talent as an example of their retinue of artists. Gabrielle Ledet, the young self-taught New Orleans artist with her colorful, arresting abstract images emulating family, was a risk but a big hit, Van Wagner said of the 24-year-old. “It was her first exhibition, and it was a month-long. Hers was up there with our most successful ones.” He and Pulfer have hosted artists ranging from 24- to 70-plus-year-olds.
“We put the emphasis on marginalized or mid- to late in life artists; it seems like those voices are overlooked,” Van Wagner said.
Daniel Bruttig, from Chicago, was featured in August. “He grew up in Wisconsin with his grandmother, and during his artist talk he mentioned that she taught him how to crochet,” explained Van Wagner. “She also repaired cuckoo clocks, and he built those skills into his art.”
Besides New Orleans and Chicago, artists chosen hail from upstate New York; Cleveland; Washington, D.C.; Providence; Brooklyn; and also Bellport.
The couple combines sweat equity with art and finance knowledge, encouraging community participation in their gallery over the past three years. In 2019 there were nine exhibits. With artist talks and after-events, they’ve had 20 in total, attracting swarms especially during the luminous summer months, when residents and visitors stroll over and drop in to expand their minds, discuss what they saw, catch up with friends or make new ones. This year, they’ll mount eight.
“We visit many art fairs,” Van Wagner said of their finds as they travel.
“Or artists come to us in person or online,” said Pulfer. “And artists recommend other artists all the time.”
Ledet was contacted after a Bellport resident’s recommendation.
“It’s really a mom and pop operation,” said Van Wagner. “I do photography, press releases. Tonja does the accounting. We both paint the walls, mount the artwork and take them down. We do everything.” That also means hosting the artists in their residence during an exhibit’s duration. (Pulfer is a great cook, and she caters many of the events.) “It’s a whole package deal,” added Pulfer. “But we also appreciate the gallery life, and we are seeing our fourth season. We feel the excitement the same as the first, with a fresh eye.”
The end of March will start their new season after the Volta New York show; the big push starts Memorial Day.
Van Wagner commented that their journey to Bellport began after a long-distance correspondence with Perrault: “It’s fitting we’re here because of him.”