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About Simon Watson


Born in Canada and raised in England and the United States, Simon Watson is an independent curator, art advisor and cultural event marketing specialist based in New York and São Paulo. A thirty-year veteran of the cultural scene on three continents, Watson has advised art collecting programs in institutional settings and for private residences, as well as assisted more than a hundred major brands in creating unique outreach programs to new audiences.


Over the past three decades, Simon Watson has discovered art stars and brought them to the attention of new audiences. His area of curatorial expertise is in spotting emerging visual artists with outstanding potential, many of whom are now seen internationally in the blue chip category. Since 1985 every Whitney Biennial has included at least two artists whose careers he was instrumental in launching, including Lutz Bacher, Sue de Beer, Carroll Dunham, Nicole Eisenman, Tony Feher, Louise Fishman, Deborah Kass, Sherrie Levine, Marilyn Minter, Paul P., Jack Pierson, Richard Prince, Martha Rosler, Gary Simmons, Lorna Simpson, Mickalene Thomas, and Kehinde Wiley. These artists are now represented by some of the most established galleries in the world.


Watson has an ongoing interest in mixing artistic practices and introducing audiences to the pleasure of collaborations between artistic disciplines, whether in intimate cabaret settings for a few hundred people or in large music venues hosting many thousands. Beginning in 1993 Watson founded and directed New York City's Downtown Arts Festival, a multidisciplinary arts festival taking place in TriBeCa, SoHo and Chelsea. Annually the festival launched the art season in September with dozens of music concerts, dance performances, nightclub DJ events and spoken word performances in addition to commissioning special video installations and visual arts exhibitions throughout lower Manhattan. In its later years, directed by Craig Hensala and produced by Simon Watson, the festival became a premier presenter of international artists and annually received the support of governmental cultural agencies of Canada, France, Germany, Holland and Great Britain.


Crossing the U.S. constantly for three decades, Watson has acted as a curatorial bridge linking the New York and Los Angeles art scenes. He began working with Los Angeles artists in New York in 1985, when he premiered a performance video by legendary Los Angeles artist Mike Kelley. In the decade that followed, Watson created important first New York solo exhibitions for numerous Los Angeles artists, including Gary Simmons, Lutz Bacher, and Nayland Blake. And from east to west, Watson introduced leading New York emerging artists to the Los Angeles art scene, by creating first solo shows in leading Los Angeles galleries for Adam Pendleton, Chris Dorland, Kehinde Wiley, Keltie Ferris, Leo Villareal, Marc Handelman, and Paul P. In Los Angeles, Watson has made dozens of solo and group exhibitions with some of the city's leading artists: Amy Adler, Analia Saban, Aaron Curry, Brian Bress, Catherine Opie, Chris Vasell, Dave Muller, Elad Lassry, Jim Shaw, KAWS, Karl Haendel, Mario Ybarra Jr., Matt Johnson, Nathan Mabry, Robert Heinecken, Ry Rocklen, and Walead Beshty. In addition, Watson has made special projects working with the UCLA Hammer Museum, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (MoCA), and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA); he co-curated an art event honoring Los Angeles living legend, the painter Ed Ruscha; and he has been a guest lecturer at all of the Los Angeles area’s art schools including CalArts, Otis College of Art, and UC Irvine.


With a home in São Paulo, Watson is passionate about Brazil's creative and cultural vibrancy and has found numerous avenues to present its contemporary art scene. Since 1994 when Watson in association with Marc Pottier presented Brazilian art star Tunga in his first North American solo exhibition, Watson has curated and written about numerous Brazilian artists including Lucas Arruda, Assume Vivid Astro Focus, Laura Lima, Jarbas Lopes, Denise Milan, Paulo Nazareth, Nunca, osgemeos, Valeska Soares, and Thiago Rocha Pitta. In the 2014/2015 art season, he will be organizing solo Brazilian artist exhibitions in New York, London and Paris as well as more than a dozen exhibitions in São Paulo with North American artists. Watson is the USA contributing editor to Dasartes, the leading Portuguese language art magazine in Brazil and was recently appointed to the Editorial Board of Dasartes. He is the Arts Editor of XOP magazine, a travel publication aimed at cultivated Brazilians; and is a regular arts blogger for Huffington Post.


