The Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature in Paris.
Photo: Sophie Lloyd, Courtesy of Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature

Gallerist Chandra Johnson Shares Her Favorite Things

From a Murano glass chandelier discovered at a Paris flea market to a life-changing exhibition at the Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature

Chandra Johnson. Photo: Lydia Bittner-Baird, Courtesy of Chandra Johnson

Although much of the conversation around contemporary art in the U.S. hovers around major metropolitan cities like New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, gallerist Chandra Johnson is carving out an exciting niche in the unexpected town of Charlotte, North Carolina. At her bright SOCO Gallery space and bookstore, Johnson has mounted exhibitions by Shara Hughes, Guy Yanai, and Clare Rojas. Currently, the Haas Brothers’ spirited “beasts” are on view in the tongue-in-cheek show “I Saw Design, and Art Opened Up My Eyes, I Saw Design.” (The title is a riff on the ’90s Ace of Base earworm, “The Sign.”)

“I didn’t have a significant art background, and I didn’t grow up around art,” says Johnson, an Oklahoma native, who discovered a passion for the subject during her college years, then built a network of artists and gallerists while she was living in New York for a career in fashion. “When I moved to North Carolina, I really wanted to bring that creative conversation to Charlotte.”

Chandra Johnson’s SOCO Gallery is showcasing an exhibit of works by the Haas Brothers, including this piece Frilly Ray Cyrus. Photo: Tim Hans, Courtesy of the Haas Brothers and Soco Gallery

After mounting a series of pop-up shows, Johnson launched SOCO Gallery five years ago in a refurbished bungalow that’s also home to a men’s fashion boutique, Tabor, and Not Just Coffee café. Outside the gallery, she collects modern and contemporary art with her husband, NASCAR superstar Jimmie Johnson, who is the impulsive collector yin to her contemplative yang.

Here, Johnson shares more about her passion for collecting and personal tastes.

One of the most special pieces we own is a Cy Twombly drawing we acquired pretty early on in our collecting days. It’s an untitled 1972 work on paper that I feel we will never, ever sell.

My greatest find is a Murano glass chandelier I discovered crumpled on the floor of a Paris flea market. It just needed a little bit of cleaning. My interior designer, Barrie Benson, even offered to buy it off me. It’s moved around a few spots but now resides in my master bath so I see it every morning and every night.

A ceramic vase from the End of History. Photo: Courtesy of the End of History

The End of History in New York’s West Village is such a dream. They have tons of ceramics that they categorize by color. You can find German dishes, Murano glass, and Chinese porcelain.

My favorite space in our home is a red-lacquered study lined with books. It’s a cozy jewel box where I read the paper. We have a record player there, so we play the War on Drugs, Willie Nelson, Nina Simone, and Wilco on vinyl while my kids run around dancing.

A beloved red-lacquered study in the gallerist’s home. Photo: Brie Williams, Courtesy of Chandra Johnson and Barrie Benson Interior Design

I love to travel, and Paris is a city I continue to return to. Of course I adore the Centre Pompidou and Musée Picasso, but a few years ago I saw a Sophie Calle exhibition at the Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature (Museum of Hunting and Nature) that completely changed my perception of this Parisian treasure.

Summer Wheat’s artwork has such expressive colors and incredible texture. I’ve been following her for a few years, and now she has a solo show opening at the Kemper next year in Kansas City, Missouri, as well as some other soon-to-be-announced projects.

The Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature in Paris. Photo: Sophie Lloyd, Courtesy of Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature

My gallery has shown at Untitled in Miami a few times, but I’ve been going for Art Basel every year for the past ten years. The Surf Club is one of the best hotels, combining Old Miami with a European feel. The Joseph Dirand interiors are very chic, the pool is amazing, and the restaurant Le Sirenuse is delicious.

Recommended: What Legendary Gallerist Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn Can’t Live Without

Summer Wheat’s Biting Nails (2018). Photo: Courtesy of the artist, Shulamit Nazarian, Los Angeles, and Bill and Christy Gautreaux Collection, Kansas City, MO

In Miami, I always plan to spend a few hours at the Webster shopping its great mix of new brands and go-to labels. My other fashion favorite is Forty Five Ten. I also love Capitol in Charlotte.

I don’t have an art-fair uniform, but I always wear comfortable shoes. You’re doing so much walking and standing, so I typically wear white Common Projects. I’ve learned my lesson.

Le Sirenuse restaurant at the Surf Club Miami. Photo: Christian Horan

There are a lot of women in the art community I consider mentors. My friend María Brito is whip-smart and blazes her own trail. She’s put so many talents on the map that I tell her she is the godmother of emerging artists. 

A version of this article first appeared in print in our 2019 Winter Issue under the headline “Fast Track.” Subscribe to the magazine.

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