Interview with Kourosh Mahboubian and Jamie Martinez

Ana Garcés Kiley. We Move from One Piece of Holy Ground to the Next (Pelican), 2007. Acrylic on double-layered voile, 34 x 29. Imagery courtesy of Kourosh Mahboubian Fine Art.

By CLARE GEMIMA, January 2023

Kourosh Mahboubian and Jamie Martinez started their collaborative relationship after understanding their curatorial paths, and passion for showcasing contemporary artists was not only shared, but equally as challenging, and rewarding throughout each of their own respective art careers. As Kapow, and Ghost Machine Project Space, both art professionals are excited to announce a new, co-operating gallery located in Tribeca, with its inaugural solo show, Afterglow, by Ana Garcés Kiley, opening this Thursday.

Between the two of them, Mahboubian and Martinez are curators, advisors, artists, writers, publishers, collaborators, facilitators, gallerists, dealers, and everything else under the “artist-run-space-venture-in-Tribeca” sun. Because of their strong desire to work with artists they truly believe in the practice of, and being confidently conscious of supporting makers that originate from minority and underrepresented, immigrant backgrounds, I felt inspired to understand more about their collaboration, and the reasons behind why their realization of a new shared space is so important for their present, and on-going artistic visions.

Clare Gemima: Jamie and Kourosh, congratulations on the announcement of a new collective gallery, and an exciting venture ahead! Before I ask more about the space, and about each of your respective art backgrounds, I am curious to know how you met in the first place? 

Kourosh Mahboubian: Jamie and I met at the Kapow & Gaboo booth at SPRING/BREAK Art Show New York, in 2021. He had come in to see our Samantha Joy Groff show, and we started talking. I really like and respect Jamie’s work. It didn’t take long for us to realize that we share a lot in common and that we should continue the discussion. Thanks to Spring Break we are now sharing a new space in Tribeca. 

Clare Gemima: What made you want to run an exhibition space together, and while under the gallery’s terms of operation, what will this new space be called? 

Jamie Martinez: The name of our artist-run space is Ghost Machine Project Space. As artists who push the boundaries of the creative process, we want to create a space that allows unrestricted creative liberty. Ghost Machine Project Space emphasizes creative process that is not limited or driven by commercial value. This project space will be born into the history of artists making spaces for artists to realize their vision. Ours focuses primarily on installation artists that might otherwise not be able to present their vision. Initially we will be presenting our own projects in collaboration with different invited curators and gradually expanding our vision to include invited artists (or artists selected through an open call) for solo and group shows.

KM: My gallery is called Kapow. It’s an offshoot of Kourosh Mahboubian Fine Art, which I founded in 1993. The name implies impact, and we will definitely make an impact! We’re inviting the world to watch us turn a shoebox into a gem. 

I love partnerships and collaborations. My primary motivation lies in the positive collaborative aspects of sharing values, resources, and mutual support. They allow you to take chances on lesser known artists and also afford you the ability to put more into promoting the careers of the ones who are on the verge of breaking through to a higher level of success. I’m really excited to share a positive vibe with Jamie and his team. We are two collaborating businesses; sharing one space under two names.

Clare Gemima: Which artists are each of you exhibiting for your inaugural showcase, and when is the gallery’s first public opening or viewing opportunity? 

KM: Kapow will open on January 5th with Afterglow, a solo show of Ana Garcés Kiley’s work that will run through January 28th. It’s the sequel to A Fly in the Garden, which I presented at the SPRING/BREAK Art Show this past September.

JM: Our first show at Ghost Machine Project Space is a group exhibition featuring the work of Magdalena Dukiewicz, Zac Hacmon, and myself. We are still working on the show since it opens in early February, and have a few artists in mind to show.

Clare Gemima: What are you most excited to execute in Kapow?

KM: I’m looking forward to doing small solo shows. Bringing down the scale to focus on just a few pieces at a time makes the interaction with each artwork a much more personal experience. 

Clare Gemima: What is the Ghost Machine Project Space’s main goal? 

JM: The main goal for us is to put on incredible shows and installation oriented exhibitions at the space, along with supporting a mixture of group shows which include artists with diverse voices, from different backgrounds. 

Clare Gemima: What a treat to be located in Tribeca. What sets your space apart from the already established, or in some cases, more emergent, yet consistently impressive neighboring galleries? 

KM: I think it’s the strength of the relationships Jamie and I each have with our artists. When you have the ability to find and work with New York’s brightest emerging artists, the world comes to you, and your gallery will shine. 

JM: Yes, Tribeca is fresh and you can feel the energy from all the galleries relocating there. Our space is a community oriented art space that will not only show interesting art, but try to build an art community around the work, the artists and the neighborhood.

“Neo Kingdom” Jamie Martinez and Erin Ko, virtual reality installation, fabric, projector, paint, rope, fiber optics, iPad, tablets and Virtual Reality simulation, 1:56. Imagery courtesy of Jamie Martinez.

Clare Gemima: Jamie, you run The Border Project space in Brooklyn, the critical online platform Arte Fuse, and your own studio practice as an artist… and curate exhibitions. How do you keep yourself on top of your game? What's the key to balancing so many moving parts of the art world, and being successful at it?

