Mon Dieu Projects aims to bring some irreverence to the LA art world with its provocative curatorial choices. “Mon Dieu” the French expression of “My god!” and surprise is the reaction the curators hope to inspire. It also represents Galerie Youn’s Montreal roots with its roster of eccentric artists, who are thrilled for their West Coast debut.
What skills must one possess to be a successful art gallery owner?
Juno Youn: Diplomat is the word that comes to mind. A gallery owner needs to be well liked and respected to succeed in the art business. Return every email or text. Remember everyone’s name and treat everyone with respect from the white-hot art stars to the restaurant valet. Stay above the fray of any in-fighting, don’t talk $%#, and above all, respect the art. The rest is secret!
Spencer Walker: Adaptation is my word. The art business is not straight forward with so many unwritten rules we’re unaware we’re breaking until after the fact. You need to handle every curve ball thrown at you from shipping snafus to self-immolating artists to art so big that it won’t even fit in the gallery! It’s also important to be a social chameleon. I adapt my personality to the company I keep. I can easily slip between an argument about EDM tracks with party friends to discussing derivatives with a finance executive.
Can you tell us about a particularly memorable exhibition or event that you’ve hosted in your gallery, and what made it so special?
Juno Youn: Our inaugural exhibition “Intimate Exchanges” was my long-held dream coming true. As a Korean living in Canada, I long for the K-culture (and food) that LA has in abundance, not to mention a cutting-edge art scene where galleries take it to the hoop. Spencer and I curated a selection with some of the best artists Galerie Youn works with to create a really noisy inaugural exhibition. And boy did the people eat it up with selfies in front of the work and laughter all around! Our opening reception was lively with established art world luminaries acknowledging a well-curated show. That meant everything to me.
Spencer Walker: Since Juno already took my one example, I’ll lean into something from his canon. I attended Galerie Youn’s 3-year anniversary exhibition opening. Juno was a newer friend at the time and I had recently bought a small Michael Toke painting from him. I lived in NYC at the time and took the train to Montreal through stunning forests and lakes along the Canadian border. I arrived just in time for one of the liveliest parties I’ve ever been to…and I’ve been to Burning Man, Berghain, and a Weird Al concert. This was not just an art opening. There was a girl band playing electro punk, Cirque Du Soleil artists dancing lithely on their day off, and I wanted to buy EVERY piece of art. That’s when I knew Juno was going to be my friend for life.
What challenges have you faced as gallery owners, and how have you overcome them?
Juno Youn: This business is not for the fragile. It has its up and downs, with incredible highs that border on euphoria to deep depressive downs. Financial preparation is always the biggest challenge. You can never have a big enough war chest, so you need to be smart with the capital you deploy. And capital is not just financial, but emotional and professional capital that you need to be smart with. Balancing healthy egos of artists and collectors with the necessary evil of finance is a high wire act in the circus.
Spencer Walker: We are a brand new gallery. That means we need to spread the Mon Dieu Projects gospel far and wide. MDP leans into SPIN and Galerie Youn’s roots as inciters of good times. In addition to our excellent programming, we put on fun events to maximize the eyeballs seeing our art. There is no relax-mode until we reach critical mass. And once we get there, we’ll be too damn busy to relax like we promised ourselves.
What sacrifices did you have to make to become successful in this business?
Juno Youn: Art is everything to me, so I sacrifice just about everything for it. I do not own a fancy home, I don’t drive a luxury car, there is no empty chalet in Chamonix waiting for me. I love to travel but I rarely get on a plane for a destination that is not art related. Dogs are my spirit animal, but my lifestyle as an art dealer does not allow for me to have one of my own. Luckily, I have surrogate dogs with my Montreal neighbor’s regal pup Duke and Spencer’s half-feral Mogi in LA.
Spencer Walker: No one talks about how physically exhausting the art business can be. The steps alone you walk working an art fair could beat any family’s FitBit challenge. I worked countless office jobs in my past life where carpal tunnel is the worst-case scenario. But now I go home physically sore from hanging the art, painting and repainting the walls, and moving furniture. Who needs a gym membership?
