Ben Kiehl understands the business of fine art. He is the director of the Robert Kidd Gallery (the longest running gallery in Metro Detroit) and a studio artist himself.
"Art dealers function as representatives for both craftsmen and collectors," Kiehl said. "Our task is to nurture the artists’ impassioned creative directions while maintaining an awareness of our clientele’s response to the work. Ultimately, the goal is to find a balance that supports both sides by placing the work into a collection."
As gallery director, Kiehl curates exhibitions designed to showcase and promote original artwork by the stable of artists he represents. This process involves the careful selection of work by both emerging and internationally recognized artists. Solo exhibitions feature the focused series of one particular artist’s work as a cleanly presented intellectual statement. Thoughtfully composed group shows enliven the gallery with varied works by multiple artists exhibited together as a unified and complementary collection. By alternating these installations on a regular basis, the gallery continually introduces the public to a wide spectrum of new artwork.
For Kiehl, the art world has provided an array of demanding opportunities. In 2009 he organized a major contemporary figurative exhibition for Robert Kidd Gallery entitled BODS: Rethinking the Figure. Kiehl spent nearly a year compiling pieces by an international array of the most compelling artists working with the figure today. Later, he was the agent of a large and important sculpture acquisition for the Flint Institute of Arts. Some of Kiehl's other recent occupations include collaborative exhibitions with galleries in both the Midwest and New York, installing exhibits at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MoCAD), and working as a faculty member of the CCS Foundations department and guest critic for the Fine Arts department. Most recently, Kiehl's greatest challenge has been fostering the nearly forty-year legacy of Robert Kidd Gallery since the passing of its principal founder in 2012.
"I am fortunate to have been involved with so many engaging projects early in my career," he said. "The art business is a stimulating line of work that connects creative people in intriguing ways. We pursue the uncommon while ever mindful of quality and excellence. The days are scarcely boring."
In addition to his work for the gallery, Kiehl continues to produce artwork from his loft studio in Detroit. He creates photorealistic paintings and trompe l'oeil drawings using considerably labor-intensive methods. From a distance the illusionistic paintings and drawings appear to be photographs, crumpled sheets of paper attached to the wall, or spray-painted abstract marks that resemble graffiti.
"Meticulous technique is required to achieve the effect," Kiehl explained. "I prefer to use traditional materials-- usually graphite, gesso, gouache or oil on linen with a brush. I enjoy the interesting dichotomy of my work - drawing from images that in reality could be created in a moment's time, but require weeks and sometimes months to produce as works of art. There is an elegance in condensing complex systems into subtly balanced forms. It is this kind of poignant reductive quiet that I am drawn to."
Although Kiehl excelled at drawing at a young age, it wasn't until he was a student at CCS that he began networking with the major players in the local art scene. The knowledge he gained from instructors such as Joseph Bernard, Dennis Galfy, Chido Johnson and Rick Vian combined with the talents of his colleagues continue to inspire him today.
"My professors were working artists who produced and exhibited their work during those years. They were open to sharing their experiences, and it strengthened my confidence professionally."
"My experiences as a dealer have certainly had an impact on my own work as well. Between the dealer and artist, there is an exchange of energies and enthusiasm that can potentially inspire the work to its best or most powerful form. Frequent insights into the minds of our artists have changed the way I view art and strengthened my understanding of passion, intent and the importance of formal composition. With some new exhibition plans for my own work currently developing, my studio practice has increased and the momentum is exciting. I feel privileged to be engrossed in two crucial sides of our relatively small industry. The time has been most illuminating and lends a promise of possibilities for an intriguing future."