Amrhein, Joe

Artist and gallery director Joe Amrhein shares the evolution of his artwork and his multiple art spaces in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, while also reflecting on the utility of risk and the surprising endurance of art fairs.

“The thing that really bothers me about the art world in a greater sense is that it seems like a very class-oriented situation. People seem to think you have to have a lot of money to be a collector and you have to be in a certain class to collect work. And I think it’s the wrong way to approach it…. Everyone should be collecting work. Artists should be collecting work. Everyone should have that opportunity.”

Joe Amrhein is the co-owner and Director of the art spaces Pierogi gallery and The Boiler and a visual artist. Amrhein was born and raised in Sacramento, California, and he started making artwork in high school. With an older brother he learned how to paint signs, a skill that would support him for many years. Armhein took classes at several community colleges in Sacramento, including American River College. In the late 1970’s he moved to San Francisco where he rented a studio and attended classes and lectures at the Art Institute (SFAI). He moved to Los Angeles around 1980 and began showing at Fiona Whitney gallery and, through Turske & Turske Gallery, in Zurich (the galleries would merge to become Whitney & Turske). After his studio was damaged by an earthquake in 1987, Amrhein moved to a small island off the German coast before permanently settling in New York in 1989. Amrhein established a studio in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and began work as an installer for Marian Goodman and other established galleries. At the prodding of gallery owner Jack Tilton, Amrhein began integrating text into his own work. Amrhein’s work has exhibited nationally and internationally at such venues as Nusser & Baumgart Gallery, Munich; Uferhallen, Berlin; Lautom Contemporary, Oslo; Ronald Feldman Fine Arts, New York; Brian Gross Fine Art, San Francisco; Jancar Gallery, Los Angeles; and FireCat Projects, Chicago.

In reaction to the inactive art market and lack of community at the time, Amrhein founded Pierogi gallery in 1994. Today, Amrhein represents approximately 27 artists through Pierogi. He also runs Flat Files, a program that allows artists to store work in the gallery for visitors, curators, and other artists to peruse for sales or trade. Included works are typically two-dimensional, no larger than 22” x 30”, and sold at modest price points. The Flat Files are also online, typically with 8-10 works per each of the 900 participating artists. Amrhein also runs The Boiler, a larger space near Pierogi that allows for large-scale installation, performative events, and other happenings. From 2006-2009, Amrhein also ran a satellite gallery in Europe, Pierogi Leipzig.