Many longtime Kansas City-area gallerygoers have fond memories of the Joseph Nease Gallery, which operated from 1998 to 2003 at 1819 Central Ave. The gallery attracted attention from the outset, when one of its earliest shows featured James Brinsfield, a well-established Kansas City-based abstractionist. Nease gave painter Eric Sall his first major show, and featured other young, untried artists, including Raissa Venables. He also proved open to taking risks by showing art that is typically more difficult to sell or own, including room-sized sculptural installations by Susan White and Jim Woodfill. They were standouts.
According to Nease, the first three years of the gallery in Kansas City went very well, but after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, business went flat and attendance dropped. “We were working as hard or harder, but there was not as much reward after 9/11,” he said. All the while that Nease was involved in running an art gallery, he was employed by Black and Veatch as a civil engineer, so when his art business declined, he shuttered the gallery and focused all his energies on engineering.
Since then, Nease and his wife, Karen, have relocated to Duluth, Minnesota, where they have decided to take a second shot at opening a gallery. They had vacationed in the area since the 1990s, and moved there in 2013. Karen Nease is an accomplished artist, and some readers may remember that she was involved in the Kansas City gallery as co-director and as an exhibiting artist. In the Duluth reboot, she will not play an official role at the gallery in order to concentrate more on her own creative output, and she plans to continue pursuing exhibition opportunities at spaces other than her husband’s gallery.
Nease says that the idea of starting the gallery anew germinated as the couple packed their art collection for the move to Duluth. The Neases own works by several Kansas City-based artists, and Joe Nease looks forward to sharing this enthusiasm by introducing some of these artists to Minnesota audiences. The inaugural exhibition this October features KC’s Jim Woodfill showing alongside painter and video artist Matthew Kluber and Duluth-based composer, coder and media artist Kathy McTavish. To date, the gallery roster also includes James Brinsfield, Eric Sall, Raissa Venables and Tim White. Nease says he will also exhibit work by Rachel Hayes, Heidi Pollard, and Peter Granados.
The Duluth market presents some unique opportunities, as well as challenges. Duluth is much smaller than Kansas City, but according to Nease, the city’s proximity to Lake Superior attracts travelers and tourists from Minneapolis as it is only 150 miles away. While this audience could generate art-buying clients, Duluth’s northern latitude results in a short tourist season — as well as long winters when art lovers are less likely to venture out. In addition, Nease notes that many of the existing galleries cater to this market by offering scenes of attractions such as Lake Superior, sailboats and wildlife. As a result, he expects that the relative lack of support for contemporary art means that he will have to create his own buzz.
Based on his past success in Kansas City, Nease seems perfectly cut out for the job.