Since his days at NYU, Ari Goldman has been an avid art collector who turned his passion for animation and comics into a friendship with Marvel legend Stan Lee and the licensing rights for iconic characters such as Scooby. Doo, Fred Flinstone and Hong Kong Phooey, among others. Saturday morning favourites.
But in all of his dealings with Disney, Hanna Barbera, Superman, Spider-Man and more over the years, the one thing Goldman had never done was create a gallery space that brings together his collection of animation and tape. drawn decades ago. Until now.
Goldman is opening its first gallery, Choice Contemporary, tomorrow (April 9), in the Brentwood neighborhood of Los Angeles. The gallery, which held its VIP opening last night, will open with a performance by renowned artist Risk.
I spoke with Goldman about where his love of animation came from, how he was able to translate his love of art into a successful career, the plans he has for licensing these characters and even more.
Steve Baltin: How far back does the passion go?
Ari Goldman: For me, the passion to love art goes back as far as I can remember. I used to go to museums in New York with my parents, who took me avidly, although they weren’t art collectors at all. And I studied art at NYU, as well as political science, then I got an MBA, but I always loved art. And more specifically, when I got into the art world, it was really through animation. So how we started here by purchasing original animation that was used in the cartoon production process, creating the illusion of life. I thought it was fascinating to be able to buy original drawings and original cels for what wasn’t a lot of money, and those are the real works of art that we used to create the films. So the places I saw that were pretty easy for me to meet collectors was going to Comic-Cons, because Comic-Cons had collectors who liked animation and there was a good crossover, like Superman was produced as a cartoon by Max Fleischer way back in the 30’s. And of course Superman in comics started in 1939, same with many other properties. So it goes way back for me, I’ve never done anything other than make art.
Baltin: Was there an early comic you saw that sparked this passion?
Goldman: Yeah, someone gave me Detective 27, which is really Batman’s first appearance, and it was the most crystalline memory of a pop culture character or superhero that I can remember. It was a reproduction however, it was not an original copy. [And] I got it when I was about 10 years old.
Baltin: There must have been a moment when you realized it was something you wanted to turn from a childhood hobby into a career. Was there a turning point that crystallized that for you?
Goldman: Yes, I think it’s a confluence of several things. When I was at NYU, I went downtown to a gallery called Circle Fine Art, and bought a Sericel. Sericel is a cel printed with the use of the screen printing process, which is like lithography, but on a cel versus a piece of paper. I still have the cel hanging in my office in New Jersey, and it’s Mickey Mouse and Pluto and it’s from a cartoon called Mr. Mouse takes a trip. I always love to travel and then when I bought this piece of art, the consultant who sold it to me said, “Congratulations, you are now an art collector. And I absolutely loved the sound of that. I graduated from NYU, I was deciding what I wanted to do, I had job offers in investment banking, traditional commercial route. Because I was fascinated by this idea of animation, I had started learning about auctions at Christie’s and Sotheby’s, and I loved the idea of being able to buy and sell things, but I didn’t didn’t know enough to buy and sell. So I did my research, borrowed $6,000, and flew to California. There was no internet, it was really like meeting one person, another person and starting to collect. So I would say after college, before graduate school, when I realized I could fly to California, which is a big concentration of animation because the studios are here, and buy stuff, then come back and sell them to a few galleries that I knew from my own experience as a collector, that’s when I realized, “Maybe I have a little career here.” And another turning point was, I love to travel, I love being independent, and so between being able to fly to California and traveling and being independent and really owning my own destiny, all of that coupled with something that holds me really at heart, just never looked back.
Baltin: How many galleries have you owned over the years or is this your first?
Goldman: I’m preparing my first. It’s really the only part of the art world that we’ve never touched as a business, and I’ve never touched personally as an art dealer. For years and years, the origin of the business is exactly what I described, which was that I was stealing, buying original pieces, and then selling them to galleries that were operational. And over the years it’s evolved into printing, publishing, a relationship with Stan Lee and Marvel and Disney and all these different things. But I’ve never bothered to open a gallery, and so with my passion for art, right now we’re opening our first, which is long overdue.
