After nearly four years in 16th Street Plaza District, Kasum Contemporary Fine Art gallery is closing its doors Nov. 19, but the Kasum brand, championed by founder Tony Morton and his wife Stacey Miller, will continue.
“The Kasum brand will not die; it will evolve,” Morton said.
With a background in sales and marketing consulting, Morton found himself in the art world after he was hired full-time by Karen Orr with Paseo Originals about seven years ago.
Morton has used his sales skills to master the art of perception, which has come in handy as an art dealer. There are times Morton might’ve even wished for a chaise lounge in the gallery, as he has found success in communication with artists and prospective buyers.
“It’s like understanding both art and psychology,” Morton said of his experience running Kasum. “It’s become a sacred thing I love to study into and makes everything work better, that applies here or in regular conversation.”
Morton said his biggest accomplishments during his time running the gallery include finding emerging Oklahoma artists and introducing them to the world and connecting with buyers in a way they didn’t know was possible.
Kasum is one of eight galleries in the state that does not charge co-op fees to artists or charge public admission, he said. Morton and Miller considered the possibility of selling the gallery but ultimately decided to use their art collection in other forms, a final process that is still being formulated.
“Part of our concern about wanting to sell the business was that we weren’t sure people understand what a business like this does,” Morton said. “It’s not about putting art on a wall and slinging it. That’s a portion of it and what keeps the doors open, but it’s an eye for what that art is.”
Morton takes pride in helping provide a springboard for sculptors such as Stillwater’s Morgan Robinson and Norman’s Brett McDanel. Robinson, Morton said, has seen the value of his work increase at least five times its value when it debuted at Kasum.
“We’re his little-bitty gallery now,” Morton said of Robinson. “I’m just pleased that over the last two years, he’s still allowed us to show him. His art is approaching the commodities market. It is at the point where you can get a bank loan to buy it.
Kasum hosted Robinson’s solo project Dichotomy in September and will display McDanel’s Reclaiming My Humanity through Nov. 10 in a move Morton said was an effort to celebrate some of the gallery’s biggest successes.
McDanel walked into Kasum one afternoon a few years ago with little to no gallery experience. The thought of becoming a professional artist had never crossed his mind, but his wife encouraged him to show some of his found-art sculptures to galleries, and Morton was quick to understand McDanel’s art before he knew what it meant to himself.
“I found out through working with Tony that art was emotional, but I never understood it was bigger than me working in a garage and that it could help me while also engaging other people and put them in a position for an emotional response,” McDanel said. “[Tony] was always encouraging me to open up the throttle to see what I can do. He helped me understand that my art is more about emotion, puns and irony.”
Eight of the 10 sculptures McDanel currently has on display have already sold —five sold before the show even opened.
In addition to helping artists, Morton also takes pride in helping prospective buyers understand the specific details and styles they’re looking for in a piece of art.
Morton used the example of a couple that came into the gallery and were attracted to the work of Colorado-based artist Talia Swartz Parsell.
“They didn’t understand why, but they liked the stuff like that, so we spent two to three hours chitchatting,” Morton said. “I showed them similar artwork, and we determined that they liked geometric expressionism. People come in and say ‘contemporary art.’ Okay; great. But that’s everything from 1970 until now.”
Over the next few months, Morton worked with the couple and Swartz Parsell to get a work commissioned.
Morton hopes to continue work like that through private consulting, which includes his collection that will not be available in an online store. Morton and Miller will remain residents in the Plaza District.
“There was a time 15 years ago when you could see someone pick up a hooker on the corner, get their drugs and not worry about the cops,” Morton said. “The change that’s happened [in the Plaza District] is indescribable. The last five years have been like watching a horse race.”
Morton will host a micro feature Nov. 8 and is treating Nov. 10’s Live! on the Plaza as a celebratory night for the gallery. Kasum will host its final installation Nov. 11-19. He will continue to rotate work in the back of the gallery every few days through closing.
He said he is hopeful that Kasum Contemporary, which is named after his father, Michael Kasum, will begin new projects in early 2018.
“We want to flesh out [the future of Kasum] over the next year to two years as far as working with artists outside of a gallery space,” Morton said. “We’ve always worked with an eclectic variety of artists, and we want to develop a platform that will work across many different styles and many different media.”
Print headline: Art perceptions; Kasum Contemporary Fine Art gallery will close Nov. 19, but its brand will continue.