As art gallery owners, what business lessons have you learned?
Juno Youn: It is important to have an overall vision for your business. The details of your upcoming exhibition should always take precedent, but you should be just as prepared for what’s happening a year from now. I have maintained a successful gallery this long because I know where I am and know where I want to be. I am big on logistics with all the elements from framers to crate builders to web designers lined up months ahead of time for shows, exhibitions, and eCommerce. That makes my job easier to sort out long before any art ships so we that we can avoid clust@#!s when it counts.
Spencer Walker: Clear communication with clients, media, and artists is key. Miscommunications are so easy when everything is phoned-based and clumsy thumbs can create serious problems that take finesse to diffuse. I started my career as an assist to a talent agent short on patience in a fast-paced office environment. Now that I am in a position of power, I won’t make the same mistakes 20-something Spencer would make by taking the extra time to make sure I am absolutely clear.
How do you balance the commercial aspect of running a gallery with your love and appreciation of art?
Juno Youn: I started as an artist that accidentally became a dealer and curator. My lifestyle and business are all wrapped into an artistic bow. But I have the good fortune of my tastes being verified. This allows me to sell the work we choose to exhibit. I have been in the business long enough to recognize art that pushes boundaries but still has a commercial appeal to it. You feel it in your gut when you look at something and know it will sell.
Spencer Walker: We would love to elevate every artist we know with talent. But there is not that much time in the day or space on the gallery wall to do that. Mon Dieu Projects would never show work that is purely commercial and decorative. But we also aren’t going to show something so avant-garde that you need a decoder ring to get it. MDP chooses artists with singular vision with works that will inspire some intrepid collector to pull the trigger.
How do you stay up-to-date with emerging artists and new trends in the art world, and what resources do you use to stay informed?
Spencer Walker: Honestly, there is not enough time in the day to stay completely up-to-date on every trend amongst the art world diaspora. That would require an army of Gen Z staff with their finger on the pulse of what’s happening. We do our share of reading articles about emerging artists and spend an unhealthy amount of time on Instagram. Mon Dieu Projects is a little old-timey because we rely on seeing art in person, IRL. Thumbnails of paintings on your iPhone are never going to give you the feels like that. Going to local gallery events, traveling to art fairs, checking out art school thesis shows. That’s where the good stuff is.
Juno Youn: I don’t believe in following trends. If you focus too much of your energy on figuring it out that the trend has already shifted. Figurative -> Abstract -> Figurative, it makes me dizzy. My tastes are grounded in the history of the art. I revere those who came before and remain open to who comes next. I prefer to study the artist themselves than just focusing on their progressing style, knowing their philosophy, what the artist is about. And I invest in those artists, trusting they will transcend trends, and remain timeless, like a white button-up shirt.
What are some of the top art trends that you are seeing right now?
Spencer Walker: Abstract seems to be coming back in a big way. Maybe it has something to do with the state of the economy where we all feel a little adrift and our futures a little fuzzy. That is fine by me because I gravitate towards abstract in my own collecting. There is also this grey area of work I am seeing now that is not quite figurative and not quite abstract. I call it Abstract Adjacent, which happens to be the title of Mon Dieu Projects’ upcoming exhibition.
Juno Youn: The elephant in the room is AI. Plagiarism in art is hideous, but there is an element of flattery where an artist is so ubiquitous amongst 4 millenniums of art that a Hal-9000 can recreate a forgery from their canon. The positive here is that MidJourney and ChatGPT are exposing new interest in art amongst the non-art folk. That could lead to the red pill moment where we suddenly have an expanded customer base for the real, human made original art.
Interview organized by Maximus Communications. The World Art News (WAN) is not liable for the content of this publication. All statements and views expressed herein are only an opinion. Act at your own risk. No part of this publication may be reproduced without written permission. © The World Art News