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March 20, 2024

Jonathan LeVine Interviews with Artsy

How Jonathan LeVine Projects Embraces a Nimble Approach in a Hybrid Art World

Jonathan LeVine is embracing a brave new art world. The New Jersey–based gallerist first opened Jonathan LeVine Gallery in 2005, heralding pop surrealism and graffiti art during a 12-year tenure in Chelsea, New York. He then moved to Jersey City, renaming the gallery in 2017 and moving to an online-forward, partnership-focused model.

So why the change? LeVine attributes it to a shift that he has observed in the relationship between artists and galleries, especially as the art market has become increasingly digitized since the COVID lockdowns of 2020. “I’d say predominantly because of Instagram, artists have become more autonomous. They don’t really need us as much,” he told Artsy.

The shift to an online model is particularly poignant for mid-level galleries like the one LeVine oversaw in Chelsea. LeVine began his journey into the art world in 2001 when he opened the gallery Tin Man Alley in New Hope, Pennsylvania. Subsequently, he made a lasting impact in Chelsea from 2005 at his brick-and-mortar gallery, consistently demonstrating an ability to adapt and thrive. In Chelsea, LeVine’s gallery stood as a torchbearer for pop surrealism and —uplifting the careers of notable artists such as , , and . His commitment to the movement in the aughts and early 2010s helped thrust these underground artists and their movement into the mainstream.

“As a curator, I was so invested in what I did,” LeVine said. “I represented a movement, and I got into this business because I was really just a superfan of a certain genre of artwork that was underrepresented. I didn’t plan on becoming a gallery. I became one by accident. There was a need, and so I met that need, and that’s why I did what I did. But at some point, that need wasn’t needed anymore because that type of work has become mainstream.”

This realization led to a re-evaluation of LeVine’s strategy in light of the internet’s impact on his business: “I built my business on the sort of old-school way that things were done.…But as the internet, while it was helping us, it was eventually going to hurt us,” he said. This was a catalyst for his transition to a simultaneously online and project-based model, aligning with the increased hybridization of the art market. Now, he predominantly focuses on selling art on the secondary market so he can fixate more of his attention on curatorial projects.

Instead of maintaining a full gallery roster, LeVine currently works closely with a single artist at a given time. Currently, he is working with the Sri Lankan artist , who is known for his ornate robot sculptures. This approach allows LeVine to maintain a balance between his creative passions and business acumen. By working closely with Fernando, LeVine can cultivate a more collaborative relationship between his project space and the artist. Moreso, this approach offers LeVine and the artist more creative freedom. “I’m taking my time and making sure everything that I do, each project that I’m involved in, is something I’m excited about, that I do it properly, and I feel that it’s going to be a financially viable project,” he said.

A testament to this new approach was seen in the collaboration between Jonathan LeVine Projects and Fernando at Coachella. They presented a series of massive sculptures that captured the festival’s vibrant spirit and imagination. Similarly, at Art Miami, LeVine showcased Fernando’s impressive seesaw installation, a piece that not only drew attention but also symbolized the balance between playfulness and artistic seriousness.

LeVine’s current path reflects a deep understanding of the evolving art world. Outside of his work with Fernando, he teased several projects on the horizon, including work with Christian Strike, the co-curator behind the traveling exhibition “Beautiful Losers” that was most recently on view for “Now & Then: A Decade of Beautiful Losers” at in 2018. His involvement in such projects indicates a continuous pursuit of passion-driven curatorial work, blending his entrepreneurial spirit with his dedication to the arts.

“I consider myself sort of a creative entrepreneur,” LeVine said. “I like to collaborate, and I like to do things that are interesting. But I also like to do things that are lucrative, and again, I’m constantly working on projects.”

Maxwell Rabb
Maxwell Rabb is Artsy’s Staff Writer.

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