Editor’s note: In dedication you to all the artists and purveyors of art
Emily Carr painted Life into “Art From the Edge of Nowhere.” Today, WS writer Yara Zgheib shares a favorite escape in Boston.
It showcases the story of artists changing lives. Emily paid homage to the Indigenous culture and the precarious balance of nature and civilization with her sweeping, powerful brush strokes. Discover the joys of art and its fascinating perspectives on the world.
Curator, gallerist, and entrepreneur Ali Ringenburg has built a life and business investing in art that has the capacity to make people feel.
At 75 Charles Street, in Boston’s historic red-bricked neighborhood of Beacon Hill, a slender young woman with bright eyes and bright blond hair is busy hanging oil paintings. She takes a step back to contemplate the display; she loves this artist. “The richness of the paint, the brushwork, the composition, the use of color,” but mostly, a certain je ne sais quoi that draws the viewer in. Ali Ringenburg calls it feeling.
Ali is the owner and director of Sloane Merrill Gallery, a gem of a place where she combines her two passions: art and business. Tonight, at the opening reception, there will be jazz, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir. “The gallery will come alive. People will swing by, enjoy the paintings, talk with friends, or just engage in quiet reflection – take a break from their own story for a moment.”
Ali is in the business of art that creates feeling. That love affair was launched by her parents, two teachers who loved to travel. On those journeys to museums, churches, and across an array of different styles and eras, Ali gradually discovered the artists who made her feel:
Botticelli — “I fell in love with his faces,” Vuillard — “his paint handling, slight abstraction, and his figures in interiors,” Whistler – “I would reincarnate his Symphony in White, No. 1.,” Repin, Porter, Diebenkorn, Manet, Bellows, Zorn, Corot…
Ali was not an artist herself. “I just responded to the visuals of art. Visual expression, learning, understanding. Art is essential to humans.”
Its value, she realized, went far beyond the mere aesthetics of a piece. “It had the ability to express feelings and experiences. It could document history, joy, suffering, the cyclical nature of existence.”
And it could invoke feeling.
“I wanted to be a part of this world, to work in an environment where the desire to create was this strong. Paintings, sculpture, drawings, whatever.”
The mother of a close friend of Ali’s was an art historian. It was she who helped Ali realize her dream was not impossible. She did not have to be an artist or a sculptor; there were museum curators, gallerists, a whole business devoted to bringing the experience of art to people.
Ali joined a gallery at the age of twenty-three and the bottom of the ladder.
Twelve years later, she proudly runs her own business: a big, magical “witch’s brew” of work, artwork, and relationships.
“The gallery world is an enchanting, swirling microcosm of multitasking — at the heart of it, you have to love people, what they create, why they create it. I never think of the paintings I show as commodities or products.”
At the same time, to thrive in this field requires the integrity to ascribe an objective value to the subjectively beautiful:
“I look at a piece and factor in my knowledge of the painter’s experience, education, and personal value in the work. That being said, I never think of the paintings I show and sell as a commodity or product. They are individual creations and I am inspired, motivated, and excited by everyone.”
Ali tries to keep an open mind toward what is different and commit to quality even at the expense of commercial viability.
The only hard line she draws is against high-brow, elitist art:
“Art should be approachable and gallery owners should be door openers and educators.”
The challenges of running a business in the arts are many: “You have to be hungry, and you have to work, work, work.” That work is even harder for a woman:
“It is always interesting to see someone come in and ask me if the owner is available. People just assume that it could never be a young woman like me.”
The highs are high and the lows are low. The fear, at first, of not succeeding. Of failing to turn the gallery into a sustainable business. But then, there was and still is also the thrill of selling a show out to people who believe in the work of a hardworking and truly deserving painter!
“The greatest challenge is making sure I have time for myself too; being a small business owner and starting a family. It is all on my shoulders, but at the same time, that is the greatest reward!”
The reception that night is a success; all who stop by the gallery leave inspired and happy. “Mission accomplished,” smiles Ali.