JM: The key is to manage my time carefully and to prioritize everything. At the beginning of each month I make a list and prioritize all of my important activities and deadlines which helps me stay organized and focused on what’s important. When I have some spare time, I work on Arte Fuse in order to showcase artist’s shows that I respect and enjoy.

Clare Gemima: In a write up in Hyperallergic, Border Project Space was described as an environment “supporting, nurturing and showing talented immigrant artists and their siblings living in the United States, along with a few locals.” In regards to your own practice, ideas of indigenous, and colonialist sectors of life also play a factor in your creative output. Why are these specific aforementioned ideas significant to you, and why do you find them important to discuss through artmaking or curatorialship?

JM: For me, everything starts and ends with art. I let it guide me and direct me to do as it pleases, whether in my own personal work, or for The Border Project Space. Colonialism is a big influence in my work. I am intrigued by the mixture of history, research, Indigenous spirituality, and ancient beliefs that interrupt the Colonial environment in which we are currently existing in. This also applies to The Border Project Space, which focuses on creating a fair and open ecosystem, and strives to exhibit and support artists with diverse voices, from any and every background.

Previous shows from 2018-2022 at The Border Project Space in Brooklyn, New York. Imagery courtesy of Jamie Martinez.

Clare Gemima: Kourosh, you are no stranger to the New York gallery scene, having run Cyrus Gallery, one of the first spaces to showcase now prominent African American artists in the late 1980’s, and more recently, your independent curatorial ventures and your collaborations with Filo Sofi Arts. How are you applying your experiences and knowledge to Kapow? 

KM: Back in the Cyrus Gallery days I didn’t think of working with Black artists as a bold or political act. I just saw great work by unrepresented artists and couldn’t understand why the work wasn’t being shown already. From that perspective, I haven’t changed. It’s still always about showing good work. However, I’d like to think I’m better at my job now than I was in my early twenties. The past five years were particularly influential ones, collaborating with Gabrielle Aruta at Filo Sofi Arts. She’s a philosopher who taught at the Barnes Foundation.

She taught me a lot about Alfred Barnes’ approach to curation and it has completely changed my own approach. My shows are more organic and immersive now, with visual lines leading your eyes from one form to the next, tying individual components together to create overall experiences. The small size of the new space will accentuate that. 

Clare Gemima: From your nearly 35 year career in the art world as a professional appraiser, advisor, curator and dealer, what is the most rewarding part of this journey for you?

KM: Without a doubt it’s waking up every morning knowing that I’m going to spend the day doing what I love and believe in. I help make the world a better place through art. Imagine that!

Kourosh Mahboubian. Imagery courtesy of Kourosh Mahboubian Fine Art.

Clare Gemima: I have known you to have strong personal rapport with all of your artists, often championing emerging and young practitioners. What keeps you continually supporting the new generation of art makers, and how do you find them in order to show their work? 

KM: When I first started in this business, the great art dealer Ivan Karp gave me a piece of advice: “Never say no to looking at an artist’s work. You never know when you’re going to see something great.” I look at hundreds of artists’ work every year and make dozens of studio visits. It’s important to keep finding work that’s relevant. The key is to build trusting relationships through your actions. Earning people’s trust opens all kinds of doors. 

Clare Gemima: From all of the artists you have worked with over the years, who has been the most influential to your own artistic career, whether as an artist, curator or critic?

KM: Wow! I don’t know where to start. All of them. I’ve worked with so many generous artists who have influenced me and taught me things, but the most influential person to my career was my father, a prominent antiquities dealer, with the soul of an artist. He brought me into the art world at a very young age and gave me all of the opportunities that made me who I am.

Kourosh's parents, Mehdi Mahboubian, prominent ancient art dealer, and Esther Mahboubian in 1975. Imagery courtesy of Kourosh Mahboubian.

JM: I have worked with so many people that have collectively influenced my work, art and life. My biggest influence so far is my mother, Carmenza Martinez who is a great human being. She is unselfish and humble and helps a lot of people without asking for anything in return.

Clare Gemima: Can you share with us some exciting details about what your upcoming 2023 show schedule is like?

KM: I won’t share the full schedule yet, but Kapow’s first two exhibitions will be solo shows of work by Ana Garcés Kiley in January, and Blake Hiltunen in March.

JM: Yes, we are very enthusiastic about this upcoming year. As previously mentioned, we are organizing an inaugural group show in February then the rest of the year will be dedicated to solo shows by Magdalena Dukiewicz, Zac Hacmon, Michael Eckblad and myself, and we will have a few group shows including other artists we want to show and finish the year with an open call for either a solo, or group show.

Author's note: Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me, and a true congratulations to Kourosh Mahboubian and Jamie Martinez on their new spaces Kapow, and Ghost Machine Project Space, located at 373 Broadway, #219, New York, NY 10013. For more information and event details, visit: & WM

Clare Gemima

Clare Gemima contributes art criticism to The Brooklyn Rail, Contemporary HUM, and other international art journals with a particular focus on immigrant painters and sculptors who have moved their practice to New York. She is currently a visual artist mentee in the New York Foundation of Art’s 2023 Immigrant mentorship program.

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