Scott Miller is founder and owner of Scott Miller Projects, a contemporary gallery and exhibition space now open in Birmingham, Alabama. Miller spoke with Burnaway contributor, Brett Levine about the plans for his new space and the unique context of the Birmingham art community.
Brett Levine: Let’s talk a little bit about Scott Miller Projects, and why now was the perfect time to open the gallery.
Scott Miller: I’ve had my own marketing firm for 23 years, yet I’ve been involved in the art world for almost 30—everything from leading art tours and studio visits for students and collectors to helping place works in public and private collections. I’ve also built my own collection over that time. Yet during COVID, I had not been to my office in about a year or so. So, I thought about bringing in a couple of artists and doing some exhibitions by appointment only. Then, I decided this was the time to rethink what it was that I wanted to do in the art world. I did, and knew the answer was Scott Miller Projects.
BL: Why Birmingham?
SM: There’s a long history of collecting in Birmingham. We have a very sophisticated group of collectors. I’ve led collector groups to visit exhibitions in New York, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, and more. So, I wanted to share the artists and work we see elsewhere with Birmingham.
BL: In many ways, Birmingham’s contemporary art scene is on an upward trajectory. How will you center Scott Miller Projects as part of that new dialogue?
SM: I’m very interested in bringing artists who are represented in major public and private collections and institutions to the city. I see my mission as an opportunity for Scott Miller Projects to work, in part, as an extension to other leading contemporary galleries around the country and around the world. For example, I’m working with a gallery in Rio de Janeiro on an exhibition with one of their artists. By collaborating with us, galleries can gain exposure for their artists in markets they might not have accessed otherwise.
BL: Birmingham is often seen as on the periphery, and you’re talking about galleries, cities, and arts communities that are very similar—also often viewed as outside the center. But a lot of collectors and interested community members want to experience different types and styles of work as part of the international dialogue.
SM: Absolutely. I have my own aesthetic, but I’ll exhibit diverse works across media, style, and genre. I’m also very cognizant of how, as a contemporary exhibition space, we have the responsibility to be a part of the discourses of the day. Right now we’re in development for a two-part exhibition by women artists that will open during the summer of the Olympic World Games in 2022.
BL: You’ve made some exciting choices right from the outset. You’re now representing Roscoe Hall, and he’s certainly someone who’s been well known in the Birmingham art community for a long time. I know people who know him for his food—he’s a well-known chef. He’s a SCAD grad, if I remember correctly. So he’s well versed in contemporary art dialogues. You’re highlighting artists whose works are dynamic but might not have been represented, otherwise because people may not have seen their critical potential and engagement. How did you come to work with Roscoe?
SM: He was included in the group exhibition a la carte, where I saw his work for the first time. Then, I saw Roscoe’s work more recently in a curated booth at Magic City Art Connection, and fell in love with it. It was a very simple—but incredibly sophisticated —figurative work. I immediately knew, “This is someone the country needs to learn more about.”
BL: One of the critiques of local galleries—this is not Birmingham-specific—is that they can seem to be looking outwardly, rather than inwardly, because of the nature of the International art world. You’re showcasing your commitment to local artists who are now going to be now seen nationally and internationally. Was that a difficult decision, and can you talk about how you came to frame who you wanted to work with?
SM: For me, it is always about the level of sophistication in an artwork. I know there are amazing artists from the region, but often we only learn of them once they’ve left. For example, I learned recently that an artist who we’re going to be exhibiting in our back viewing room during our first opening started his university arts education at Auburn. Now, he lives and works in Los Angeles. An imperative part of my mission is to include these and similar artists in the dialogues and contexts that create a much larger art world.
BL: What do you foresee as your biggest challenge as a Birmingham gallery?
SM: Reach and accessibility, which constantly evolve. I don’t think I would have been able to open this gallery 10 years ago, but because of the broad reach of social media I have collectors reaching out—from Italy, or Toronto—asking me to help find works by specific artists. So, I’ve placed works worldwide for years, but social media is a key for artist visibility as part of today’s much more international dialogue. And Birmingham’s contemporary collectors—think of the 160 or so people who are members of the BMA’s contemporary collectors group—will be foundational for the gallery as we begin.
BL: What are your plans as you move forward? How many shows would you like to have per year, or what you think your seasons might be like?
SM: I think what may differentiate Scott Miller Projects is that I won’t have a large stable of artists that exhibit every year. I’ll show artists we’ve exhibited previously, but I also hope to exhibit new artists so we can present their works to collectors as well. That’s one of the things that I’m most excited about.
The first round of exhibitions at Scott Miller Projects are on view until July 16, 2021.