Baltin: What made it the right time after so many years?
Goldman: I feel much more mature as a businessman. I know we have a much stronger team in place, we have a good grasp of our online sales, a good grasp of direct-to-consumer sales, a very robust wholesale distribution, and I felt it was time for us to open now because all the right ingredients are there. And generally speaking, I would consider myself a rather conservative businessman. We’ve never let anyone go because of budget, we’ve never missed a bill, we’ve never had a check bounced, we’ve never had a problem with funding, and even through Covid we we’ve done very well, we haven’t let anyone go. And I think that’s a function of me being conservative about my business, maybe a little too conservative, but now I’m totally sure it’s the right time, because I have the right people in our team.
Baltin: Explain to me why it made sense to open with Risk as an individual artist to begin with.
Goldman: There are several reasons. The first thing is that my original passion was animation, then it moved from animation to superheroes and contemporary art in general. So, as an art dealer, we sell a lot of pop culture and animation, but we’ve definitely migrated with our offerings to other contemporary artists. Some of them are alive and some of them are gone. For example, I just bought a nice Mao Tse-Tung portfolio that was printed in 1972. It’s an addition of 250, and there are 10 pieces, and so it’s part of our business. And the gallery will be called Choice Contemporary, so we’re not doing Choice pop culture, we’re doing Choice Contemporary. We try to merge the cross current of contemporary art and pop culture art. And what we’re working on with Risk outside of his show, which will have his traditional art and his graffiti and very current stuff, is a project where he’s going to take some of our licensed characters and we’re going to try to license them . For example, we met Risk at Art Basel as an incredible graffiti artist. He’s a Southern Californian and he’ll be our opening act, so to speak. One of her employees came to join us, with her blessing and she is going to be our gallery director, so there is this natural side. And then on top of that, Risk, when he heard we had the license for characters like Scooby Doo and Hong Kong Phooey and Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble and so on, him and Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and Marvin Martian and Road Runner and Coyote, he loves those characters and he wanted to start trying to incorporate those characters on his original pieces and his limited editions. This is why we have come together. It made sense because of the gallery’s location, because of the cross-licensing we’re trying to do with it, and because of its audience, and where we live, and where we are, so it all became that . And we didn’t want to start with animation or Disney or Warner Brothers, we wanted to start with contemporary because that company’s name is Choice Contemporary.
Baltin: Talk about how you’re going to merge them, because for people of a certain generation, they’re some of the most iconic characters of all time.
Goldman: I grew up watching Saturday morning cartoons. It was a big thing for me, every Saturday watching cartoons, and it was Looney Tunes and it was mostly Hanna-Barbera, not so much Disney on Saturday mornings. And Hong Kong Phooey is one of those characters that we all love, along with other characters that we love, like Magilla Gorilla, and then like I say, Squiddly Diddly, people love Wacky Racers, Dick Dastardly and Muttley, all of those things are things that I mean we grew up particularly as Americans. Risk is art, if you look, he does these amazing pieces where he takes strips of paper that he’s cut from other prints and he weaves them into these woven webs. And then he wants to put our characters on these canvases and wants to be able to reproduce them, so we found a way to reproduce the woven paper in one print on recycled paper, which is very important to him. What he wants to do is he wants to be able to put a Hong Kong Phooey picture or a Scooby picture in the center with his graffiti and his monarch butterflies and other things that he uses in his art. So he liked the cross-pollination of those two things, and since we have the license, when he does the original, what we’ll do is we’ll submit it to Warner Brothers for approval. And if they approve of it, which we expect because we’re using the exact images and not doing anything weird with the images and characters, we think they’ll approve of it. And then we can create beautiful limited editions that Risk will sign and number and we can market to a whole new universe of people who could never touch these characters in this particular artist before.