Can you tell us about your background and how you ended up at The Lodge Gallery?
I’m an American citizen but I grew up in South East Asia. Hong Kong and then Taiwan and Singapore respectively. In 1991 I graduated from Taipei American School and came to New York to become the next big thing like everyone else. I went to college at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. I studied painting and then returned to Pratt shortly thereafter to get my masters degree in studio art and art history. In between those years I lost myself studying comparative religions and mythology. That is still my primary passion.
After grad school I went to work in SoHo and Chelsea for some of the coolest galleries I knew that would employ me. I worked up front in sales and behind the scenes as a registrar and preparator for about ten years. Eventually I left all that and started my first gallery in Brooklyn, and then started Republic Worldwide in 2009. Republic did a lot of things and was staffed by the coolest smartest kids I could find. We had a curatorial division, a service/art handling division and a community/charity division that donated time and creative resources to various charities around NYC. We did some amazing work and some amazing shows and then the original team disbanded in early 2011 right around the time I met Keith Schweitzer. Keith had been up to a similar game out in the city when we met. He had founded two of his own curatorial projects and was out there hustling with the best of them. He was the first person I had worked with in New York that could see the future that I saw in a like-minded way. A mutual friend put us in touch and after our first project working together we pretty much became inseparable. We fused all of our work and our vision together under the banner of Republic and around January of 2013, after a long hard stretch of exhibitions in NYC and Miami we seized the opportunity to take over a space on the Lower East Side. It became our permanent venue shortly thereafter. The space became The Lodge of the Republic or The Lodge Gallery. Today The Lodge is the heart of everything we do.
You have a passion for working and giving back to the community. Why is working with the community so important to you?
I have always believed that we enrich our own lives by helping to enrich the lives of others. That’s been part of our mission at Republic and The Lodge from the start.
When I was a kid my mother’s father was the Secretary of Labor for the state of Idaho, my father’s father was a decorated Major in the Army Corps of Engineers and my father, who also grew up as an expatriate American in Europe and The Middle East, worked his whole life to better the reputation of Americans abroad. They all believed that if you want a better America you have to step up and become a better American. I suppose in my own small art world way I’ve been trying to do that.
Especially here in New York the art world can become so insular. I like working with artists and finding projects that engage new audiences to help develop relationships between communities that would not otherwise have interacted. There are a lot of ways to do that and I’ve been fortunate enough to work with a great many talented and selfless people who have dedicated their lives to making the world a better place. It’s a hugely rewarding and educational experience every time I have the chance to engage with a new cause or visionary community organization.
That’s really great Jason. The world needs more people like you. Can you talk about the current show at The Lodge Gallery NO CITY IS AN ISLAND?
Sure, in February we were approached by Christy Rupp who is an original member of the art collective Colab. We had exhibited Christie’s work in the past so she was familiar with the gallery and Keith and I were aware of Colab and their influence on the Lower East Side so everyone was excited to put this project together. The Colab Collective is probably best known for their revolutionary 1980 exhibition “The Real Estate Show” which was organized in response to the grim economic conditions facing tenants of what was then, although culturally thriving, a nearly bankrupt, violent and desperate New York City. The show was confrontational, installed in a space that was occupied illegally and really galvanized the artist community, the press and city officials who shut the show down.
We reached out to as many of the original artists from that exhibition as we could and offered them the opportunity to submit work in response to the project title “NO CITY IS AN ISLAND”. The response turned out to be phenomenal and perhaps with the exception of only two or three artists, most of the work in the show ended up ranging from the late 80’s to the early 90’s.
“NO CITY IS AN ISLAND” revisits the zeitgeist of a New York City that is all but a memory now. It compares and contrasts the artists and urban realities of a New York that was struggling through a period of intense transformation. One of the most interesting aspects of this project has been getting to know these artists and to watch them reunite with the same love of New York and passion for their work and at a time when the subject of intense urban transformation could not be more relevant.
Another cool thing about the show is that it came together just in time for Lower East Side history month and is part of a multi-venue celebration of Colab and revisitation of “The Real Estate Show” with James Fuentes Gallery, Chuchifritos Gallery and ABC No Rio.
The exhibition is on view through May 11.
I went to James Fuentes Gallery for the opening and it was great; a lot of the artists where there. Speaking of real estate, how do you feel about having so many galleries opening up in the Lower East Side?
Yeah, the Fuentes show was awesome. It’s been great to see such an outpouring of support for Lower East Side history and for so many of the artists that early on helped to make this neighborhood legendary.
