Speaking with Chelsea gallerist Jonathan LeVine

I’d always wondered about Jonathan LeVine, the self-described owner, proprietor, and head honcho of one of my favorite galleries anywhere. Curious about the roots of his passion, vision and success, I recently read Caleb Neelon’s 2011 book, Delusional: The Story of the Jonathan LeVine Gallery. Providing an intimate glimpse into not only the gallery, but into Jonathan LeVine himself, Neelon’s book, brilliantly introduced by Carlo McCormick, also features dozens of wondrous images and reminiscences by a range of artists whose work LeVine has exhibited.

After reading the book, I had the opportunity to meet up with Jonathan and speak with him:

It’s wonderful to have someone with your passion and aesthetic sensibility sharing and promoting the art we love in a gallery in the heart of the art world. What motivated you to bring your vision and business to the Chelsea art district?

I chose New York City because it is the best platform for artists’ works to be seen. It is also the best setting to encourage artists to reach the highest level possible. An artist needs to be seen in a gallery that’s in the epicenter of it all to gain recognition and be taken seriously in the art world. That is the only reason why I’m here. If another city were as important to the success of an artist, I’d be there.

According to Delusional – the Story of the Jonathan LeVine Gallery, you were initially friends with many of the artists whose works you promote in your everyday ventures. You would also just pick up a phone and call anyone whose work spoke to you. Is that still the case? How do you consistently find and feature the work of so many first-rate artists?

It’s mostly the Internet these days.  The blogs out there – like Arrested Motion and High Fructose — make it easier for me. But I still check out bookstores. I read magazines, and I speak to people. I also look at art that is referred to me.

How did you manage to establish a collector base strong enough to support your wonderful space?

It’s a slow process. I’ve been at this for 17 years. After curating downtown in the 90’s, I opened a spot in New Hope, PA and then moved to Philly before coming here. I’ve been fortunate to attract such preeminent collectors as Nike CEO Mark Parker who began purchasing artworks from my Philly space and has continued to do so. And I aggressively use the Internet to promote business.

You describe your initial curating ventures as an “addiction” that you couldn’t walk away from. Is that still the case? How do you keep from “burning out?”

Yes, it’s still the case. I see my work as my calling. I couldn’t walk away from it even if I wanted to. I’m married to it and I often tend to take on too much. But to avoid burnout I do take necessary breaks. I travel when I can, and I always try to get sufficient sleep. I also maintain a sense of humor.

Much of the work your gallery features is rooted in pop culture, blurring the lines between pop surrealism, illustration, graphic design and fine arts. Included, too, are works by artists whose main canvas is the streets. Have you any favorite genre? Which artists – in particular – speak to you?

I love them all. I don’t like drawing distinctions among genres. I only feature artwork that I love. I see it all as contemporary art, but for lack of a more distinct term, I came up with the label, “pop pluralism.”

It was your “Streets of São Paulo” exhibit that not only introduced me to your gallery, but moved me to visit São Paulo and explore its streets. How did that come to happen?

I had come across the book Graffiti Brazil by Tristan Manco and Caleb Neelon. I was taken by the raw beauty of the Brazilian street art featured in the book, as it is quite different from what I’d seen elsewhere. I also thought it was important. I decided to visit São Paulo, and that was the first of many trips there and an ongoing relationship with São Paulo’s Choque Cultural Gallery.

What was your most memorable experience since moving your business to NYC? 

My visit to São Paulo was my most moving experience, as it was life-changing. A particular moment that stands out here in NYC involves a Shepard Fairey show that I curated back in 2007. Shepard had installed work in a space in DUMBO, Brooklyn for the opening party. I didn’t know what kind of turn-out to expect. I’ll never forget seeing a line that stretched around the block of folks waiting to gain entry to this opening event.

In his intro to Caleb Neelon’s book, Delusional – the Story of the Jonathan LeVine Gallery, the noted art critic Carlo McCormick describes you as both charming and candid! That’s a hard act! How do you manage it — as everyone seems to speak well of you!

That’s good to know! I’m a Northeasterner — honest and straightforward. I suppose that’s how I manage it. I don’t understand greed and selfishness. I have a strong work ethic that is driven by a sound morality. And I don’t compromise.

What is your greatest challenge – as there are certain to be many?

Yes, managing others — getting people to do what I want them to do – is, perhaps, the greatest challenge. And dealing with a range of personalities – involving other people’s issues, along with my own – demands extraordinary skills and patience. Conflict-management is a huge part of my job.