Simon Watson connects brands with their target consumers through the creation of unique cultural events. Annually since 1994 Watson has conceived and produced dozens of original corporate branded cultural events in music concerts, performances, and arts events. Some have included significant collaborations between global brands and international arts presenters such as the Pompidou Center in Paris, the New Museum of Contemporary Art and the Guggenheim Museum in New York. Under the auspices of his former agency Scenic and partner Craig Hensala, Watson for more than a decade created customized event marketing projects for USA corporate clients in mass market consumer goods including Boehmia, Camel/R.J. Reynolds, Campari, Coca Cola, Dewar's Whiskey, Levi's Brands, L'Oreal, and SKYY Vodka as well as focused luxury event marketing for fashion & media brands including AX/Armani, Barney's, Bergdorf Goodman, Chanel, Elle, Hermes, LVMH/Zenith Swiss Watches and Vogue. In collaboration and conversation with his brand clients, Watson designs and engages in every aspect of event planning, curating, development, production, promotions and audience building. Watson's successful event marketing strategy for brands has been an “influencer” strategy in which he creates product awareness through a unique series of branded events that provide consumers with touch-and-feel opportunities with a particular product thereby directly touching the consumer as well as generating word-of-mouth among highly visible influential in the media, style, fashion, and the arts.


Watson has delivered hundreds of lectures on contemporary art to museum trustees and business groups, as well as for art school audiences. Long a professor at School of Visual Arts, Watson has been a guest lecturer or advisor at dozens of universities (including Columbia University, Hunter, New York University, Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College, University of California at Irvine, UCLA, School of Visual Arts and Yale) and a wide variety of museums (including Bronx Museum, Dia Center for the Arts, New York's MoMA, New Museum, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Studio Museum in Harlem, Whitney Museum and many others).




Watson works with a select group of both private and institutional collectors in several strategic capacities: identifying work to collect; brokering connections with artists and galleries; developing the curatorial focus of collections; and bringing, when requested, a savvy market view to the collecting process. He also provides expert advice for collectors on administrative matters such as inventory control, insurance and shipping, image documentation, and deacquisition. Watson is a member of the Association of Professional Art Advisors, founded in 1980 by pioneering art advisors to establish the highest standards of professional practice.


Watson’s 30-year experience creating more than 200 exhibitions on three continents—ranging from intimate, buzz-making pop-up events to million-dollar-budget, interdisciplinary spectaculars—have incorporated the work of the most outstanding artists of our time. Clients range from private individuals, to public and/or not-for-profit institutions, to commercial galleries, corporations, and top luxury brands—with resulting presentations created around the clients’ special interests and strategic needs.


Working at any one time on a retainer basis, with up to three artists, at any stage of their careers, Watson provides strategic guidance, career planning, exhibition organizing, and media outreach. Says artist Louise Fishman, “Simon’s guidance in recent years has born rich fruit for me: a major retrospective, a catalog raisonné, a thematic website that’s drawing lots of traffic, and my first international, solo gallery exhibitions.”


The Rough Vibrancy of Now

As a Candian-born English boy growing up in the United States, I went to art galleries and museums in three countries in the company of my parents, art collecting scientists who were mad-keen collectors of Japanese 19th century prints and wood-block books, as well as of Tang Dynasty Chinese porcelains and bronzes. The art that they collected — that I was able to touch and examine sitting on the sofa in our home — thrilled and informed me, as did the origin stories about those art works that I heard from dealers, curators and like-interested collectors. That is the role that a society's artworks play: they pass along knowledge both formally or informally. And by going to galleries we can learn first hand the role that a loose-knit society of like-minded people play in preserving artworks for future generations.

Art tells intimate stories about humanity-- about hopes and dreams as well as our losses and tragedies. Hand to hand, and through the generations artworks convey an intimate understanding of previous generations and through them we gain insights into the ways of cultures and societies and eras not our own.

On a good day, the art world is an open university. On a good day it brings flashes of illumination. I seek insightful artists whose work conveys what its like to be alive today. I don't find that information in the movies or on television. It's in galleries, museums and artists' studios where I learn on a granular level what it's like to live and be and feel the rough vibrancy of now. It takes many people to preserve our culture — artists, gallerists, collectors and museums as well as historians, producers, publishers and museum visitors — and for sure it's chaotic, a crazy-quilt of collective action.

But somehow art works are preserved, remembered and carried forward to the next generation. And in that way, I know that many years from now, the art of our time will illuminate the mind and kindle the spirit of another child.


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