There has definitely been a huge boom in the number of galleries popping up down here and it has been great for the community. It’s been a long time coming though. I recall in the early 90’s there was a big push to legitimize the art scene down here and I think it fell apart primarily because the gallery visions and business concepts were based on an antiquated models that inhibited creativity and were inevitably unsustainable. The reason I believe it is working now is that the new galleries of the L.E.S., each in their own way, have embraced alternative business models and have begun to wonder if the traditional idea of a gallery can’t be broadened or reimagined to suit a new cultural reality. I also think that artists are getting smarter, more business savvy and more capable of self-marketing. Many of the brightest are interested in engaging with dealers and curators in more creative ways that require flexibility on the part of gallerists that you are just not going to find up on 57th street or within the Chelsea scene. Call it a generational shift. It feels like there is a generational shift going on down here.
What alternative business model does The Lodge Gallery use?
Well Keith and I wear a lot of hats. We do everything from corporate/private art consultation and installation to directing public art programs, marketing and art fair development. That’s all in addition to the gallery and the exhibitions we curate there together. The more we are able to strengthen our network while generating alternative sources of revenue, the freer we are to be experimental with our schedule, our artists and our exhibitions. The idea of trying to meet the bottom line exclusively through art sales alone has been the standard model for decades if not the last hundred years. It’s a slippery slope though because once those rent and electric bills start to roll in it becomes very easy to be tempted into only showing the most sellable work, the most palatable and marketable work. That means artists who are testing limits or pushing experimental boundaries have to take a back seat to the bottom line. We feel like part of our job is to cultivate and facilitate opportunities for artists first. In that spirit we don’t require our artists to sign exclusivity contracts. We don’t represent artists at The Lodge; we represent bodies of work that we consign directly from artists for pre-arranged periods of time.
We also have a uniquely unusual schedule to accommodate a broader audience. Tuesdays through Sunday we have fairy normal daytime gallery hours and then at 8pm we bring in our night staff and stay open until midnight. Our official closing time is 10pm but we are almost always here until midnight. Most people think those hours sound crazy until they find out about the secret behind the west wall of the gallery. Evenings are never boring at The Lodge.
I love your business model, especially the part that you don’t represent artists but bodies of work. What show are you curating next?
Well, by the time this will probably go to print we will be exhibiting the post-industrial urban landscape paintings of Frank Webster in a show titled: Margins. The opening for that is next Friday, May 16th so I hope you come. Very excited for that. It’s funny how sometimes you find out a lot about yourself by looking back at the work you’ve done in the big picture. Sometimes you discover patterns of interest. Frank’s exhibition further explores our interest in urban architecture and if you look back at the last year and a half at the Lodge Gallery it’s pretty obvious that Keith and I are smitten with that subject. But we are interested in a lot of things and the show following that will be a large group exhibition exploring the natural evolution of birds and plants.
I have to attend an earlier opening in Chelsea that night but after that I am open. What advice can you give artists on how to they should approach a gallery?
Well the first piece of advice I would give any artist is to narrow down the playing field. By that I mean go out there and visit the galleries first. See them all and discover the ones that matter the most to you. Seek out the galleries or alternative venues that exhibit other artists who share a similar vision to yours. Those are probably the handful of galleries you should be focusing on.
Building a career in the arts is all about building relationships and seizing opportunities. One side of this requires patience and a genuine commitment to your own goals and the shared long term goals of your friends or peers. The other side requires a commitment to your craft and the flexibility to grow and adapt to the challenges of an unpredictable art market.
Also, first impressions are everything so in this tech savvy world you better have great and up to date website. It’s going to be the primary way you promote yourself and the likely way curators and exhibitors are going to first encounter your work. Nine times out of ten when we are considering an unfamiliar artist for exhibition at the gallery they have come recommended from artists or gallerists we have worked with in the past or through due diligence were discovered in the archives of web based artist registries such as BAC.org, White Columns or Perogi among others. The first thing we do in either case is to look at the website.
Most of the Don’ts when approaching a gallery are just common sense. If anything when you have the chance to pitch your work, don’t try to be something you are not. Be realistic but be confident in yourself and be genuine. Nothing means more to someone when you’re trying to build a relationship than that. After that, it’s just a matter of your talent, your style and how hard you are willing to work before you find someone who believes in what you are doing.
Thanks for the great advice. What do you see on the horizon for Jason and The Lodge Gallery?
Well you know everything is always in a state of transformation. I’m excited to see what will become of The Lodge Gallery as we continue to pursue or original mission. As long as Keith and I are free to continue to develop programing that is relevant and engaging and in our own unique voice, and we can keep the gallery a gathering point for the observant and curious to experiment and debate ideas, you can be certain that it will never be boring. What’s on my horizon? Well if anything my life has never been short of the unexpected or unusual so I can only predict more of my entertaining adventures to follow. Maybe one day soon I’ll get back to Hong Kong for a visit or write a book or something but for now I’m 100% focused on the Lodge and all of the exciting projects we have lined up for the Summer and Fall. I encourage everyone to come on down to the L.E.S. for a visit to the gallery, I’ll most likely be here ready for a chat about whatever inspires you.
Interview by Jamie Martinez
Photography by Jamie Martinez and The Lodge Gallery