Sometimes, to succeed in life, you have to be willing to upend your expectations. Take Monique Deschaines, owner of Euqinom Gallery, for instance. The energetic dealer of contemporary photography left a solid 10-year career as a graphic designer in her native Boston to come out west and go to graduate school. It wasn’t supposed to be a permanent move, but by 2015, in a volatile market, she took the plunge into dealing contemporary photography and, Euqinom, now celebrating its first year with a permanent space in the Mission District, is thriving.
The indefatigable dealer credits her sense of humor and her unique perspective. “People can work with me for a while before they figure out that ‘Euqinom’ is my first name, backwards,” says Deschaines. “They also ask me how to pronounce it, and I say ‘any way you like.’ It’s kind of like the work I show: it has meaning and resonance beyond the obvious – like work by Christina Feely, who makes daguerreotypes in the arctic and the tropics of endangered species; and Klea McKenna, who works at night in Hawaii to make unique photograms of rain. No two are ever the same. You don’t have to know the back story to appreciate the work, but the more you know the more it adds to the experience. Plus,” she adds, “even when I spell it straight, people still mispronounce my name. I mean Deschaines? Come on.”
Deschaines (pronounced “de-shane”) grew up in Framingham, MA, in a “very average” family that included her father, a General Motors line worker; her mother, a homemaker; and a younger brother. Home life was happy and supportive, albeit with an eye for practicality. (“’It’s okay with me if you take photos,’ my dad used to say to me as a kid, “just make sure there’s a person in them so you don’t waste film.’”)
Deschaines initially opted for an associate’s degree in graphic design at local Mount Ida College, then went on to the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, for her B.F.A. in photography. “The Museum School really shaped me as an artist,” she says. “I learned how to enter the conversation.” On weekends, she worked production at a local newspaper, eventually taking a full-time job as art director at The Boston Business Journal. By 2002, Deschaines was ready for a change. She decamped west to the San Francisco Art Institute’s MFA program in photography, and after graduation, she took what was supposed to be a temporary job at Haines Gallery. She ended up staying for eight years, eventually working her way up to associate director. She left Haines in 2014. “But six months later, I was surprised at how badly I missed gallery work,” she says. “That’s when I realized: I can do this. I can make something truly new.”
By 2015, Deschaines entered upon a highly peripatetic phase of dealing – first out of her home, then mounting pop-up shows, then taking on brick-and-mortar spaces in San Francisco’s Dogpatch and Minnesota Street Project neighborhoods before settling on her current space in the Mission in 2018. The gallery’s philosophy is artist centered and open minded; still, it has one unbendable rule. “My ratio is 2:1. For every male artist I choose to represent I must take on two female artists. That’s my way of keeping the balance. There are so many men in the art world,” she says. “I don’t want to fall into that pattern.”