For the last five years, WAAS Gallery has exhibited a blend of emerging and established artists in a space on Logan Street, near Fair Park. As director, founder, owner and curator Brandy Adams and her new curating partner Emma Saperstein took the gallery into 2016, they promised radical changes on WAAS' website, including a new focus on sculpture, installations and work by women, plus on-site events and artist residencies. What was unexpected was that these changes would not take place as WAAS Gallery.
That program recently moved to Los Angeles, and the space on Logan is enjoying a second life as LEVEL Gallery — still under the direction of Adams and Saperstein. Its first show was "The Oil and Gas Show” in January, and LEVEL expects to be hosting two or three shows a year as of 2017. "We were planning on more, but with how Dallas functions, it does better with punching bigger shows," Saperstein says. We sat down with the two art mavens to discuss their careers, the decision to rebrand and what the future looks like for LEVEL Gallery.
Dallas Observer: What has your journey in the art world been up to this point?
Saperstein: I grew up in Central Asia in Pakistan and Uzbekistan. My dad did humanitarian work and development. And then we moved to Connecticut when I was 16 and I finished high school there. I went to college in Chicago, moved to Prague and finished college in New York at the New York Center for Art and Media Studies. Then I worked in art administration for a couple of artists: Oliver Herring and Titus Kaphar.
After that I stayed in Chicago and worked remotely for artists doing freelance art administration. I did a lot of stuff in Chicago. I just sort of dove in. Chicago has a really vibrant alternative art scene so it’s pretty easy to tap into it. I was just a part of a group of people that was really eager to put on shows and work on projects. And that’s where I really got to exercise my curatorial organizing vision. I moved to New York to work full time on a project and then I moved to Dallas last September.
Adams: I’m from the stars, so it’s been quite the journey. I’m 38 years old. I was born in Tampa, Florida, which is where I think some of my disconnection to Texas comes from at times. But it’s also been my journey to realizing I don’t like boundaries and I don’t like lines that make us identify with this one place that we have to call home. That’s what took me to California in my early 20s and I lived there for many years. Now I’m back in Texas!
DO: What sparked the decision to rebrand WAAS to LEVEL Gallery and how has that process been so far?
Saperstein: It took a while. We had to decide on the name and I came in with a really specific vision from what I was used to working on and what I wanted to work on. And we felt like a rebrand would help the gallery present this new program that Brandy was leaning toward. It just needed to happen, so we had a lot of hashing out of what the new program would look like and branding and logo.
Adams: WAAS gallery was like a second child. It was my idea of how I wanted the world to be: in peace, love and harmony. And then I had the honor of meeting Emma Saperstein last summer, and there was this new energy and warmth of wanting to set a new pace in my community outside of We Are All Stars (WAAS). WAAS is very free, boundary-less, very validating in the self, and artists there are allowed to really develop their ideas.
LEVEL Gallery is something that Dallas needs. It’s powered by two women. Emma identifies with the feminists and I identify with the humanists. When we met, she was the first woman I had had any real transparent conversations with about Dallas and how it made us feel as women. I hadn't met many women who could validate the need and want for more female-powered communities and more equalized opportunities.
DO: What is the theme or mission that you wanted to produce with the rebranding to LEVEL?
Saperstein: Our new vision for the space is to put out socially engaged and political work; work that is really engaged in sociopolitical issues, whatever they may be. You sort of saw that with “The Oil and Gas Show.” It was talking about energy and these hard issues that I feel like are somewhat neglected in the art world, at large. And this is a dichotomy I experienced where, working in Chicago in more alternative spaces, there’s a merging of art and activism. Not that we’ll always be focused on that, but we’re really geared to present work that’s engaged in sociopolitical issues. And you don’t always see that in the broader art markets. We want to be a part of a bigger conversation about societal change.
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Adams: LEVEL Gallery is about social, political and economic issues. Emma and I thought it was time to start creating healthier dialogues to get people comfortable talking about things we all say under our breath. We wanted to bring integrity back into people's work and the message they’re trying to send.
DO: What has the experience been like working with a partner as opposed to working by yourself?
Saperstein: I believe in collaboration. I feel like it’s the only way to get something done well. I never believe in one person’s vision dominating the conversation because I don’t think that’s very productive. I’m definitely influenced by the collective mentality. I tend to do freelance projects on my own, but I always believe in a team. I saw that a lot in Chicago and I’m also a part of a feminist collective called Hysteria, and we have a presence all over. Hysteria has really codified my thinking on a group setting. The feminist discourse is my biggest soapbox. It influences all of my work. That’s a conversation that needs to happen now in Dallas.
LEVEL Gallery is located at 2722 Logan St. Its hours are noon to 5 p.m. Thursday through Saturday.