Who is Sylvia?
1979-2009 For younger artists, it’s hard to remember a time before cell phones, computers, the internet, or being able to call Sylvia White for advice about your career. Yet, in 1979 when she started consulting with artists out of her Venice home, it was strictly word of mouth that grew her business to the most successful artists’ career management organization that exists today. (for the full story, see Founding CAS) Over the past 25 years, White has met with thousands of artists, giving them the tools they need to manage their own careers.
For artists lucky enough to be represented by her, she has scheduled several hundred exhibitions in galleries and museums around the world, including Tokyo, Austria, Korea, Spain, Amsterdam, as well as all over the United States.
From 2002-2007, the gallery and offices were housed in a courtyard building in Santa Monica, just minutes away from Bergamot Station. But, after 25 years in Santa Monica, another challenge presented itself in the budding art scene of Ventura, California’s New Art City. Continuing her role as pioneer, White is the first established art gallery to make the move from Santa Monica to Ventura, committed to bringing museum quality work to the Ventura county.The newly renovated 5000 square foot building will be the permanent home to Contemporary Artists’ Services and Sylvia White Gallery.
December 2000 Even at 50, Sylvia White shows no signs of slowing down, proof positive that when you are passionate about what you do, success is sure to follow. The last 10 years have marked a steady expansion of a concept she originated in 1979, the founding of CAS.
Adapting to the art world climate of the 90′s, White opened a New York gallery (in addition to her existing Los Angeles exhibition space) for her artists. Located at the prestigious 560 Broadway Building, in the center of SoHo, the gallery offered artists exposure to the New York art scene, as well as cultivating contacts from the international audience that New York attracts. The gallery remained in operation for 5 years. While shifts in NY saw many galleries closing and moving to the Chelsea area, White saw opportunities elsewhere…
Monumental changes in the art world have offered artists opportunities unimaginable in the past. The most significant improvement being the Internet. In response to the exploding technology, ArtAdvice was launched in December of 1997. It was designed to provide artists worldwide with free information, advice, and more importantly, a place to come for free, honest, direct feedback about the workings of the business aspects of their career. Now, in addition to operating the Los Angeles gallery and the Internet site, White has representatives in Chicago, San Francisco, and New York…. offering the artists she represents the most comprehensive career management services available.
(reprinted from Los Angeles Magazine)
Sylvia White is young, fashionably attired, ardent, aggressive and devoted to what she’s been working at for the past 10 years, doing daily battle on behalf of artists to give them the best possible shot at breaking into the art world as she perceives it, building a trade she believes she may have invented when she woke up on New Year’s Day ’79 with the clear realization that what she did for her artist husband, John White, was precisely what someone should be offering to other artists who needed, in her words, “a good Jewish wife.” Non-denominationally speaking, career management.
By then, her own dreams of being a painter, cultivated during her student days at UCLA with teaching artists such as Stussy, Diebenkorn, Garabedian and Brice were behind her, burst by the realization she was not temperamentally suited for a professional career that was less dependent upon talent than an ability to scale establishment walls without windows and damn few doors.In fact, she had come to hate the idea. For herself. Doing it for somebody else, for John, that was something else.
Sylvia thrived on handling the business stuff John could never muster enthusiasm for, like keeping his work organized and catalogued, applying for grants, searching for possible group shows and exhibitions, finding dealer representation, exposing his work to critics, a variety of time-consuming chores that ultimately formed her concept of what it took to make an artist famous. And led her to a decision that became Contemporary Artists’ Services, Sylvia White’s company specializing in the forging of careers for committed young artists ready, willing and able to invest in themselves.
For the past four years, she and a staff that’s grown to three have headquartered in a quietly chic white building on the wrong side of the tracks, in what some might call the wrong part of the city, an industrial zone near La Cienega and Jefferson, although the quality of works on her walls demand to be judged on their merits and not against the forty five cents per square foot rent. In the privacy of a common conference room shared with other art-oriented tenants, she talks to be heard, rushing headlong into practiced thoughts and tough opinions occasionally seasoned with Yiddish euphemisms. “I had ideas of what an artist needed, long range ideas,” she explains boldly. “Sales are not the only thing.” She made herself available on a consulting basis, pricing an hour at almost two hundred dollars. “In 1979, this was an obscene idea in the art world, charging for information that was available for free other places. I got resistance from older artists, who had not made it because I was upsetting the Darwinian balance of who deserved to make it and who did not.”
Five years ago, the working concept changed to an annual contract, at the urging of three artists who wanted her support a phone call away at any given day, Laurie Pincus, Madelin Coit and Madden Harkness. Today, Sylvia White’s roster has grown to a dozen artists, including the original trio and the original husband, and the good Jewish wife maintains, “I sell artists, not art. My attitude at first was that I would only represent artists I would hang in my own home, but that was pretty naive. In order to run a business, I had to expand my views. I invoice for my time, but my artists always get one hundred percent of their sales. And they pay the gallery.”
She says, “It hurts me deeply that a lot of quality artists are not being acknowledged because they are not fashionable, and not just with a lot of dealers. The museums are also one of the biggest culprits in the matter of fashionability.
Her dark eyes generate the pain she feels as she launches into an irate story about trying to donate a major piece of D.J. Hall, a local artist, working outside the closed shop of current vogue in Los Angeles and being refused, first by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and then by the Museum of Contemporary Art, each time without the courtesy of a stated reason.
Her happy ending has the piece by D.J. Hall accepted for the permanent collection of the Metropolitan Museum in New York, but she declares angrily, “That made me angry. When a major Los Angeles museum won’t accept a major Los Angeles artist, that makes me wonder why I’m in the art world.”
Bob Levinson, Los Angeles Magazine, Summer 1989