How have other Chelsea art dealers responded to your presence here?

At first, there was a great deal of curiosity. They seemed to be wondering, “Who is this kid?” But their question was answered when they saw me selling art.

How would you define your professional goals?

I would like my gallery to continue to grow and for the art that I exhibit to increasingly gain recognition and respect. I’d like to be a modern version of the late Leo Castelli, the influential New York art dealer who played such a huge role in promoting the works of so many groundbreaking artists.

 I meet so many folks in their 20’s who would love to be “the next Jonathan LeVine!” What advice can you offer them?

I don’t think I would recommend this line of work. It is difficult and carries a huge amount of responsibilities and pressures. I would not have chosen to be an art dealer. Folks often make assumptions about me based on my name and the kinds of people who tend to work in this field. But I was raised by a single Italian mother, and we struggled. School was always a challenge, and I disliked it. But when I found my calling, I answered it with passion, perseverance and patience. I view what I am doing as a service to others. I would advise anyone who is interested in this field to acquire basic business — as well as art — knowledge, read extensively and develop a huge network. This is not an easy business! It is demanding and challenging, and it requires tremendous resourcefulness.

What’s ahead?

I’d like the Jonathan LeVine Gallery to become one of New York City’s big blue chip galleries and gain an international presence. I’d also eventually like to have a huge storefront. That would be my next move.

Photos courtesy of the Jonathan LeVine Gallery

Interview: Jeff Soto

Jeff Soto will be opening his fourth solo show at Jonathan LeVine Gallery on September 8th, alongside the simultaneous solo shows of Audrey Kawasaki and Judith Supine. The show, entitled Decay and Overgrowth, explores life, death and the passage of time. In this interview, Soto tells Vandalog about the emotional journey this past year has taken him on, including the death of two of his grandparents, and how these events provoked his consideration of mortality; which would become a central theme of this show. 

V: In your own words, can you tell us about the underlying themes of Decay and Overgrowth?
JS: I started researching my ancestry about seven years ago, well, even before that really. As a kid I knew my grandparents fought in WWII and my grandma would list off all the things we had in us- Irish, Italian, Sioux, Dutch, etc.. These stories were interesting to me. So from an early age I was aware that there is some history there, and at some point a teacher I had showed us family trees. When I was a teenager I saw Norman Rockwell’s family tree painting where the kid’s ancestors were pirates and Native Americans and cowboys. It got me interested in who my ancestors were, and how all my living relatives were related.
The last few years I have researched and got deeper into who these people were. Decay and Overgrowth comes out of this research. Finding all these relatives really drove home the point that we are born, we have kids, get married, live our life and die. And then the kids repeat the same pattern. Our offspring who come into the world like new flowers, growing and flourishing, eventually meet the same fate as any other living thing. We start aging, and at some point we all will die. We turn to dust, go back into the Earth to nourish it, and then the cycle repeats. I don’t see it as morbid at all, and I hope the paintings don’t seem too death obsessed! Even though I’ve unofficially titled my show “The Skull Show”.

V: This is a solo show, but you’re showing at the same time as Audrey Kawasaki’s and Judith Supine’s solo shows. How do you feel like this combination of works either compliment or juxtapose one another?
JS: I respect both of them. I know Audrey a bit but have never met Judith. I think as a whole our work is very different but individually we’re each very strong in what we do. Should be a fun show with something for everyone. I am predicting a large turnout.

V: Was this exploration of mortality more of a catharsis for you or a way of explaining death to your children?
JS: It’s more for me I guess. They’re too young to fully understand death. We do not hide it from them at all, you know, like if one of our fish dies or we find a dead rabbit on a walk, we talk about it. Two of my grandparents passed away in the last year, and they went to the funerals even though they’re young. I never really thought about death because it was not around me. Or maybe it’s an age thing- now that I’m in my mid/late 30’s and I have two kids that depend on me, it’s on my mind. Seeing my little brothers grow up and my parents age has been a trip.

