Meet Ari Goldman, The Animation And Comic Collector Turning Saturday Morning Cartoons Into High Art

Since his days at NYU Ari Goldman has been an avid art collector who turned his passion for animation and comics into a friendship with Marvel legend Stan Lee and the licensing rights for such iconic characters as Scooby Doo, Fred Flinstone and Hong Kong Phooey, among others Saturday morning favourites.

But in all his dealings with Disney, Hanna Barbera, Superman, Spider-Man and more over the years, the one thing Goldman had never done was create a gallery space that brings together his decades-long collection of animation and comics art. Until now.

Goldman is opening his first gallery space, Choice Contemporary, tomorrow (April 9), in the Brentwood area of ​​Los Angeles. The gallery, which held its VIP opening last night, will open with a show by noted artist Risk.

I spoke with Goldman about where his love of animation started, how he was able to translate his love of art into a successful career, the plans he has for the licenses of these characters and much more.

Steve Baltin: How far back does the passion go?

Ari Goldman: For me, the passion for loving art goes back as far as I can remember. I used to go to museums in New York City with my parents, who avidly took me, although they’re not art collectors at all. And I studied art at NYU, as well as political science, and then I went on to get an MBA, but I always loved art. And specifically, when I got into the art business, it was really via animation. So how we started here was by buying original animation that was used in the process of the production of cartoons, creating the illusion of life. I thought it was fascinating that I could buy original drawings and original cels for what amounted to not a lot of money, and those were the actual pieces of art that we used to create the films. So the venues I saw that were easy enough for me to meet collectors was to go to Comic-Cons, ’cause Comic-Cons had collectors that loved animation and there was a good crossover, like Superman was being produced as a cartoon by Max Fleischer back in the ’30s. And of course, Superman in comics started back in 1939, same thing with a lot of other properties. So it goes all the way back for me, I’ve never done anything else aside from dealing in art.

Baltin: Was there a first comic you saw that ignited that passion?

Goldman: Yeah, somebody gave me a gift of Detective 27, which is really the first appearance of Batman, and that was the most crystal memory of a pop culture character or superhero that I remember. It was a reproduction though, it wasn’t an original copy. [And] I got that when I was about 10 years old.

Baltin: There had to be a moment when you realized this was something you wanted to take from a childhood hobby to a career. Was there one turning point that crystallized that for you?

Goldman: Yeah, I think it is a confluence of several things. When I was at NYU, I went downtown to a gallery called Circle Fine Art, and I bought a Sericel. The Sericel is a cel printed with use of the serigraph process, which is like lithography, but on a cel versus a piece of paper. I still have the cell hanging in my office in New Jersey, and it’s Mickey Mouse and Pluto and it’s from a cartoon called Mr. Mouse Takes a Trip. I always love to travel and then when I bought that piece of art, the consultant that sold it to me said, “Congratulations, you’re now an art collector.” And I really loved the sound of that. I was graduating NYU, I was deciding what I wanted to do, I had job offers at investment banks, traditional business route. Because I was fascinated with this idea of ​​animation, I had started to go and find out about auctions at Christie’s and Sotheby’s, and I loved the idea that I could buy and sell stuff, but I didn’t know enough about it to buy and sell. So I did my research, I borrowed $6,000 and I flew out to California. There was no internet, it was really like I would meet one person, another person and start to collect. So I would say that after college, before graduate school, when I figured out that I could fly to California, which is a great concentration of animation ’cause the studios are here, and buy some items and then come back and sell it to a couple of the galleries who I knew from my own collecting exposure, that’s when I realized, “Maybe I have a bit of a career here.” And another turning point was, I love to travel, I love to be independent, and so between being able to fly out to California and traveling and being independent and really owning my own destiny, all that coupled with something that I really cared about, just never looked back.

Baltin: How many galleries have you owned over the years or this is the first one?

Goldman: I’m in the process of my first one. It’s really the only part of the art universe that we’ve never touched as a company, and I’ve never personally touched as an art dealer. For years and years, the origin of the company is just what I described, which was I’d fly, I’d buy some original pieces and then I would sell them to galleries that were up and operational. And over the years that just developed into printing, to publishing, a relationship with Stan Lee and Marvel and Disney and all these different things. But I never bothered to open a gallery, and so with my passion for art, just now we’re opening our first one, which is long overdue.

