In 1996, a week before his studio space was set for demolition as part of a Redevelopment Agency project, Ken Matsumoto saw it: a “for rent” sign on the old North-Side Walnut processing plant in the heart of Japantown. It was fate, and a journey that would eventually lead to the start of Art Object Gallery. In order to afford the increase in his rent and the supplies to make the warehouse structurally sound, Matsumoto began renting out space to three fellow artists. Soon, the idea for combining mailing lists and holding a show to expose their patrons to each other’s art grew. Matsumoto began erecting gallery walls in the expansive space remaining, and in 2000, Art Object Gallery was born.
His first shows included friends and colleagues. “I would do a little group show,” he recalls, “and I would know most of the artists personally. We were friends, and I liked their work.” One of his first shows was titled “Depth of Field” and consisted of work from Santa Clara art professors.
Over the years, Matsumoto grew the shows and number of artists through word of mouth and recommendations. “I knew some people, and those people would tell me about other people. Or I would be visiting a studio and see someone else’s work. Or somebody would recommend somebody, and they’d come by with some of their stuff. If it looked cool to me, we just did it.” Some of Art Object Gallery’s largest shows would contain twenty artists at a time.
When asked what his favorite part of curating is, Matsumoto emphatically states the answer: “Hanging the show.” Installing the pieces and making them work in the space comes easily for him. Not surprising, since Matsumoto knows every inch of the gallery—he built the walls. “I know the space so well, and I guess I have a talent for doing it,” he says.
What is his least favorite part of curating? “The marketing of the shows is a little brutal.” He laughs, “The part I like the most is probably the announcements, the design of the cards, but that’s as far as it goes.” He used to consider himself an introvert, but not anymore. Matsumoto grins, “I guess it took owning a gallery to realize that.”
He also enjoys coming up with the concepts and titling the show. “I think that’s where I rationalize still having the gallery, that there is this creative aspect to it. There’s this constant struggle between doing something for the gallery and doing my own work, especially when the gallery doesn’t always give you a return on your investment.”
What is his advice to artists and art enthusiasts who want to curate a show? “Don’t wait. Just go out and talk to people. You would be surprised how many people in our community are really willing to help you.”
Written by Kat Bell
Photography by Daniel Garcia