Graffiti-Walls, das Ace Hotel und Shoreditch House, australische Coffee Roasters an jeder Ecke, außergewöhnlich und individuell gekleidete Menschen. Keine Frage, das East End zählt zu den kreativsten Gegenden Londons. Ein Ort, an dem man einfach sein kann, wie man ist und so auch akzeptiert wird. Auf der Suche nach einer WG in meinem ersten Studienjahr, war von vornherein klar: Es muss im Osten gelegen sein. Wenig später bin ich in das ehemalige Warehouse in der Teesdale Street eingezogen. Ein Ort an dem Kreativität regelrecht zelebriert wurde. Meine Mitbewohner waren allesamt in der Kreativbranche tätig. Eine Bedingung, um in diesem Haus aufgenommen zu werden. Eine Zeit, an die ich mich noch heute gerne erinnere. Einer meiner Mitbewohner war Jari Lager, der im Warehouse lebte und die Union Gallery eröffnete. Jari ist mir in dieser Zeit sehr ans Herz gewachsen. Er war einer der Ersten, der koreanische Kunst gefördert hat und diese in London ausstellte. Die regelmäßigen Ausstellungen in seiner Galerie, die Begegnungen mit verschiedenen Künstlern und mein persönliches Highlight, zum Gala-Dinner der koreanischen Botschaft eingeladen zu sein, haben meine Liebe zur Kunst extrem bestärkt und inspiriert. Mittlerweile hat Jari mit seiner Geschäftspartnerin Sunhee Choi zwei weitere Galerien eröffnet: die Choi & Lager Galerien in Köln und Seoul. Jari hat ein besonderes Gespür, neue Künstler zu entdecken und deren Gemälde oder Fotografien in seinen Galerien oder während Ausstellungen perfekt in Szene zu setzen. Ein Glück, das er Zeit gefunden hat, uns seinen Werdegang und Insider-Wissen aus der Kunst-Branche zu verraten. Jari ist halb Deutscher, halb Finne. Da er aber seit Jahrzehnten in London lebt, haben wir das Interview auf Englisch geführt. Here we go!
Hey Jari, how did you become a gallery owner?
Hello Laura, I became a gallery owner the moment I made a living from selling art. Before I was just making many shows. I decided to only call myself a gallerist the day I would become independent. In fact, one day a visitor to my gallery came and he told me that my name JARI LAGER would also spell to sound like gallery: GAALERRIJ. Maybe I have always been a gallerists in some kind of way.
What fascinates you most about art and do you have a favourite artist?
I love the energy and the vision artists need to bring to their work. To be an artist today is like saying, I am a philosopher. Its a very individual way of expressing yourself. I admire the sacrifice artist make to realise their ideas in a material form, which I can later discuss together with the artist. There are many favourite artists but it was probably Joseph Beuys, who converted me to work in the field of art.
Do you buy art for yourself too?
Yes, I buy art and I live with art. In fact I can not imagine not to live with art. When I see homes of people without art I feel sad for them. In my opinion its a huge loss not to live with at least one original artwork at home.
You opened your first gallery in London back in 2007. What has changed since then and is London still a very important place for art?
I actually started my first project space in 1998 called VTO. I changed several times my name in the years. I have worked with different generations of artists in London. It has been all very exciting and rewarding to be in London. I love this city because it is so huge and so many things happen at once. London is simply a very creative city.
Is there a change in your clients consumption behaviour due to BREXIT?
So far I have not noticed a change because of BREXIT. I think this will come later in a few years time depending what the British government will negotiate with the EU. Our clients are from all over the world. I would not think that because of BREXIT, collectors would no longer be interested in our artists.
You have a good hand and probably a very good intuition for discovering emerging artists such as Rose Wylie, who became an important name in the art scene. How do you spot artists?
I am not sure, to meet an artist is sometimes intuition, once we work together its also about thinking what is the best for the artist. Its very important to support and help the artist in his decisions, I enjoy discussing this with the artist.
You are currently exhibiting the work of the Italian artist Giacomo Cosua. What makes his work special?
I love the way how Giacomo approaches his photography. He seems to be at the right place and at the right time, he also makes good use of outside resources; his pictures will tell more things then you first expect. While he is very busy doing commercial photography, he will find a quiet moment and concentrate on some very different theme and catch a person or situation unaware.
How would you describe a typical client of the art scene? Any stereotypes?
I think most artists are more the kind of introvert type, but nowadays also more and more people are attracted to art with a personality you would not necessarily expect to meet in the art scene.
Recently you opened a gallery in Korea with your partner. What’s the difference between Asian and European art?
Asian art is very different and expresses anxieties and reflections on their society more directly then here in the West. Their dialogue is fresh and undisturbed by the past. Asian artists seem to comment much more on the future, whereas Western artists tend to look at the past.
What kind of projects are planned in the future?
We are planning many shows here in London as well as in Cologne and Seoul. It will be an exciting time. We are trying hard to encourage dialogue and express new visions in both Asia and here in Europe.
What do you recommend art enthusiasts, who want to buy a piece of art but don’t have a high budget? Does art always need to be expensive?
No, art is not always expensive. You can sometimes talk with galleries and they will allow you to make monthly payments. Another good idea is to get a start with editions, which are less pricey then original artworks. Another proposition is to get interested in what your artist friends make and simply risk a small amount to purchase a first artwork. This is how I started. My first works I purchased were inexpensive. You later get a bit the hang on it and you discover what you like. Its a bit like reading or listening to music.
Is there any upcoming art exhibition we should not miss?
There are two shows I would recommend most. Each is in opposite parts of Europe. The first one would be a curated show by Choi&Lager Gallery in a city called Vestfossen near Oslo in Norway. The show is called „Please return to Busan Port“ and represents 22 artists that are active on the South Korean contemporary art scene. The artworks presented are as multi-faceted as the modern South Korean society with all of its internal conflicts – a society where the values of collectivism and individualism are tightly intertwined. I am afraid that I will be missing this show, but unfortunately I have too many commitments this September. I would definitely visit the Prado in Madrid and see the Bosch exhibition. It must be the most interesting show now in Europe.
In your opinion what’s the best place for art?
I think the best place to make art is your studio. The best place to have a studio is near your home. And to answer your question, I think that Leipzig in Germany is the most artist friendly city I know. It is probably the best place to make art.
Do you remember the most significant exhibition you hosted at Union Gallery?
My favourite show was OKTOBERFEST 2000, I curated this show together with Rodney Graham in my old VTO space. We invited artists who had made works specifically about beer or alcohol. For the opening we installed a real pub in our communal floor. The opening was packed and the BBC came to film it too. The show was fantastic and really unique. I have great memories of the built up to it, for Philippe Bradshaw for example, I had to travel to France to purchase a huge list of alcoholic drinks one month before the opening. I did not know that this was to become the future sculpture for the show. Him and his flatmates drank this unbelievable amount in 4 weeks. Mat Collishaw, who was also part of the show and Philippe’s flatmate, told me later it was the worst week in his life. Non-stop party, and I am glad it was without me. Later all empty bottles were gathered and put on an old sofa from the artists studio. During the opening the artist performed for everyone and had a long pee on top of his sofa and all the bottles. I immediately had to open the gallery windows. A shame it was a time when there was no smartphones with cameras. Very little documentation remains. Philippe sadly died some years later. That is how mad he was.