Reinventing the Rules: Ivester Contemporary is Austin’s newest art gallery


Kevin Ivester is a gallery half full kinda guy. The owner and director of the newly opened Ivester Contemporary at the Canopy complex in East Austin, is proof that one man’s loss is another man’s lease.

Ivester, who is just shy of 30, had been looking for his own space since late last year. So when something became available in the beginning of April, he was thrilled. Even if it was in the midst of a citywide shutdown.

“Honestly, this space would not have been available to me before COVID.” He and I are chatting outside his roomy 1600-square-foot gallery, located on the end of Building Two in the complex. He points to a storefront in Building Four across the way. “As a side note, I just leased something over there as well, for a frame shop.”

Ivester, who has a professional background in picture framing, hopes the shop will help finance the gallery once it opens by early January. Signing two commercial leases, in a time of uncertainty, says something about opportunity. Ivester is very much looking forward to the future.

“Maiden Voyage” is Ivester Contemporary’s inaugural exhibition; it is a group show featuring the gallery’s complete roster of artists. There are 18 in total, 14 of whom are from Austin, with the remaining few scattered throughout Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio.

“I don’t have any intention of reaching outside of Texas,” he tells me.

Viewings are by appointment only, though the exhibition can also be accessed online through the Ivester Contemporary website. It’s a very pleasant voyage.

Sydney Yeager’s oil paintings hang in the main space, her typical loose tangles of color and composition. A Bumin Kim piece titled “Crimson Clover” showcases the Korean-born artist’s signature pinstripe perfection. Dave McClinton’s portraits “Regency (S)” and “Ruby (S)” are a stunning declaration of Black identity. And Joel Salcido’s photographs are dream-infused archival pigment and silver gelatin prints.

An alcove containing digitally composed “hyper-collages” by Ysabel LeMay as well as the satiny illustrations of Big Chicken & Baby Bird — a two-person, non-binary collective — hint at Ivester’s vision for a “new project space.” This is where he plans to show more experimental work; small shows which will run concurrently with the main exhibition, sometimes co-curated or taken over by another curator altogether.

“I could imagine having a show down the road that isn’t just commercially based,” he says. “I really want to be free and not put any rules on it.”

Ivester Contemporary
Ivester Contemporary is located in the Canopy complex at 916 Springdale Road. Image courtesy Ivester Contemporary

Ivester’s career has always centered around the art world: first, in galleries as an art handler, then restoration work, even an auction house. Originally from the Boston area, he came to Austin in 2015 in search of an up and coming market he could knit himself into: “The conversation in Boston, Los Angeles, New York, and Chicago — they’re so established that to be a meaningful part of that, you need to know the right people.”

Ivester spent several years working at the Davis Gallery in town before striking out on his own, crediting that experience as the impetus for this next chapter. Many of the artists now working with him, he believes, have done so because of his time at Davis. Even so, getting together with each of them during this time has proven tricky.

“I like to meet artists face to face and have conversations at their studios,” he stresses. “But because of COVID, I met a lot of them for the first time when they dropped their work off.”

Photo print digital collages by Dave McClinton (left) and digitally composed photo print “hyper-collages” by Ysabel LeMay on the right. Image courtesy Ivester Contemporary
Photo print digital collages by Dave McClinton (left) and digitally composed photo print “hyper-collages” by Ysabel LeMay on the right. Image courtesy Ivester Contemporary

Museums and galleries have been forced to rethink how they connect with visitors; virtual exhibits and Zoom talks reign supreme. But Ivester hopes to maintain a hybrid model long after masks become a thing of the past, ideally having online shows that are simultaneous but separate from what’s going on in the gallery space.

“I’ll start having 10-minute Instagram Live talks soon — not just with the artist who is showing, but also with my other artists.” Breaking free from the traditional “artist’s talk,” he expresses, keeps things more spontaneous; a way for the audience to feel like they’re a part of a conversation.

For virtual exhibitions, Ivester would naturally want artists whose work reads well online, and who people are already familiar with. More established individuals like Yeager, he says, would fit well into an online market. “Sydney’s work is beautifully made and does well graphically,” he says. “But really, I have no rules.”

Up next for Ivester Contemporary is a solo exhibition of Tom Jean Webb. “These Whispering Winds” will feature new paintings and sculptures by the London-born, Austin-based artist; it opens Oct 23.

Multimedia design maven Alie Jackson will have 2D work featured in the project space around the same time, with an opening reception on November 17. An online “Augmented Reality” component will run during the Austin Studio Tour Nov 14-22. (Jackson’s Snapchat lens creations will be accessible to viewers through their smartphones.)

Ivester Contemporary
Ivester Contemporary occupies 1600-square-feet in the Canopy complex on Springdale Road

Having two shows at once, with staggered openings, may cause some confusion, Ivester admits. But he’s not too concerned. As far as opening receptions, he plans to maintain less than 25% capacity. “Part of me is waiting for Big Medium to produce some guidelines, but I know it’s going to be difficult for them to come up with some set of rules.”

In the meantime, he says, it’s all about keeping numbers low, masks on, and doors open.

“The artists suffer the most from a lack of receptions, they like to see that feedback.”

It will be a long time before Ivester can have a full reception in his new gallery. Opening a space during this pandemic has presented a lot of challenges, but also many possibilities: “It was always my intention to get as close as possible to Canopy — and now I’m here.”

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Barbara Purcell
Barbara Purcell
Barbara Purcell is an arts and culture writer based in Austin. She is the author of Black Ice: Poems (Fly by Night Press, 2006). In addition to Sightlines, her work has appeared in the Austin Chronicle, Canadian Art, Glasstire, and Tribes Magazine. She is a graduate of Skidmore College.

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