The emerging artist Q&A: César Garcia-Alvarez

Yieldstreet explores the world of emerging art with the curators, advisors, and experts immersed in the field.

Felipe Baeza: Through the Flesh to Elsewhere, Installation view at The Mistake Room, Los Angeles, CA 2020. Image Credit: The Mistake Room. Photo Credit: Ian Byers-Gamber

If the very building blocks of the word “mistake” (“bad, wrong” and “take, seize”) imply negativity, César Garcia-Alvarez always interpreted the word a little differently. Since 2014, he has helmed The Mistake Room, an independent nonprofit exhibition space in Los Angeles that is predicated upon the idea that mistakes disrupt the way things have always been and ultimately become bridges to alternate ways of existing in the world. “Our mission has been to be globally focused and ensure that there is a place in this city for emerging artists to operate in,” says Garcia-Alvarez, who was one of the first co-curators of the Made In L.A. biennial.
In Yieldstreet’s continuing commitment to investing in and connecting with the art community, we caught up with Garcia-Alvarez to talk about the emerging art world and the artists who are inspiring him most amid a changing post-pandemic landscape.

Classroom of Compassion: Los Angeles, I hope u know how loved u are, Installation view at Little Tokyo Car Wash, 2021. Image Credit: The Mistake Room. Photo Credit: Ian Byers-Gamber

How do you define “emerging artist”? 

I think that “emerging artist” is complicated because people immediately tie the idea of emerging to age. The notion of emerging art should not be tied to age and I don’t think it should be definitive in the way we say, “Oh, it can only happen once.” I feel like emerging art speaks to a particular moment in an artist’s career when their work is being introduced to new audiences or re-visited by audiences who maybe haven’t looked at it in a long time. I think there is such a possibility that an artist can go through multiple emerging moments. 

For example?

If you look at someone like Rick Lowe, he’s an established artist who has had a long career. For a long time, he donated a big chunk of his life to founding Project Row Houses in Houston. More recently though, his painting practice has resurfaced and you’re starting to see folks really interested in his paintings—when, for a long time, folks were really looking at his art at the intersection of social justice. And so for me, he’s having a re-emerging moment because even if you think you know him or even if you think you fully understand his practice, there’s something new that’s happening. He’s being reintroduced. 

Who is the last emerging artist that really moved you? 

I did Felipe Baeza’s first institutional solo show in March 2020. As a curator, you almost train yourself to create some distance—and I couldn’t do that here. Felipe is undocumented and queer identifying, and the work is about the way that laws and policies shape the lives of people who often don’t get a say. As someone who grew up in a working class household, who is an immigrant himself—art for me never seemed like something I could engage with or something I was necessarily worthy of. To think about beauty and aesthetics as something emancipatory, something that allows us to imagine beyond our circumstances was really moving for me. It was the first time in my whole career that I’ve understood what others have told me when they’re like: “When you see yourself in the work of someone, you really begin to understand the power of art to move you.” And despite my career, I’d never really had that happen genuinely until I worked with Felipe.

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And then Tiffany Alfonseca has become really important for me because she is fearless. I think at a moment when I was thinking so much about the future of the art world, and what kind of work we should be doing—she was brave. She said, “I don’t want to work in the same way that young artists are expected to.” What’s interesting for me is finding artists who are saying, “No, I don’t want to do 10 fairs a year. I don’t want to work with eight galleries. That isn’t sustainable.” I think one of the questions in a lot of my work these days is: How is this different? And not just in a symbolic way, but in a structural way. How can we move differently? How can we operate differently? How can we work for artists differently? How do these structures work or don’t work? 

Tiffany Alfonseca: De las manos que nos crearon, Installation view at The Mistake Room, Los Angeles, CA, 2021. Image Credit: The Mistake Room. Photo Credit: Ian Byers-Gamber 

For people who are new to the market, what’s your advice for finding emerging artists? 

University galleries are what people need to know more about. Go to open studios at universities. Go to the lecture series, go to MFA shows. Go to where the work is happening in the rawest and most grassroots form because that’s where you’re going to learn about an artist’s dreams and fears and practice before it enters into the crazy expectations after they start showing in bigger galleries or museums. 
All of Yieldstreet’s Art Equity Funds include emerging artists, because we invest like art collectors: diversification, diversity, and representation are pillars of responsible art collecting and make for strong financial portfolios. Invest in art today.

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