As a member of the Seneca Nation, Dave Kimelberg grew up watching his art teacher mother start an early childhood program on the Seneca territory outside Buffalo. After a career as an investment lawyer, he came back to the city to help the Senecas start companies and to launch an innovative art project of his own: Kimelberg opened the airy, spacious modern K Art Gallery in a century-old brick building near Buffalo’s theater district. He believes it may be the only Native American owned gallery showing contemporary art by Native and indigenous artists.
In the three years since it started, visitors have been making special trips to see his unique gallery. Work has sold to museums like the Museum of Modern Art and the Buffalo AKG Art Museum. K Art, with its range of artists and topics, has also had a different kind of impact — broadening public understanding of what it means to be Native American.
“Our mission is to elevate Native contemporary art and the artists… It’s a very overlooked genre,” he said. “When people think of Native Americans, they often think of them through a sort of historic sense… There are 574 Indian nations in the U.S. People are always surprised by that.”
This spring, after K Art was open for three years, Kimelberg added Kraft, a second-floor boutique and online shop with scarves, tote bags, soap, notebooks, and prints ranging from $12 to $3,000.
The three-story building, built in1878, at 808 Main St. sits on traditional Seneca lands, has an open floor plan, lots of windows and a rooftop sculpture garden. “In the summer, it’s just a great place to be,” said Kimelberg.
The gallery puts on about four new shows a year. “We’re starting to look at indigenous artists from South America and Australia and New Zealand,” he said. “We pull art and artists from all over the world.”
The gallery’s successes include participating in juried art fairs like the annual Armory Show in New York City and selling pieces to prominent galleries like The National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. The National Gallery recently bought “Sentinels (Large Yellow)” by G. Peter Jemison, an internationally acclaimed Seneca painter. An October 2023 exhibition of Native artists will include the painting of sunflowers and abstract lines.
“It was only the second piece of art by a Native artist that they’d ever acquired,” Kimelberg said.
So far, K Art is working as he had hoped: It is helping to change public perceptions of Native people.
“What I hear a lot, which really makes me happy, when people come into the gallery, they say, ‘This is not what I expected’ — in a good way,” Kimelberg said. “When they think of Indian art, they think of sort of historical Indian art and craft and turquoise beads and that type of thing, which is fine, but there’s a lot of Native art that’s really contemporary and that speaks to the contemporary issues and concepts of Indian country. So, people come in and they’re just kind of blown away.”