For the past two years and four months, Kleven Contemporary hosted many of the best contemporary art exhibits in Las Vegas. The micro gallery, housed in Emergency Arts, drew emerging artists who worked in a diversity of media and styles, from Andrew Sea James’ photography of quirky Valley landscapes to a paper installation by Andreana Donahue to Kyla Hansen’s appropriately titled sculpture show The End and Shit, a post-apocalyptic reliquary of the Southwest.
But Jennifer Kleven, 28, is shuttering her space to make time for her own work. The gallerist is a talented photographer in her own right, having earned degrees in studio art and art history from UNLV. She also recently teamed with Krystal Ramirez for Vestiges, a show at UNLV’s Richard Tam Alumni Center devoted to strangely decaying structures and places.
Kleven recently took a break from her job at the Neon Museum to chat with Vegas Seven. She was eager to discuss the Downtown art scene and how it could benefit from some serious love from the business community.
What was your mission when you opened your gallery?
I wanted to see a space in town that showed truly contemporary work. So the only way I knew that could happen was if I opened a gallery. With VAST Space Projects [formerly Pop Up Art House], that void has been filled, and now there’s very contemporary art being shown. That space is so big, and that’s the one thing I knew I could never achieve, because I don’t have the bankroll for it. The whole time, my gallery rarely made enough to pay for rent. I didn’t go in thinking: “Oh, Vegas is ready to buy contemporary art. There will be so many collectors lining up outside my door.” I wanted to show contemporary art so that Vegas knows what that means. I think I accomplished what I set out to do. I had wanted to open a space for artists coming out of college. When you’re an emerging artist, doing a solo show on your own seems so daunting, especially in a large space. But in a small space, it seems achievable. My gallery ended up becoming a great space for installation art, which is something I’m really happy about.
Have you seen a change in the Downtown arts scene in the last two years?
I saw a big change in Emergency Arts, yes, and how there was a growing movement toward traditional galleries, where the owner of the gallery sells the work of others rather than his or her own. There are really interesting spaces there now, really strong shows and great gallery owners.
Are you leaving the arts community in better shape than when you arrived?
Totally. A lot of people now are engaged in art. But it’s important for businesses to be engaged in art as well. People forget that businesses have rather large art collections. Especially for new businesses that are opening—instead of buying something that your interior designer finds, it might be nice to search out something locally produced at a gallery, or even just bought locally at a gallery. Very often, price points at Vegas galleries are comparable to or less than what they would buy from an interior designer.
How can businesses support the art scene?
There’s a renaissance going on now for businesses, sure, but not for galleries, for people like me. My business didn’t grow whatsoever, even if I achieved what I set out to do. A lot of gallery owners in Emergency Arts feel the same way. … People come in and give tours to out-of-state groups all the time, leading them down a hallway full of open galleries. But no one actually set foot inside the galleries.
Will you come back? And will you return Downtown?
I’m hopefully going to have another gallery within a year or two after I have spent more time on my work. But it will be in a different part of town. Downtown doesn’t need someone like me anymore. Downtown has plenty of champions. I live on the east side [of the Valley], so it would be great to champion an old neighborhood. There are so many empty plazas there that I’m hoping a landlord will say, “You know, let’s do a whole strip mall of art galleries since I have nothing there now anyway.” Who knows? Maybe it’ll happen.