Baltin: What made this the right time after so many years?

Goldman: I feel much more mature as a business person. I know we have a much more robust team in place, we have got a good handle on our online sales, a good handle on direct-to-consumer sales, very robust wholesale distribution, and I felt like it was time for us to open up now because all of the right ingredients are there. And generally speaking, I would consider myself a fairly conservative businessperson. We’ve never let anybody go because of budget, we’ve never missed a bill, we’ve never bounced a check, we’ve never had an issue with financing, and even through Covid, we managed very well, we didn’ t let anybody go. And I think that’s a function of me being conservative about my business, maybe slightly over-conservative, but now I’m totally sure that the right time, ’cause I have the right people on as part of our team.

Baltin: Take me through to why it made sense to open with Risk as the individual artist to start.

Goldman: There are a few reasons. The first thing is that my original passion was animation, and then it grew from animation to superheroes and into just generally contemporary art. So as an art dealer, we sell a lot of pop culture and animation, but we’ve definitely migrated with our offerings into other contemporary artists. Some of them are living and some of them are gone. By way of example, I just bought a beautiful Mao Tse-Tung portfolio that was printed in 1972. It’s an addition of 250, and there’s 10 pieces, and so that’s a part of our business. And the gallery is gonna be called Choice Contemporary, so we’re not doing Choice pop culture, we’re doing Choice Contemporary. We’re trying to meld the crosscurrent of contemporary art and pop culture art. And what we’re working on with Risk aside from his show, which is gonna have his traditional art and his graffiti and very topical stuff, is a project where he’s gonna take some of our licensed characters and we’re gonna try to produce those under license. By way of example, we put Risk at Art Basel as an amazing graffiti artist. He’s a Southern Californian and he’s gonna be our opening act, so to speak. One of his employees has come to join us, with his blessing and she’s gonna be our gallery director, so then there’s that natural part of it. And then on top of that, Risk, when he heard that we had the license for characters like Scooby Doo and Hong Kong Phooey and Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble and on and on and on, he and Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and Marvin Martian and Road Runner and Coyote, he loves those characters and he wanted to begin to try to integrate those characters on to his original pieces and his limited editions. So that’s why we got together. It made sense because of the location of the gallery, because of the cross-licensing that we’re trying to do with him, and because of his audience, and where we live, and where we are, so all of that became that. And we didn’t wanna start with animation or Disney or Warner Brothers, we wanted to start with contemporary because the name of that business is Choice Contemporary.

Baltin: Talk about how you’ll merge those together because for people of a certain generation these are some of the most iconic characters of all time.

Goldman: I grew up watching Saturday morning cartoons. That was a big thing for me, every single Saturday watching cartoons, and it was Looney Tunes and it was Hanna-Barbera primarily, not as much Disney on Saturday mornings. And Hong Kong Phooey is one of those characters that we all love, along with other characters that we love, like Magilla Gorilla, and then as I say, Squiddly Diddly, people love Wacky Racers, Dick Dastardly and Muttley, all these things are things that I wanna say we grew up particularly as Americans. Risk is art, if you look, he’s doing these amazing pieces where he’s taking strips of paper that he’s cut off other prints and he’s weaving them into these woven canvases basically. And then he wants to put our characters onto those canvases and want to be able to reproduce them, so we’ve come up with a way to reproduce the woven paper as one print on recycled paper, which is a big thing for him. What he wants to do is he wants to be able to put a Hong Kong Phooey image or a Scooby image in the center along with his graffiti and his monarch butterflies and other things that he uses in his art. So he loved the cross-pollination of those two things, and since we have the license, when he does the original, what we’ll do is we’ll submit that to Warner Brothers for approval. And if they approve it, which we anticipate they would because we’re using the exact spot-on images and doing nothing weird with the images and the characters, we believe they’ll approve that. And then we’ll be able to create beautiful limited editions which Risk will then sign and will number and we’ll be able to market to a whole new universe of people that wouldn’t be able to touch those characters in that particular artist ever before.

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