John Tinguely kinetic sculpture

Catching up with Charlotte gallery owner, Larry Elder

Episode 53: Today I chat with Larry Elder, of the Elder Gallery. I find out what he’s been up to since we last spoke. He’s since sold his gallery to focus on the business of consulting. Apologies for the noise. We were competing with sound on both ends. I’ve included a transcript of the first part to hopefully make up for it.

Clockwise from Left: Plansky Dancer; Plansky Figure Gender & Sexuality; Planksy Ortrud; Plansky Show 1; Plansky Studio Ver 1,; Plansky Petunia

B:So what are you doing these days? This is great!

L: When I sold the gallery, I bought this collection…did I mention that to you before?

B: Umm. I was looking…I  was trying to remember. I don’t think so. I was going to ask you…What is your connection to…

L: This collection: all this work is done by an artist who died in 2009. His name was Carl Plansky. And…sit tight…I’ll show you. I represented him for a number of years, but then he had a heart attack and died.

He lived in New York City, and had another studio in upstate New York. He painted with the big guys and was the young kid on the block. He moved to New York when he was nineteen. He studied at the New York Studio School where he met some famous artists including Joan Mitchell, the famous abstract expressionist. He knew the De Koonings, Grace Hartigan…and he became friends with, especially Joan. He would travel to France where she had her studio and would paint with her. A lot of these paintings I have were painted with her in her studio.

So after he died I bought all his estate which was over a thousand pieces. Those drawers there are filled with pieces like this one on the floor behind me, works on paper, and those back on the wall over there, the one on the floor. All the paintings you see back in through there: all those big ones, all those tall ones, those are paintings that he did.

He was pretty well known because he manufactured oil paint for artists…Williamsburg oil paint was his company. Through this business he was able to sustain himself in a very nice fashion. Great paint. All the big names used his oil paints and so he was high quality, but he really loved painting. He commented often that he was very fortunate that he could have access to all the paint that he needed. The paintings you see here show the large amounts of oil paint that he used in his work. He would trade paint for canvases, brushes and other art supplies.

My job now is is to locate appropriate resellers for the collection like Elder Gallery of Contemporary Art; they’re going to be a reseller for the collection and I have a reseller in Charleston. I’m working with an art consultant in New York who is introducing me to some  gallery owners and art consultants in that area which is really where I think his work will be well-received.

I’ve developed a website,, and have just published a new catalogue. I’m doing research for a coffee table book of his work that I hope to have published. I’ve just gotten from his sister a whole stack of photographs of him when he was traveling to France with Joan Mitchell and letters from Joan Mitchell, Grace Hartigan and other artist friends. This is great for me and the collection. I’ve got a lot of work to do but it’s great fun.

You said you were representing him before at the Elder Gallery. How did you get connected to him?

After I opened the gallery in 2001, my wife and I would to travel to New York and other places to see what other established galleries were showing. On one of our trips we walked into the Fuller Building in NYC which was loaded with art galleries. You could enter the elevator, push any floor and you would just walk out to a floor with a number of art galleries. One such gallery was the Fishbach Gallery where we happened to see a one man show for Plansky. We were looking around and thinking, Wow! This is cool stuff. Hadn’t seen anything like that. They had a postcard on the front desk which I took to add to a file of New York art galleries or art in New York. About two years later, I was thinking, ok, I need to get my plan for next year so I started flipping through the file and I found this postcard and I thought, oh I remember that. I wonder if I could get him to show here…Fat chance.  But I tracked him down. Found where he lived. Left him a voicemail and he returned my phone call.

I explained what I was doing and he said, “hmmm. I never really shown in the southeast.”

I said, “Well would you like to?”

He said, “Yeah, I could think about that.”

I said, “Well, I’d love to give it a try here.”

He said, “Well, what do you want to do?”

I said, “I’d like to have some of your work, on consignment to do a market test.

And that started the whole process. He got in a truck and drove down with a truckload…when I say truckload…20 paintings for me to chose from. Of course I took most of them and that was the beginning. I introduced him to the market here and developed a really nice following

And that was 2001?

