‘It’s Good to Be Outside the Bubble’: Why One Gallerist Traded Hollywood for Athens, Georgia

Gallerist Tif Sigfrids says being a stranger in a strange land is a good thing.

Tif Sigfrids and Ridley Howard. Photo: Holly Coulis, courtesy of the gallery.

Tif Sigfrids spent a total of 16 years in the Los Angeles gallery world—including two years as a director of the now-defunct Thomas Solomon Gallery, and four years running her own eponymous gallery in Hollywood. But that all changed last December when she packed up and left for Georgia.

“There came a point where it felt like it was time to make a change,” Sigfrids told artnet News. She says she looked around at what colleagues were doing—including expanding their businesses or moving to different LA neighborhoods—but decided those options weren’t for her.

“I’ve always liked having a smaller gallery and having such a close working relationship with the artists,” she says. “I was thinking about how everything is so condensed in these coastal cities. Maybe everybody needs to spread out more, including gallerists and artists.”

Now, Sigfrids has relocated to Athens, Georgia, a town with a population of roughly 123,000 that has long had a vibrant music scene and rich cultural history, but less of a track record with local galleries.

Howard Finster, <i>1000AND760</i> (1983). Image courtesy of Neil Rosenbum.

Howard Finster, 1000AND760 (1983). Image courtesy of Neil Rosenbum.

Only time will tell if it’s a risky experiment or a brilliant business move. In a climate where many midsize galleries are feeling squeezed, smaller operations are also feeling liberated to experiment freely, without being quite so beholden to keeping up with the Joneses. “Virtual” galleries are proliferating, gallery share programs are allowing dealers to explore new regions without committing to bricks-and-mortar, and pop-ups are becoming a more nimble alternative to permanent spaces—all of which has bolstered Sigfrids’s confidence.

“It seems like it’s more feasible now given the way that the art market works with fairs and so many transactions being done over the internet,” she says. (Notably, Frieze New York for the first time this year accepted dealers without permanent physical spaces.)

Another motivation for the move? Sigfrids’s good friend and artist Ridley Howard’s recent return to Athens from New York. Howard lived there in the 1990s and moved back in 2016, he told artnet News. “It was an important art community for me personally,” he says. “It is obviously much cheaper, and it’s beautiful. And for a town this size, the cultural perks are many, including music, food, and artists.”

Left: Milano Chow’s Exterior 1 (2017). Right: Torkwase Dyson’s Hypershape # (2018). Images courtesy of Howard’s. ,

Now, Sigfrids and Howard are partners. The two found a space, roughly 1,700 square feet in a second floor former retail store in an old part of the city’s downtown district. With the buildout nearly finished, they are planning joint opening shows for June 16. Sigfrids will debut with “Art in the South: Art Rosenbaum and Friends” featuring the longtime local artist and teacher turned folk musician, while Howard will begin with a joint show of drawings by Milano Chow and Torkwase Dyson.

Strangely enough, Sigfrids says everyone who sees the space says the same thing: “It reminds them of an old, funky Soho space”—a fact that is perhaps not surprising given Athens’s industrial history. Of course, one essential element is decidedly different from New York: “We were able to basically pay for a year’s rent up front,” Sigfrids says. “It’s extremely affordable to have a lot of space here.”

To make the new gallery sustainable, Sigfrids admits she will likely bump up her participation in art fairs as well as gallery share programs like Condo. In addition to NADA in Miami, Frieze in New York, and some of the Los Angeles fairs, she says she’s thinking about showing at the Dallas art fair for the first time, after having spent considerable time in the city recently. She’ll also consider some of the European fairs. Both she and Howard were amused to find out during a recent gallery share program that many fellow dealers assumed she had moved to Greece.

The home of Howard’s Gallery in Athens, GA. Image courtesy of Ridley Howard.

So, as the new gallery readies for its grand opening, does the pair expect others to follow their lead?

“There are a lot of artists already working in Athens—a couple of curators doing great work and a few small galleries,” Howard says. “I hope our space helps to create more energy and maybe encourages other young artists to open spaces in town—apartment galleries, DIY spaces. I also know a few other artists considering moving back to Athens, which will only add to an already rich community.”

Sigfrids would love to see other galleries relocate to Athens—or anywhere outside the major hubs, for that matter. “I like the idea of there being little art worlds everywhere,” she says.

As for her own move, Sigfrids says it has certainly piqued the curiosity—and perhaps the envy—of other art world denizens longing for a slower-paced and more affordable life. “I got so many messages from artists who were in LA specifically who were like: ‘Oh you did it!'” she says. “It seems like a lot of people want to get out [of major cities] but aren’t confident that their careers can continue if they do…but I think with how mobile everything is nowadays, anything is possible.”

As a new transplant to Athens, Sigfrid hopes to be a testament to that possibility. “I am a bit of a stranger in a strange land here, but I like that,” she says. “It’s good to be outside of the bubble.” 

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