Getting to Know Chandra Johnson

June 21, 2019

Since opening SOCO Gallery in 2015, Chandra Johnson has helped plant Charlotte squarely on the contemporary art-world map, holding shows for everyone from local up-and-comers to international stars such as Shara Hughes and Sally Mann. We asked her about the genesis of the project, what inspires her in the wider world, and what she loves to do when she’s staying close to home.

Art dealer and gallery owner Chandra Johnson.Lydia Bittner-Baird

How did you decide to start a gallery?

Art has been a serious interest of mine for some time. As my relationships with different artists developed, I started producing pop-up exhibitions. Eventually I decided to focus on a permanent space. 

Inside SOCO Gallery.Image courtesy of Lydia Bittner-Baird and SOCO Gallery.

What’s the gallery ethos?

To champion contemporary artists by creating an environment in which their work can be experienced, discussed and acquired, and to inspire engagement and education around the arts. But it’s also my mission to help create a cultural movement in Charlotte by hosting events with people from a variety of backgrounds, not just artists. Whether we’re hosting David Netto, Scott Avett or Schumacher’s own Dara Caponigro, our goal is to create a forum where people can come together to celebrate and learn from each other, regardless of their areas of expertise.

Who are some of your favorite contemporary artists?

Austin Eddy, a painter, and the mixed-media artist Derek Fordjour.

Austin Eddy, Birds and Their Baggage, One Swimming Up Stream, 2018.Copyright © Austin Eddy, courtesy of the artist and SOCO Gallery.

Where are some of your favorite arts scenes?

London, Los Angeles and Aspen, and always New York—the Hilma af Klint exhibition at the Guggenheim was the highlight of my 2018.

The Hilma af Klint show at the Guggenheim.Photography by Gary Yeh/ArtDrunk

Do you have a favorite museum?

The Philbrook, in Tulsa, Oklahoma. It has a strong permanent collection, particularly in Native American arts, and is housed in a 1920s mansion with beautiful grounds. I grew up visiting the museum and still go back frequently.

The Philbrook Museum of Art.Photography Raymond Bucko, SJ/flickr

Any recent trips that you’ve found particulary inspiring?

The Middle East—I visited the Louvre Abu Dhabi, designed by one of my favorite architects, Jean Nouvel, and rode camels with my family to Thanksgiving dinner in the desert.

The Louvre Abu Dhabi.Francisco Anzola/flickr

What are your tips for choosing art for the home?

Always buy what you love, then find a place for it, instead of searching for art to fill a particular spot. I usually don’t know where a work will live yet when I acquire it.

What’s your advice for someone starting a collection?

See a lot and don’t be afraid to ask questions. The best personal collections are built over time and should reflect you and your family.

How have you built your own art collection?

I’m interested in the artist first, and then I hunt for the piece by them that would be perfect for our collection. I’m always looking, and constantly inspired. 

What’s your advice for living in a home that is sophisticated but family-friendly?

I’ve learned to live casually with nice things. I use my silver and china every day and run it through the dishwasher. I collect Line Vautrin compacts, and once found them stuffed under the sofa by my youngest daughter. It’s wonderful to live with these treasures daily instead of keeping them locked up for special occasions. At the end of the day, isn’t that why we collect them? Enjoying them is half the fun! 

L’Altruisme Est Amour Compact by Line Vautrin.Courtesy of Christie’s

What is your favorite family memento?

My grandmother’s silver. Though she would not approve of me putting in the dishwasher. 

What is your favorite family photo?

A picture of my mother when she was a child, she looks identical to my oldest daughter, Evie.

You also have such incredible personal style—who are your favorite fashion designers?

Dries van Noten, Gucci, Rosie Assoulin and Rochas.

From the Rochas Spring 2019 collection.Estrop/Getty Images

Are there similarities between how you approach your purchasing choices when it comes to fashion and art?

I’ve actually never thought about it, but perhaps there are some similarities. Neither is allowed to enter my home unless I absolutely love the piece. I do believe that art inspires fashion—whether it’s an interesting color story, for instance, or a play on texture—and that fashion is a form of art.

What are your favorite don’t-miss shops in Charlotte?

Capitol for the latest designer collections, Elizabeth Bruns for jewelry, Tiny for children’s clothing, and our own SOCO Shop for books and hard-to-find objets.

The Charlotte, North Carolina, boutique Capitol.Gately Williams

What’s your favorite Charlotte night out with Jimmie?

Catching some live music at the Amphitheatre, or eating dinner at the kitchen bar at one of our go-to restaurants, Good Food on Montford.

What’s your favorite Charlotte family outing?

We love to ride bikes together, and find any excuse to do so. Charlotte has a great system of greenways. Our favorite is probably Little Sugar Creek.