V: What do you think your generation adds to the collective human experience?
JS: I think it’s too early to say. There’s good and bad things we’re going to add. I know that my generation seems more open to cultural differences among people. In the United States, overall we’re less racist than 40 years ago, and I think the next generation will be better than us. There’s still a long way to go but the situation is improving from the Baby Boomers and previous generations.
And of course the internet has made huge changes. For the first time in human history information is easily accessible to most people. It is empowering. Maybe it’s homogenizing us as well. It’s that whole globalization thing, we all buy the same products, listen to the same music and watch the same movies- are cultural differences starting to die out? Technology is good and bad I think. I’m 37, so I grew up with Atari which was fun, but only for about 30 minutes then we’d go outside and build a fort, climb a tree, make up a game… we used our imagination! I think that’s lacking in many kids and I wonder how it will change things. Maybe it already has. I graduated high school right as the internet was going mainstream- 1993. Our school had one computer that was online and the only thing we could access was college libraries in town. We had to search and hunt for our info, we had to go downtown and pour through a ton of books and along the way we would find other interesting books and much more thoroughly researched information. Now all the info is easily and quickly accessed in a nice little five paragraph web page. I do love Wikipedia, but 20 years ago you’d read a 300 page book on say, Cortés, now a kid in high school will read a concise web page on the iPad.  Maybe that’s not so bad, I guess the Wiki entry would have much more up to date info… see, technology that this generation is bringing is both good and bad.

Continue reading “Interview: Jeff Soto”

Détournement: Signs of the Times @ Jonathan LeVine has it all

Mike Osterhout

One of the many aspects of street art that I love is its amazing power to engage and challenge the public.  This is particularly evident in Jonathan LeVine’s current exhibit, Détournement: Signs of the Times. Curated by the noted critic Carlo McCormick, its works are provocative, often confrontational and visually appealing in their fusion of text and image. (And also impressive is how well they work together in this gallery setting). Here are a few more images:

Dan Witz
Mark Flood



The exhibit ends this Saturday, so if you are anywhere near NYC, this is a must!

Photos by Tara Murray and Lois Stavsky


Stephen Powers, who has a show coming up at Joshua Liner Gallery

There are a lot of shows coming up soon worth checking out. Here are some of I wish I could check out in person…

  • This week, the Iranian brothers Icy and Sot will have their first New York solo show, and it’s only open this Thursday through Saturday. Made in Iran will be at Openhouse, 379 Broome Street, New York.
  • Lush also has a show opening in NYC this weekend. His will be a show of drawings at Klughaus Gallery. It opens on August 25th from 6-10pm. Lush’s show are practically a place to expect surprises, so best get their opening night before a blog like this one ruins the shock value for you on Sunday. If you do miss opening night, the show runs through September 7th.
  • Next month, Stephen Powers aka ESPO will have his first New York solo show in over 7 years. A Word is Worth A Thousand Pictures opens September 7th from 6-9pm at Joshua Liner Gallery.
  • Galo Art Gallery in Turin has a great two-man show coming up with Bue and Chase. Brothers from Different Mothers opens September 9th from 5:30-9pm.
  • aMBUSH Gallery in Sydney, Australia has a big group show coming up with 67 artists including Anthony Lister, Askew, Does, Numskull, Vexta and The Yok. For Black and White All In Between, all the artists have painted on canvases of uniform sized and only used black ink. The show opens on August 31st from 6-9pm.
  • Jonathan Levine Gallery‘s next three solo shows open on September 8th and you will not want to miss any of them: Judith Supine, Audrey Kawasaki, and Jeff Soto. All three shows open from 7-9pm on the 8th. And speaking of Levine, I caught their current show earlier this week and it is great. Go it see before it closes.
  • Gold Peg’s Release The Wolves go-karting project in South London will have a gran-prix expo on September 1st. It’s gonna be some crazy and fun stuff. And art too, but I think that’s secondary.
  • Shepard Fairey is finally showing those paintings he did for Neil Young’s latest album. The few pieces I’ve seen photos of are impressive. Americana opens at Perry Rubenstein Gallery (which recently moved to LA) on August 25th from 7-10pm.
  • Finally, this last one is a mural festival, and it promises to be a big one… This year’s Urban Forms festival in Lodz, Poland includes Os Gemeos, Aryz, Inti, Otecki, Lump and Shida. Certainly the most-anticipated work of Urban Forms is the promised collaborative mural between Os Gemeos and Aryz. The events run from August 24th through September 30th and will bring the total number of murals organized in Lodz by the Urban Forms Foundation to 22. I can’t wait to see the photos of these pieces.

