SAN DIEGO — When La Jollan Mark Quint first opened a gallery in his hometown in February, 1981, local critics praised him for packing more quality into his tiny space--only 400 square feet, including the restroom--than galleries many times its size.
He offered a succession of well-received shows featuring the works of emerging Southern California artists. At the time, Quint was unique among commercial galleries in San Diego for the chances he took. In that respect, his gallery resembled the alternative spaces, Installation, Sushi and Pawn Shop, that had sprung up downtown. The difference was that those spaces, alternatives to both commercial galleries and to museums, had been created by artists for artists ignored by the art Establishment.
Quint himself, like the creators of the alternative spaces, was an artist, but he opened a commercial space with the help of his wife, Linda. It was never a nonprofit undertaking, but as Quint commented in an interview in 1982, "It's like trying to make a living by having your own museum." Only recently has the gallery proved profitable.
Quint, unlike many other art entrepreneurs, had sought to prepare himself for the art gallery field. He entered the San Francisco Art Institute in 1973 as an undergraduate student with a plan to learn art history and curatorial skills, but he got sidetracked into studying painting for three years. After earning his degree, he taught high school art in Hawaii for three years.
Having returned to the Mainland, Quint met Los Angeles art dealer Kirk de Gooyer, whose example and encouragement decisively influenced him to open his own gallery in La Jolla.
Relying on his "personal eye," Quint selected his artists for what he perceived as the integrity of their works. His early roster included Joe Fay, Gary Lang, Robert Walker and Joe Clower, whose works in brilliant colors, complex compositions and high relief evinced the influences of punk culture and "bad painting." He also established enduring relationships with reductive sculptor Kenneth Capps, who is now represented by a major public work in Chula Vista's Bayside Park, and Ernest Silva, who makes much-admired, poetically thematic drawings, paintings and painted reliefs (or "boxes").
Two years after opening his "shoe box"-size gallery in La Jolla, Quint, in an act of faith in downtown redevelopment, moved to his present site at 664 9th Ave.
Art dealer Michael Dunsford, who has long specialized in American design of the past 50 years, had been a pioneer in the area, and Jay Johnson and Patty Aande had recently relocated their Pawn Shop Gallery to 660 9th Ave. Installation and Sushi were also in the neighborhood, as was Spectrum, an artists' membership gallery.
The enlightened interest of property owner Betty Slater was considered crucial to the future success of the galleries in her building. Influenced in particular by Jay Johnson, Slater subsequently organized the entire corner property as the 9G Arts Complex.
Quint's downtown space is six times as large as the one he had occupied in La Jolla, and he has extended it through an imaginative use of the exterior for outdoor installations. Los Angeles artist Dustin Schuler, who specializes in what he calls automobile "pelts," has dismantled car bodies and mounted them on the south wall, and San Diegan Frank Cole, who makes large, representational figures for narrative tableaux, has used the adjacent roofs.
Part of the gallery is often sectioned off for the installation of works from the private collection of Doug Simay, one of San Diego's few passionate collectors of contemporary art.
Since his move downtown, Quint has added to his roster painters of the stature of Manny Farber and Kim MacConnel and sculptor Italo Scanga. Recently he exhibited the idiosyncratic tables of Roy McMakin. He is still taking chances.
Quint is reluctant to identify trends in art because, as he has commented, "They come and they go, although some stick around even when everyone says they're passe. Minimalist art, for example, has been out of favor for years. Now it's making a comeback. Kenneth Capps has just consistently made art the way he wanted to."
Although confident about the artists whose work he chooses to exhibit, Quint has declined to hazard guesses about who among them will be of historical significance. He expresses his faith in all of them through his exhibitions, each of which represents a substantial investment of capital and a commitment of his own reputation as a dealer.
Quint also commits himself as a collector, but his collection is always in flux since nearly everything in it is available for sale. It is a responsibility he feels to his artists--to place their works advantageously in significant private and museum collections and to eschew hoarding the best work for himself. The young dealer, now in his early 30s, has stated unequivocally that his greatest satisfaction is "placing good art with exciting collectors."
With respect to the future he has commented, "I'm optimistic about the people who collect in San Diego. They keep at it. But there doesn't seem to be the kind of excitement there is in L.A.
"We have to recognize that San Diego is a smaller city, but there could still be more interest in contemporary art here. People just don't recognize the resources in good artists that we have in the area."
His final word?
"There's a joy in collecting contemporary art and an excitement in working with creative people that nothing else gives you."