Todd Gresley, Ao5 Gallery Director (Photo by John Anderson)
You will never find Todd Gresley wearing a stiff, tailored suit to work. “I tell people every day, ‘I don’t look professional, but I am.'” Gresley took over the management of Ao5 Gallery in 2014, and he strives to make a buying contemporary art an accessible and unapologetically fun experience. By moving Ao5 from its former location on South Lamar to the Arboretum, Gresley hopes Ao5 will reach a much wider audience in Austin and beyond.
At around 6 p.m. on a dreary Saturday evening, Gresley was setting up artwork in Ao5’s new space between Pottery Barn and Orvis, playing Kate Bush through the gallery’s speakers. This is his third slot, the name being a contraction of his original explanatory title of Art on Fifth. The director noted that hearing music in the gallery is not an uncommon occurrence. “We have loud music so people can talk and enjoy their time.” Gresley’s vision contradicts a view of art galleries as cold, austere and calm spaces that may seem hostile to many. Opening a beer, he explained, “Art feels elitist, and we try to accommodate everyone. … There’s a stigma in art. [spaces] that you have to dress a certain way and act a certain way and gather your art and go home. But I make sure everyone dresses casually at work. We want everyone to feel good here.”
The Art of Dr. Seuss: Unorthodox Taxidermy at the Ao5 gallery (Photo by John Anderson)
As Austin’s largest gallery (now even larger than it was before), Ao5 showcases original art of medium and monetary value. Its multicolored walls display $75 concert posters near paintings by Salvador Dalí and Dr. Seuss that sell for thousands. Because Ao5 displays work with such price diversity, Gresley feels it’s important to “let the art sell itself” and not have commissioned salespeople “follow you around trying to get you to buy things.” . He described the practice as a way to protect Ao5’s guarantee that all potential buyers receive the same care and treatment, regardless of their budget. “Fifty bucks can be a lot of money for someone, and we want them to feel like they’re going home with something awesome. And that’s awesome, otherwise I wouldn’t have it here!”
Ao5 Gallery takes a curatorial approach that allows for a plurality of visual styles that emphasize the originality of each featured artist. Its director has very few limits on what the gallery can show, except that it must be suitable for display in someone’s home and “awesome”. Gresley, who turns 48 this year, recalls: “I started doing this professionally when I was 24. So literally for half my life I acquired and met artists from all over the world. We have [artists] from every continent except Antarctica here, and we have tons of artists from Austin.” He gets to know a lot of artists personally and makes it a point not to exhibit artists who are “morons” because he thinks “their good energy goes into the work and that energy goes home with the people who buy it.”
In the Arboretum space, Ao5 Gallery can now display many more works of art and greatly expand its museum-quality framing services thanks to its certified in-house framer. Until their official opening night this spring, Ao5 invites everyone to browse the works on display in their new location, even as they continue to complete the installation. The folks at Ao5 are optimistic about the possibilities of their new home between MoPac and US 183. Gresley fondly remembers seeing the gallery for the first time. “The second I walked through the door, I was like, ‘This could be the future of Ao5.'”
Gallery Ao5, 10000 Search #118. Mon-Sat, 10am-6pm; Sun., 12 p.m.-5 p.m. RSVP for the grand reopening, Saturday, February 19, 6-9 p.m. at ao5gallery.com.