Helen Toomer Talks Directing and Collecting

Helen Toomer, director of PULSE Contemporary Art Fair, is sitting at the kitchen table of her Williamsburg apartment next to a stack of floor plans. “There’s something comforting about the parameters of the physical space,” she says, thumbing the papers. PULSE New York is less than a month away and Toomer has worked the layout like a jigsaw puzzle, allocating each booth and positioning the pieces in PROJECTS—the fair’s series of installations, large-scale sculptures, and performances—for maximum effect. By the end of March, Toomer will have coordinated three PULSE editions in under a year—two in New York and one in Miami—and in spite of a schedule that would overwhelm almost anyone, she’s affable and relaxed; a born organizer.

Toomer didn’t always know her calling. “When I was younger I wanted to be an artist, and I wanted to be creative,” she says. “And then when I did my bachelor of fine arts, I actually found it really, really difficult and, looking back, I didn’t think that I could push myself, or push the work enough to make it good.” It wasn’t until she began organizing her degree exhibition that she felt in her element. “I’m very organized, I’m very formulaic. I really enjoyed putting [the show] together and sorting out all the materials, getting the sponsors, curating and promoting everyone else’s artworks, which I thought were better than mine,” she laughs. “I haven’t made any artwork since.”

Toomer was soon scouted by London’s Affordable Art Fair, founded by art impresario Will Ramsay, and was eventually transferred to New York to join the staff of Ramsay’s other fair, PULSE, where she handled communications. In 2010, she took a three-year hiatus from fairs, championing the work of emerging artists through her Lower East Side gallery, Toomer Labzda, where she found that her organizer’s disposition was right at home. “I loved it. I loved having my own space, I loved working with the artists, I loved putting on the shows and connecting collectors to artists…[But] I think I went into it just believing that showing good artists and having a space would equal sales and equal sustainability, and it didn’t.” After closing the gallery, Toomer helped launch Collective Design Fair before returning to PULSE as its director in early 2014. “It’s great to come back full circle…It’s kind of amazing being reconnected with some of the galleries and artists that I met nearly eight years ago now.”

For the complete article written by Jenny Florence for Artsy please click here.