Salon 21 Founder Alex Bass Cultivates the Art of Conversation, Splurges on Flowers, and Advocates for Public Education
We asked the founder of Salon 21, New York's contemporary salon, what she values most—in art and life.
So much of the art world orbits around questions of value, not only in terms of appraisals and price tags, but also: What is worthy of your time in These Times, as well as your energy, your attention, and yes, your hard-earned cash?
What is the math that you do to determine something’s meaning and worth? What moves you? What enriches your life? In this new series, we’re asking individuals from the art world and beyond about the valuations that they make at a personal level.
Alex Bass wants to revive the lost art of conversation. Bass is the founder and CEO of Salon 21, a New York City-based fine art and interior design studio, which unveiled its first brick-and-mortar location downtown earlier this month.
For the past several years, Salon 21 has been an incubator of under-the-radar creative talent in the city with a percolating stream of exhibitions and events. Now, Bass is bringing her vision for a contemporary salon—one curated to a next-gen philosophy of collecting and living with art—to life within Salon 21’s warmly decorated SoHo interior. This by-appointment-only space, Bass says, will lend itself to entertaining and act as a modern-day incarnation of Gertrude Stein’s legendary Parisian apartment. Currently, Salon 21 is hosting an exhibition of contemporary artists who are reinvigorating art historical genres. Artist panels, workshops, and cocktail parties are all on the horizon.
With a professional pedigree that includes major auction houses and blue-chip galleries, Bass brings a sense of intellectual rigor, along with charm, to her enterprise. While most hours of her day are devoted to bringing Salon 21 to life, she still savors the pleasures of everyday life. A fresh bouquet of flowers from Rosecrans is her favorite splurge, a simple ‘thank you’ she rarely forgets.
We recently caught up with Bass ahead of an event-filled fall season to find out what she values in art and life—and why.
What is the last thing that you splurged on?
A commissioned piece of art by Leah Pommier who will be showing with us at Salon 21 in 2024. Leah uses found materials to create these gorgeous, draped textile works.
What is something that you’re saving up for?
A vacation to Mexico City. My boyfriend and I went to Mexico City for the first time earlier this year and had the best time. I want to go for longer and see more of the city and its amazing art and architecture scene. I’m also saving for a trip back to London (my second favorite city after New York), where I studied for a bit and made the most incredible friends.
What would you buy if you found $100?
Flowers. My favorite store in the city is Rosecrans. They have the most gorgeous fresh and dried flowers that cost an arm and a leg.
What makes you feel like a million bucks?
Eating dinner solo at the bar with a glass of wine.
What do you think is your greatest asset?
My passion—for everything I do, and for art! It gets me up in the morning, and I am not a morning person.
What do you most value in a work of art?
I value its ability to invite multiple points of view and conversation. I’m so excited to watch these conversations flourish at Salon 21 as we bring in new artists each month.
Who is an emerging artist worthy of everyone’s attention?
Marc Armitano Domingo. He is a true Renaissance man. He makes ceramics, jewelry, paints, plays, and builds 18th-century instruments. He will be having a solo show with us early next year and I can’t wait. He’s also the sweetest person!
Who is an overlooked artist who hasn’t yet gotten their due?
I feel like every artist has different goals: whether it’s to be a huge commercial success or an institutional fixture. I think how we define success in the art world needs an overhaul so it really depends on the person/artist’s perspective.
What, in your estimation, is the most overrated thing in the art world?
Purchasing a piece of artwork solely for investment value. I view art first and foremost as an aesthetic object I want to live with. If I gravitate towards a piece, I want to live with it, not store it in a closet. Art should be treasured, lived with, and passed down to future generations.
What is your most treasured possession?
A gold initial pinky ring from my dad’s dad. I love men’s jewelry. Also, a ring my mom made me in a jewelry class that I signed her up for as a Mother’s Day gift.
What’s been your best investment?
Myself and realizing the concept that is Salon 21—an art salon of the 21st century.
What is something small that means the world to you?
Saying thank you.
What’s not worth the hype?
Anything with a long line. A feel like a queue is typically a sign that something is a fad and likely disappointing.
What do you believe is a worthy cause?
Arts education. Public education in general. Our schools need more funding and our teachers need to be paid more.
What do you aspire to?
Making the art world more accessible, and fun. Creating Salon 21 was the first step here and I’m so excited for the incredible calendar of events we have and to shed light on emerging artists.
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