The resiliency of Judith Klein Art Studio & Gallery

By Steven Froias / Contributing Writer
Posted Nov 29, 2018 at 3:01 AM

It takes a certain amount of fortitude to own an art gallery — anywhere.

Across the country, art galleries are often held up as Example A of creative, flourishing communities.

Unfortunately, too few of them actually make much (if any) money. And, the very definition of an art gallery is somewhat elastic by financial necessity.

This is true in New Bedford. A lot of promotional material for the city highlights its revitalized downtown by including “art galleries” in the ad copy. In reality, there are few real art galleries relative to the size of its creative community.

Co-ops — like Gallery X — and non-profits — like the New Bedford Art Museum or the Co-Creative Center — fill the gap. At unconventional galleries like the Groundwork! Gallery or even the Pour Farm Tavern, monthly shows provide further necessary venues for displaying and selling art in the city.

So, it’s of note and consequence when an actual art gallery celebrates a milestone.

The Judith Klein Art Studio & Gallery is doing just that. It’s celebrating 10 years as an art gallery in New Bedford — and that’s worth a closer look.

Last week, my colleague, Don Wilkinson reviewed the gallery’s 10th anniversary show in his column Art Beat. This week in State of the Arts, we’ll look at what’s made it tick over the years — and how it has managed to stay in business despite the aforementioned financial challenge all art galleries face.

In conversation with owner Judith Klein, a few salient facts leap out.
Judith Klein Art Studio & Gallery has persevered and, by the industry’s own distinct measure, thrived due to some key decisions made by Klein over the years.

First, she has learned to adapt the gallery to changing economic circumstances.

Judith Klein Gallery began life in downtown New Bedford on Purchase Street. When the rent got too high to justify the amount of business a gallery generates, it moved to a more affordable space on William Street.

Then, when being in a resurgent downtown was just too expensive altogether, Judith Klein became a pioneer five years ago and moved the gallery to the city’s South End. This new home was outside the downtown hub, but in what’s now called Kilburn Mills at Clarks Cove. It’s up-and-coming on the cultural scene today.

It was a bold, and ultimately wise, move. At the time, Kilburn was a bit off the beaten path in terms of urban sizzle. However, the gallery was now near her studio — and the rent was cheaper.

It took the pressure off — and then took on a new life of its own.

Today, Judith Klein Art Studio & Gallery in Kilburn Mills is a sweet space that glows with charm. There are two entrances to the gallery. One from outside, around back of the building which leads you up a narrow staircase — original to the mill. The other, through the labyrinthine corridors of the building.

However you arrive, you spill out into a white-washed, sun-splashed space that overlooks Clarks Cove and the recently completed Cove Walk atop the Hurricane Barrier. The effect is akin to traveling through the wardrobe doors and arriving in Narnia.

In the gallery, you’ll discover the second secret of its success: professional, quality artwork. Though it’s mostly contemporary in nature, it’s not exclusive to any one aesthetic. The work, “just has to be good,” Klein says.

It’s also almost the exclusive preserve of city and regional artists. Klein built the gallery to be a showcase for the area’s artists — and she’s held true to that core value.

Which brings us to another key element of Klein’s longevity: consistency.

When she was downtown, Judith Klein was an enthusiastic participant in AHA! New Bedford every month. This gained the gallery a following.

So, she maintained the practice when she moved to the south end. Although she doesn’t have an entirely new show every month — as was most often the case when she was downtown — the Judith Klein Gallery is open for a special event or opening every second Thursday of the month and is still an AHA! Partner.

“We developed a clientele during AHA! Nights,” Judith says, “and wanted to keep that schedule for people who really wanted to see the artwork.”

That consistency stretches back into the even more distant past and reaches deep into the art community.

Before Judith Klein Gallery launched, its space was home to an art co-op that Judith was a member of. When it began to die out, she made the decision to launch her own gallery at the Purchase Street address.

In total, Judith had spent about a decade as a member of various art co-ops in the city, and she says the knowledge she learned from each experience helped provide the foundation for her own business.

Also, as an active member of the art community, she formed invaluable relationships. To this day, a friend who encouraged her to strike out on her own helps market the gallery. Indeed, Sheila Oliveira took the anniversary photo of Klein and her husband that accompanies this column.

Oliveira is part of the community of talent that Judith Klein has surrounded herself with over the years. The “huge pool,” she terms it, the gallery is able to draw from for its signature summer shows and, up now and through Dec. 31, its 10th anniversary show.

Finally, what makes Judith Klein Art Studio & Gallery click after 10 years are all the elements above and the ones that aren’t so obvious.

Like Klein’s unique vision as an artist and person.

Born in what has been at various times both Hungary and Romania, she’s also lived in Israel and Milan before moving to Massachusetts, where her husband, Andrei, came to study textile engineering at what was then called Southeastern Massachusetts University.

That global sensibility is captured in a bottle in the Judith Klein Gallery in Kilburn Mills. By the water, you feel as if you’re at the very edge of the world when in the space — surrounded by amazing images representing a kaleidoscope of human experience curated by an invisible hand.

But, the hand belongs to Judith Klein — and the magic is firmly based in the reality of art and the art business, and has been for a significant ten years now.

When asked if she’s ready for another 10, she replies…

“Why not!?”

Steven Froias blogs for the coworking facility, Groundwork! at NewBedfordCoworking.com. Email: StevenFroias@gmail.com.

Original article here.