Dinner Gallery: Interview with Gallery Owner Celine Mo

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The Dinner Gallery (formerly VICTORI + MO) is a space for contemporary art. Located in Manhattan, the heart of New York City, the gallery is dedicated to representing the work of emerging artists which subsequently helps them develop their work and establish their careers. Since its inception in 2014, the establishment has keyed in on experimentation, novel works, and ambitious projects. To that end, the curators work directly with artists to realize these concepts into memorable exhibitions. The gallery is also proud to be a center for rigorous and intellectual exchanges which proudly hosts lectures and other community activities within its walls. A member of the New Art Dealers Alliance (NADA), the Dinner Gallery seeks to nurture artists as they perfect and alter their raft throughout their careers.

Dinner Gallery’s Managing Partner Celine Mo earned a Bachelor’s degree in Art History from New York University (NYU) and has worked extensively in galleries as a manager, dealer, and curator. Celine has experience working for powerhouse galleries such as Lehmann Maupin, Skarstedt Gallery, and Birnam Wood Galleries and working with artists including George Condo, Eric Fischl and Jenny Holzer. Celine is a member of the Guggenheim Young Collectors Council Acquisitions Committee, Independent Curators International and Young Presidents’ Organization (YNO). In 2016, she and art expert Ed Victori partnered to form the VICTORI + MO Gallery in Bushwick, Brooklyn. From there, the gallery expanded into Manhattan and was renamed the Dinner Gallery.

Celine Mo recently discussed her experiences in the fine art industry via an exclusive interview.

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Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you get interested in art and why did you decide to become a curator and, eventually, a gallery owner?

Celine Mo (CM): I became interested in the arts after taking a few art history classes at NYU and being surrounded by so many great museums and galleries made it easy. My professors there would always encourage us to visit certain exhibitions and sometimes we would even have class in museums which was an incredible experience.

I kind of just fell into gallery work. I graduated during the height of the financial crisis and the only job I could find was at an art gallery. Once I started though, I couldn’t stop. It was amazing learning the ins and outs of running a gallery and how exhibitions were put together. Before the gallery, I didn’t even know you could just simply reach out to artists for studio visits but it quickly became my favorite part. Connecting, learning and reflecting on their practices was inspiring. I love to put together exhibitions because it creates such interesting conversations between different artists but I hesitate to call myself a curator since there are professionals who have their Master’s or PhDs in the field. I think I’m more of an advocate for young artists.

MM: How did you break into the art/gallery world and establish yourself?

CM: Honestly, when Ed and I started VICTORI + MO, we didn’t really know what we were doing but we knew we wanted to do something different. White box exhibitions weren’t interesting to us and we really wanted to create a space where people could come in and feel like they’ve entered the artist’s brain. Every time we offered to do a solo exhibition with an artist, they always wanted to do something crazy and we totally loved that. I thought it was incredible how the artists really pushed themselves to explore the space and as a result created these amazing installations that took over the gallery. In summary, I think how we really established ourselves was by not saying no to crazy ideas!

MM: What prompted you to establish your own gallery in 2014?

CM: I was working for a small gallery in Chelsea for a few years and eventually got laid off. I didn’t know what to do next and was feeling a bit discouraged from the art world. I had previously worked on a few curatorial projects with my now business partner, Ed Victori, so I reached out to him to see if he wanted to open a space together. We both took a chance on each other and here we are six years later!

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MM: What was the transition from Brooklyn to Manhattan like?

CM: It’s a bit lonelier in Manhattan. When we were in the 56 Bogart building in Bushwick, there was definitely a stronger sense of community where I could go down the hall and chat with other gallery owners or artists. In Chelsea, all the galleries seem to keep to themselves more but the caliber of galleries and artists showing in Chelsea is inspiring. Being in Chelsea has definitely pushed me outside my comfort zone in a good way.

MM: You changed the name of the gallery to Dinner Gallery, so why did you choose that specific name?

CM: This past year was a difficult one and really forced us to reflect on the values and people that are important to us as individuals but also as a gallery. And as we evolve and grow, we want the gallery to evoke community, togetherness and collaboration while not forgetting where we started and the people who have supported us along the way. As a result, we no longer felt that we needed our names on the door because we didn’t build the gallery alone. Dinner is a time that brings people together to break bread. The best conversations, friendships and ideas are born during dinner. And after this past year of being socially distant and divided as a country the thing we long for the most right now is having dinner with friends and family. We were also looking back to influential spaces such as FOOD, which was a restaurant located in Soho in the 70s founded by Gordon Matta-Clark, Carol Goodden and Tina Girouard. It became a hub for artists with the main mission to bring the artistic community together. A few other things that solidified the name was that Dinner for Breakfast was the title of our first exhibition in Bushwick. It’s also the title of one of my favorite works Dinner Party by Judy Chicago at the Brooklyn Museum. With all of these commonalities, it just felt right!

MM: Why is finding and fostering emerging artists so important to you?

CM: I think young emerging artists have the most interesting perspectives on the world. And being a young emerging gallery ourselves, it’s important to be a platform for their voices to be heard.

MM: How do you select the artists that you exhibit? What, particularly, do you look for in work?

CM: A lot of people use this analogy but it’s so true: our relationships with artists is like a marriage. It’s built on mutual respect and trust and requires a lot of work. It also requires good communication and compromise. This is one of the most important things when we choose to work with an artist because being in the art world, whether you’re an artist, gallery or institution, is hard enough as it is. You can be the best artist in the world but if we can’t bring the best out in each other then there’s no way for us to be at the top of our game. In terms of artistic practice, we’re mostly drawn to great storytellers. I think the best artists are either trying to pose a question or answer a question about the world around them.

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MM: Out of all the art you’ve seen and shows you’ve worked on, which are most memorable and why?

CM: What a tough question to answer! I’ve loved all the exhibitions we’ve done and they all had memorable moments that will always stick in my mind. I’ll never forget the more physically taxing exhibitions to install but once everything was up, it was like a high seeing everything come together so perfectly. Other exhibitions that are also memorable are ones that drew strong emotional responses like Phoenix Lindsey-Hall’s “Never Stop Dancing” or ones with fun events like a beer pong tournament during Nic Rad’s Millennial Perennial.

MM: How do you hope Dinner Gallery expands and evolves over the next five years?

CM: This past year in isolation really taught me to be more present so it’s hard to think of what the future will hold but I hope that Dinner Gallery will continue to be a space where artists can experiment and feel supported in ways that they need. We are also always aiming to be more inclusive and diverse which will hopefully help us become a more well-rounded gallery.

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MM: What has been the highlight of your career as a curator and gallery owner?

CM: Working with the artists and feeling like I contributed to their success has really been a highlight of my career. I love watching their practices grow and evolve beyond my expectations.

MM: What are your ultimate goals for the future and is there anything else that you would like to mention?

CM: One goal I have is to become a space that gives back to the community in a meaningful way. For example, we’re currently planning an exhibition that will have aspects of engaging with the community and giving back.

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To learn more, visit the official website of the Dinner Gallery and follow them on Instagram via @dinner_gallery

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