Alum brings contemporary Indigenous art into the mainstream

David Kimelberg, JD ’98, has always been a connoisseur and collector of contemporary Native art. An active member of the Seneca Nation, Kimelberg and his brother, artist Michael Kimelberg, dreamed of one day opening a gallery to showcase this art.

At the time, only a handful of contemporary Aboriginal artists had achieved national recognition. And there was no gallery specifically showcasing their work.

“The many very talented contemporary Native artists were just not getting the recognition they deserved,” says Kimelberg, who lives in Seneca Territories, 40 miles southwest of Buffalo, New York. “We wanted to change that.”

Gourd Dancer is by artist G. Peter Jemison.

In December 2018, Michael Kimelberg died suddenly from an undiagnosed congenital heart defect. His death motivated Kimelberg to achieve his dream, he says. “I was thinking, you know what, if we’re not going to do it now, we’re never going to do it.”

In 2019, Kimelberg purchased a three-story brownstone in downtown Buffalo. A year later, he launched K Art, an art gallery showcasing the work of contemporary Native artists from New York State and the continental United States, Alaska, Canada, Mexico and Australia.

New exhibition of work by two artists – “The Cadence of Night” by Meskwaki and Ho-Chunk Nation member Duane Slick and “The Garrison Mentality” by Ho-Chunk Nation member Henry Payer – opens December 15 and until February 23, 2023.

The gallery also represents artists including G. Peter Jemison, member of the Seneca Nation, Heron Clan. His work has been acquired by influential institutions such as the Modern Museum of Art (MOMA) and the Whitney Museum of Modern Art. Known for his naturalistic paintings and series of works done on brown paper bags, Jemison creates art that embodies “Orenda”, the traditional Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) belief that every living thing and every part of creation contains a force. spiritual.

David Kimelberg, J.D. ’98

The gallery has also had success in the art world. She presented a stand at Art Basel Miami Beach, one of the most important art fairs in the United States, from December 7 to 9. “It was a real honor to be there, and the reception was fantastic,” said Kimelberg. “Ours was ranked in the top 10 booths by ARTnews for Art Basel Miami Beach, as well as our booth at The Armory Show in New York earlier in the year.”

Support artists and the Seneca Nation

Kimelberg remembers the naysayers – and there were many – who warned him that the gallery would never succeed. They said powerful art world gatekeepers would make it difficult for artists and collectors to gain access.

His experience defied these grim predictions. For K Art’s first exhibition, his team contacted 10 of the best contemporary Indigenous artists to see if they would like to be included.

“They were all incredibly excited to work with us and ready to give us their work. It’s quite unheard of,” he said. “And, on the collectors side, we have great museums who really want to work with us and who have made it easy for us. What I learned is that the art world can actually be a pretty cool place.

Kimelberg and her team connect with artists through word of mouth and by searching for keywords in social media channels like Instagram. He and his gallery owner thus found four young artists; When the team sees artwork they like on Instagram, they reach out to the artist to arrange a Zoom call and discuss which artworks they would like to include in an exhibit.

“We will give them a lot of advice and we will support them too. For some very young artists, we give them a certain amount each month to live on. It’s not huge, but it allows them to focus on their art,” says Kimelberg.

He also found ways to support the Seneca Nation – a family tradition. His mother, art teacher Pamela Ahrens, started the Head Start program in the Seneca territories. His great-uncle served four terms as president of the Seneca Nation in the 1950s and 1960s.

A corporate lawyer with a background in finance, Kimelberg lived and worked in Boston and New York, before returning to the Seneca territories with his family about 15 years ago.

Cornell Impacts New York State

His goal upon returning home was to lead an economic development program for the nation. He founded Seneca Holdings, an investment company intentionally diversified from the gaming industry, to generate revenue for the benefit of the Seneca people.

Profits from Seneca Holdings enabled the nation to install fiber optic internet in one of its communities of approximately 3,000 residents, many of them school-aged children. “About five years ago, we rolled out fiber nationwide,” says Kimelberg. “So now everyone has high-speed internet, which has really been a game-changer.”

“Spawning Iqalukpik Double from Tustumena Lake” is by artist Erin Gingrich.

Kimelberg does not expect to make a living from the art gallery. He says the success he has had in his legal and business career allows him to fulfill his dream of bringing contemporary Indigenous art to the general public.

Some of the artists have been catapulted to national prominence and their works have been acquired by important institutions.

He shares the story of a person who has had other jobs all his life to support himself as an artist. “His star has really risen in the last two years. Collectors are calling for his job,” Kimelberg says. “It’s his full-time job now, and he has different issues, like, ‘How can I handle money coming in?'”

For him, success changes other people’s lives for the better – giving them opportunities where they can learn and grow, he says.

“I see my job as giving our artists all the resources they need to grow and succeed,” says Kimelberg. “For them, success is seeing their work, talking about it, and ultimately owning it.”

This article is adapted from the original, written by Linda Copman ’83, writer for Alumni Affairs and Development.

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