Commonwealth and Council began as an artist-run space in a Los Angeles one-bedroom apartment, named for its original location. The goal, as described by founder Young Chung and partner Kibum Kim, was never to become something that already existed, but instead to provide a platform for voices not included elsewhere. Its development has been based on a foundation of mutual commitment and support. In 2016 it began to formally represent a small group of artists.
As its experimental programming has grown in critical acclaim and collector recognition, Chung and Kim have continued to encourage “artistic freedom without censorship or compromise.” They spoke with Whitewall about creating a space where artists can feel like they belong.
WHITEWALL: Commonwealth and Council has a familial, collective feel. Why is that important for you and the artists you represent?
YOUNG CHUNG & KIBUM KIM: There could be a lot of subduing of one’s ego for the sake of others. We encourage collective care and well-being through our emphasis on hospitality and generosity. It can all sound pretentious and convoluted, but we’ve earnestly walked the walk to try to manifest this reality for us. The nuanced truth remains to be heard through the testimonials of all those who have come through our doors. For now, there is nothing more rewarding than hearing one of our artists promote and engage lovingly with another artist in our program and sharing resources for the collective benefit.
WW: How do you maintain an artist-centric path that is sustainable?
YC & KK: We by no means have the answers to what sustainability will entail for smaller galleries and artist economics (especially in 2020), but we are thinking about how we would like to define and protect a space for ourselves in the art world. This has been an ongoing subject of discussion in our weekly gallery Zooms. It is all getting hashed out still, but some ideas being explored include sharing of wealth and resources through a collective trust and co-ownership in tangible assets/physical space.
WW: How do your artists determine the future of the gallery?
YC & KK: The artists have always shaped the trajectory of Commonwealth and Council. They literally built this space. Gala Porras-Kim built and tore down the walls in the galleries and scraped the floors. She learned HTML overnight to make a website. EJ Hill tended the drinks at openings. There are permanent interventions in the space: Julie Tolentino with Pigpen inscribed the cinderblock that replaced a broken wall; Cayetano Ferrer designed a lighting system in conversation with the broken slats exposed in the ceiling.
This might all read as corny mythology, and it is. It is also all true. And we mention it because, though we have perhaps grown from that DIY approach, the ethos that history shaped, the emotional and communitarian labor/investment, remains. We do not have some official voting committee and collectively decide on everything together, but we do connect with the artists in our everyday lives, and those conversations inform the decision-making.
WW: How have the past few months impacted that future?
YC & KK: It sounds hackneyed, but the shutdown has allowed for us to get off the capitalist treadmill and re-root ourselves in what we want to pursue and champion (and how). Since we began representing artists and engaging more directly with the art fair/biennial circuit a couple of years ago, it often felt like we were just trying to stay above water. We are not sure if we will radically change what we have been doing day-to-day necessarily, but every decision and action will be more intentional. We are trying to imagine how we can co-invest in our collective future, as a gallery and for the individual artists.
WW: How has it impacted your relationship with your artists?
YC & KK: 2020 has allowed us to recommit to a collective future together. As with many galleries, we started having Zoom check-ins through COVID. Now they are weekly and have become a forum for us to imagine together the next era for Commonwealth and Council (at times through arguments and tears and vulnerability). This year actually marks the 10-year anniversary for the space. We have come a long way since that apartment show in October 2010, perhaps farther than any of us could have dared imagine. But we are now mapping out the next ten years. We have all agreed that our dream is not just to keep the course and grow and mature into a bigger “blue-chip” commercial gallery. We would like to reimagine what a gallery and community of/for artists can be. Hence the summer school we began in August is a starting point for exploring alternative models for art education, something that grew out of years-long conversations among some of our artists. We are also thinking around what art will look like after 2020: Will we be tied to solo gallery shows for artists every three, four years? Or will art live beyond gallery walls and engage the public in different ways? We don’t have the answers worked out, but it has been invigorating to deliberate and process together.