Photo courtesy of Joshua Liner Gallery

Going to the gallery

There are a bunch of shows open now or opening in the next month that I’d like to mention, but there are only so many hours in the day. So here’s a bit of a round-up:

  • Détournement: Signs of the Times is a group show that just opened at Jonathan Levine Gallery in NYC. It was curated by the legendary Carlo McCormick and features artists who “subvert consensus visual language so as to turn the expressions of capitalist culture against themselves.” Some of those artists in Détournement are Aiko, David Wojnarowicz, Ripo, Posterboy, Ron English, Shepard Fairey + Jamie Reid, Steve Powers, TrustoCorp and Zevs.
  • Chris Stain and Joe Iurato are showing together for a two-man show at NYC’s Mighty Tanaka. The show opens on Friday. These are two great and underrated stencil artists. I highly recommend checking out this show, particularly given the superb quality of Stain’s recent indoor work.
  • Sweet Toof has a solo show opening this week at High Roller Society a pop-up space in Hackney Wick, London.
  • Contemporary Wing’s (Washington, DC) latest group show, opening on the 16th, is an exhibit of secondary market work, but there should some nice stuff, including work by Shepard Fairey, WK Interact, Gaia, Faile and Blek le Rat. I must admit that I’ve included a piece in this show, but I’m not going to say which one (so if you want to help me out, just buy the entire show…).
  • Finally, Dabs and Myla have curated a show at LA’s Thinkspace Gallery which will open September 1st. In addition to their own paintings and installations, the show features 32 of their friends, plus a solo show in Thinkspace’s project room by Surge MDR. Those shows open September 1st.

Photo by Susan NYC

Weekend link-o-rama

FIGHT by Rub Kandy

I’m off for a few days of traveling. Expect lots of pictures. Here’s what we missed on Vandalog this week:

Photo by Rub Kandy

Evol @ Jonathan LeVine Gallery

I discovered Evol‘s wondrous stencil work in an outdoor passageway two years ago in Washington D.C. and became an instant fan of the hugely talented Berlin-based artist. I finally made it over this past Friday to Jonathan Levine Gallery to check out his current work on exhibit. If you are anywhere near NYC’s Chelsea gallery district, the show is certainly worth a visit before it closes this Saturday. Here are some images:

Photos by Dani Mozeson

Coming up at Jonathan LeVine: Doze Green

Doze Green‘s latest solo show at Jonathan LeVine Gallery opens later this month. Luminosity in the Dark Rift open on May 19th alongside shows at Jonathan LeVine by Eric White and Kevin Cyr. I admit I haven’t followed Doze Green’s work super closely recently, but that pale character at the bottom-center of the above piece seems like something quite different and new from him.

Luminosity opens on the 19th (7-9pm) and runs through June 16th.

Image courtesy of Jonathan LeVine Gallery

Dal in the streets of Chelsea & at the Jonathan LeVine Gallery

We first noticed Dal’s distinct — almost-spiritual — aesthetic a number of months back when we came upon a stunning mural that he had done in collaboration with Faith47 in Chelsea.  We were thrilled to discover that he is one of the artists participating in Hybrid Thinking curated by Wooster Collective at the Jonathan LeVine Gallery.  Here’s a glimpse of his amazing work fashioned from his intricate play with lines that we captured on the street and on canvas at Jonathan LeVine.

Dal to the left of Faith47
Dal on canvas @ Jonathan LeVine

If you are anywhere in the NYC vicinity, Hybrid Thinking is certainly worth checking out, as it also presents work by several other first-rate emerging street artists from around the globe including: Herakut, Roa, Sit, Vinz and Hyuro.  The exhibit continues through February 11th at 529 W. 20th  Street.


Where to look at SCOPE Miami

Maya Hayuk, who will show at New Image Art Gallery's booth

The SCOPE art fair’s Miami iteration should, as always, have a few booths of interest to Vandalog readers to year. SCOPE opens on the 29th and runs through December 4th. Make sure to stop by these booths: Mallick Williams for Skullphone and Love Me/Curtis Kulig; Jonathan LeVine Gallery for Olek, WK Interact and Aakash Nihilani; Dorian Grey Gallery for Richard Hambleton (and maybe LAII); and New Image Art Gallery for Maya Hayuk and Retna. Of course, all those galleries will be exhibiting other artists as well, those are just some highlights. And there should be plenty of else of interesting. For the last two years, SCOPE has been where I’ve seen some of the most interesting indoor art in Miami.

Maya Hayuk, who will show at New Image Art Gallery's booth

Photos courtesy of New Image Art Gallery