Jason Jacques has been ruling the design world for the last 30 years, establishing himself as an expert in 19th and 20th-century European ceramics and a catalyst for contemporary design. In 2017, Frieze New York invited Jacques to exhibit, making him the first ceramics gallery to show in the fair’s history. Jacques’ success in the industry can be attributed to his expert eye – a combination of love for the artist and knowing whether their work can stand up to the masters of ceramic tradition. “Quality above money,” he says.
We chatted with Jacques about how he got started in the business, top moments from the last 30 years, and upcoming exhibitions, which you can see at his Upper East Side gallery until August 31st.
AZ: What spurred your interest in design and ceramic art?
Jason Jacques: Growing up in Chicago, my childhood best friends dad was an antique shop owner who specialized in Art Nouveau and Art Deco with a big collection of European art pottery. I loved their apartment, all the neat oddities and ephemera, even if I didn’t know what the art was. After high school, I got a job there and at night after closing my friend and I would stay late to read period journals on decorative arts. The photos of room installations at salons and world’s fairs set my imagination on fire. I wanted to see it all, but more so, to touch it. Touch is the greatest tool for understanding 3-dimensional art. Ceramics beg to be touched. Furniture needs to be handled and turned upside down to be understood. This is where the deepest passion for the art develops, through touch.
AZ: How did you become a gallerist? When did you start and what inspired you?
JJ: My nature is that of a hunter-gatherer. That time up late studying Art et Decoration magazines fueled this nature with an appetite for hunting down the rarest ceramic masterpieces that I had seen in museums and books which in turn drove me to the greatest source of sensual objects on Earth, Paris. After a 5-year flea market based intensive hands-on training, I moved back to the states and settled in New York City. This is where I developed the craft of display and curation, and opened my first gallery, down in East SoHo, which at the time was not really SoHo. We all lived in the backs of our shops then. This was the mid 90’s, it was the tail end of the wild old New York City when all the fun grimy side was getting wiped clean by Giuliani. (Sad).
AZ: What are some highlights from the last 30 years?
JJ: We are at year 30! It’s crazy. I bought my first vase and sold my first vases at age 20.
-Every time I found a great object. It never stops being that amazing feeling of wonder.
-Visiting TEFAF for the first time. What a mind-bending art fair TEFAF: Maastricht is. There is no comparable. Anyone who doesn’t go is missing out!
-Exhibiting at the Paris Biennale in 2010.
-Opening my gallery on 73rd Street in 2005.
-The opening party at our show “Rediscovering Portfolio Prints by Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele” 2006 was a tremendous year for us.
-Delivering the first vase I sold to the MET Museum and helping them find it’s permanent home.
-All of our sold out shows.
-Being the first ceramics based gallery accepted at Frieze.
-Visiting the homes of the collectors who bought art from us and seeing where they live and becoming lifelong friends.
AZ: Is there a favorite designer or artist you have worked with?
JJ: I haven’t worked with anyone I haven’t loved working with! I am lucky that way. I can not say I have a favorite.
AZ: How have design collecting trends changed since you opened your gallery?
JJ: The biggest change has been the movement away from antiques and Modern into Contemporary. I didn’t plan for the change at the gallery, I just added the contemporary program for fun, I was lucky. We were so successful with our program because I chose the artists based on two very important aspects. First, was I had to fall in love with the work and the artist. Then, I stood their work up to the masters of Western ceramic tradition and if the work didn’t have that level of quality, I walked away. I passed on quite a few commercially successful artists because I didn’t think the work would stand the test of time. Quality above money. We have worked hard not to sell out. It isn’t always easy, but I would rather have less and keep my pride.
AZ: You exhibit at several art fairs throughout the year. Is there a fair or city that you like the most and why?
JJ: Hands down TEFAF is the greatest fair in the world. It is having a small identity crisis at the moment, but we will get through that. The show was top notch this last year. I think some important people stopped coming out of sheer show overload, but they will come back. Nothing can top TEFAF. My favorite shows to do are smaller shows like FOG in San Francisco and I just did the Dallas Art Fair and had a blast. Great town with fantastic museums and collectors.
AZ: Tell us about your upcoming exhibitions. What do we have to look forward to?
JJ: Well, as I mentioned I am looking at my 30th year as an art dealer. To celebrate this we are creating an epic gallery show and catalogue, “30 for 30”. It’s going to start in January and going to be a tremendous amount of work. Up next is “Treasures from the Pot Vault,” with over 100 of my favorite vintage ceramics. Most of the work has been buried for a decade, so it will really be an eye opener. After that, we are doing a solo show of an incredible virtuoso clay sculptor named Osamu Kojima. It will be a very contemplative experience and that’s in September. After that, we open Anne Marie Laureys, a Belgian sculptor. Her work is mad. She makes forms that are quite frankly so close to impossible they make no sense, I mean how could anyone do this with clay is so beyond. She will also be in the last exhibition of 2018, “Women of Clay” which will be at Design Miami. That show will be the cherry on 2018 which has been such a magical year here at the gallery.
Behind the Curtain: Treasures from the Vault is on view at Jason Jacques Gallery, 29 E. 73rd, NYC through August 31, 2018.
images// courtesy of Jason Jacques, top image Jason Jacques’ 2017 exhibition Das Werk: Gustav Klimt Collotypes and Avant-Garde Austrian Art Pottery