That was probably 2004. I have been successful in placing one of his large painting in the Mint Museum’s permanent collection. A number of the museums have some of his work which is really important as you’re developing a brand name for this artist.

So, that’s what I’ve been doing.

That’s awesome! That’s really cool!

It’s a lot of fun. Plus I love the work, personally and it resonates with me. I just love watching people come in and see this big painting here. You just kind of get lost in it.

It’s great! Yeah, I love texture.

Well he wasn’t afraid of that. That’s for sure.

I just hung a show at the Carillon building downtown?

I’ve heard of it Not sure if I’ve been in it.

It’s on West Trade street, so where Trade and Tryon meet at the main intersection. If you turn left onto West Trade. It’s one block down on the left. Charlotte First Pres church is on the right, across from this building…Morton’s steakhouse is in the lobby. The lobby of the building was designed to be an art gallery and I have an agreement with the owners to curate exhibitions for that space. It’s really a beautiful building. You should go there sometime. It’s open daily and you can visit up until 10 o’clock at night.  The Arts and Science Council is a tenant in the building. John Tinguely kinetic sculpture is located in the lobby.

So I installed a show of his work this past Saturday and it will be up for about four months.

Well, yeah, I’ll have to stop by, for sure.

So, it’s not really a whole lot different than….you’re still kind of running a gallery with Plansky’s stuff [and you run the Carillon gallery]. I saw that you do consulting and you do all these other kinds of services. But did you do these services at your other gallery?

Yes, but it was more in a retail environment. Here, I guess you could say I’m more like a wholesaler, if you will. It’s probably a pretty bad analogy, but I was tied to being in a gallery when the doors were open since I was the operator of that business. Now I’m focused in on this one collection which doesn’t require retail hours. That’s why I set up other sellers because that’s what they do. My goal is to train them, make them knowledgeable on the collection and help create excitement for it. Through the collection they can add to their revenue from these sales.

I would be like an artist to them for their stable of artists. I just provide them with art.

Talk a little about the services you provide. When you’re consulting, do you try to steer people to buy these [Plansky paintings] or what kind of consulting do you do?

Well, I’ve always been one who likes to listen to what people say and try to figure out what it is that they know, and what is it that they want to know, and what they want to accomplish. If I have a dialogue with someone who has expressed an interest in art, they may say I don’t know anything about art, I’m intimidated. My job is to try to make them feel comfortable with looking at art by recommending galleries and museums for them to visit.  I try to make them aware of what constitutes good art and often suggest videos to introduce them to different types of art, art history, and things like that. My goal is to help them develop a better appreciation of art in both two-dimensional and three- dimensional formats. Afterwards I talk to them about what gets them excited and determine the style of art that they are most attracted to.

Generally to start out with, it’s rare that you’ll find someone like that who’ll say, oh, I like total abstraction. They’re usually more into realism or impressionism. I try to encourage them to think about what speaks to them and to ask themself if they feel that this is something they would like to live with for many years. I don’t encourage people to buy for the sake of investment. unless you’re buying work by very well-known artists. The odds of you making a lot of money are pretty slim.

I want people to look at it as What makes me happy? What gives me satisfaction when I’m looking at it. And if they choose to start a collection I can make suggestions of things for them to consider.

In addition, I work with businesses which is really the bulk of the consultancy that I do. I’m generally brought in when a company moves into a new building or plans to make significant changes to their interiors.  I can arrange to make recommendations for art,  acquire the art, and install it. All this work will result in having an environment that they’re proud of and that their employees would be comfortable working in.

It’s pretty straightforward. I feel that I have  pretty good eye when it comes to art and interior design. I have a broad esthetic and I like a wide variety of work. I don’t pigeonhole myself nor do I want my clients to be pigeonholed into buying something only the work of one artist. To me that’s pretty boring.

Yeah, same here.

There are people who want to do that. So if that’s really where they want to go, then I’ll work with them in that regard. But I don’t encourage that.

