Imagine a world slightly different from this one. In this world, you’re foolish — and you’ve agreed to a blind date with someone named Lee Golde. But because you’ve fallen behind on social media obligations, you have no idea what this person looks like.
“It could be a woman, or a Jewish or Asian man,” Leonard Bessemer says, sorting through the possibilities.
Really, none of them is right.
Lee Golde is the androgynous namesake of Bessemer’s contemporary art gallery, which opened in downtown San Luis Obispo this past October.
When a space became available, Bessemer took the opportunity to pursue a thought he’d held for some time: bringing art from the international scene and large cultural hubs like Los Angeles or New York City to the much smaller scope of San Luis Obispo.
He just needed a good name.
“I’d always on the back burner thought it’d be great to have a gallery space here,” Bessemer said. “It was cheap enough that I could afford it; I didn’t need a huge revenue.”
Thus, Lee Golde was born.
Bessemer plans to use the space to feature contemporary art and live music. For now, he specifically wants to focus on the 21st-century network-conscious, post-Internet art style, along with female artists.
“Largely it’s going to be mixed media and installations,” he said. “In terms of the type of art, there’s a new term: post-internet art. A focus on female artists would be part of my goal.”
That said, Bessemer has chosen to keep Lee Golde’s final shape and form, like its name, rather ambiguous — not necessarily a bad thing. He prefers to let his project grow through avenues organically, rather than getting stuck on a particular ambition.
“It’s still in the process,” he said. “It’ll become more defined as time goes on. I have an idea of what I want, but I’m not gonna pigeonhole or force it there.”
“An idea” might not sound like a particularly air-tight business plan, but according to Bessemer, the aim is education before profit. He sees San Luis Obispo as a safe haven from the vicious competition of more metropolitan scenes — revenue doesn’t have to take the forefront.
“I could go to Los Angeles and join the galleries and the masses,” he said. “But then you’re just trying to grab a piece of the market rather than creating the market.”
The market Bessemer is trying to build will seek to appeal to young adults with permanent residence in San Luis Obispo.
“The goal is creating something outside of downtown for people 25 to 35 that are actually staying in San Luis Obispo and not moving away,” he said. “There’s absolutely nothing else for people to seek shows or play shows outside of the direct downtown area. I think a lot of people that live here are tired of that. It’s homogenous. The bars are all owned by the same person.”
Music is a major aspect of Lee Golde, but Bessemer wants to maintain the gallery status of his space. In the end, even with his utilitarian dogma, selling some art certainly isn’t something Bessemer is opposed to.
Currently, an exhibit by artist Jacqueline Norheim is being featured until Jan. 10. The centerpiece of her exhibit is a large cloth entitled “Cloth Altar,” along with an 18-hour time lapse of the tarp in a landscape.
“It’s kind of homage to the space and that spot where I installed it — kind of a steady, always playing with foreground and background and figure ground,” she said. “I’m always just trying to create magical, slightly confusing visual experiences.”
Norheim spoke highly of her experience working with Bessemer at Lee Golde.
“Well, I think the exhibit itself came out really well,” she said. “Leonard is running what looks like a very contemporary professional gallery. I think his presentation is amazing. He was really helpful as a curator in terms of how to create the show and put the space together.”