I have worked with clients who have work that they’d like to sell; maybe they’ve inherited artwork, or have something that doesn’t appeal to them any longer. I’ll place it on the secondary market and find a buyer for it. I have an affiliation with Campania Fine Moulding in Charlotte who do a superb job in framing different types of art.

So it’s just all those things that, whatever it is that someone’s trying to get — be it an individual, or a corporation, I can work with them.

All kinds of stuff. That’s really neat. I also saw that you do art rentals, I thought that was kind of cool.

Actually, I was just speaking with someone about this program. I’m working with a company over at Southpark that rents art from me on a six-month basis. They purchased some a number of pieces but wanted some more significant pieces for their public spaces.  They weren’t willing to spend the type of money required to have some really high-end pieces.  We agreed on a six-month rental wherein they want to keep it for additional term or they can exchange those pieces for others to give the space a “new look.”

So businesses do that mostly? Do people do it for their houses?

I really don’t look for that. I think that could be an interesting thing to do, but it involves too much, for too little, when it comes to homeowners. Corporations see the value in that and I just never really explored it on a residential basis. Most residential customers prefer to purchase. I’ve worked with realtors before, where they were staging a property and need art on the walls.  They realize that art can transform an interior and can heighten the possibility of selling the property.

When corporations have you pick out art for them, is it basically just to convey their brand or the knowledge of art they want people to think that they have?

It depends. I’ve found that law firms are notorious for having exquisite furnishings. In the past law firms would have mahogany furniture, leather chairs, law books, and things like that.  Their art work was mostly traditional in style as well. But a lot of them have decided, That’s pretty stuffy. We want to come into the new century. So many have added modern furnishings, modern art, things of that nature, to convey a feeling of wealth and of being current in their practice.

Another good example would be wealth management companies who want to impress current clients as well as prospective clients.  A great way to do this is to have exceptional artwork on display throughout their offices.  

They’re no strangers to wealth.

That’s right, yeah, no strangers to wealth, that’s a good way to put it. So yeah, it does convey a certain feel that they have. Some people want it to be warm and some people want it to be sleek. So there’s a lot of different things people want to convey. I also encourage companies to consider their employees when designing their interiors. They’re there every day. So give them something to look at, to get lost in sometimes, and to be proud of when they bring their family or their friends in. Or just to appreciate something that maybe they wouldn’t be able to see at home. They spend the bulk of their lives in an office or in a facility, so why not make it so it sets the tone for the company, for the management? Say, we’re investing in you. Silly as it may sound, having a beautiful environment for employees to work in says a lot about a company. So I try to encourage people to look at it that way.

I was at this gallery talk at Anne Neilson’s this weekend, I guess,  and I forget the artist’s name, but she was talking something about how sometimes when people buy a piece of art, when they bring it home, it just doesn’t work. They don’t care for it in their home. She even talked about something called synesthesia, where they get an alternate response. Like, they may “hear” a really vibrant painting, like that one

Oh, I don’t know…

I don’t know, she used this word and I never heard it before, but I thought it was cool


Synesthesia. I think that was the word that she used. I looked it up afterwards, but I forgot it.

But it’s almost like you get a vibe from…

It’s like if you look at that and you get like an auditory ringing in your ears. Auditory effect from visual stimulus.

But not in a pleasant way.

Not in a pleasant way. And I just wondered how common that was….Not that they would say that word or even know what it was. Just kind of like, Ok, I’ve had this in my house, it’s just kind of creepy, it’s following me around.

That is creepy. I’ve never heard of it.

Never heard of it?

Never have. Doesn’t mean anything, but I’ve never known anyone to experience that.

Well, I mean, not even that per se, but just kind of like say they came here and they liked that painting here, but then they brought it home and they were like, I’m not sure if I like it in my house….

Oh yeah, that happens. A lot of times when I was in the retail business, I would encourage people, if they liked it, but weren’t sure it was going to work. I’d encourage them to take it home, keep it for a couple of days and live with it, see how you feel. If it feels as good there as it did here, then that’s a good sign.

[End of transcript. Listen to audio for our full conversation]

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c. LTAWB 2018

c. 2018
All images c. Larry Elder