Third Thursdays Featured Gallery: Jen Bekman
Neighborhood galleries will stay open late this Thursday for Third Thursdays, a monthly event from the LES Business Improvement District showcasing the Lower East Side’s flourishing arts scene. Galleries will be open until 9pm and the New Museum is offering free evening admission. The Lo-Down is pleased to be the local media sponsor of the event and is profiling a participating gallery each month.
We recently stopped in to chat with Jeffrey Teuton, director of Jen Bekman Gallery, at 6 Spring St. near Bowery where The New Museum for Contemporary Art is a neighbor. Art, nightlife and commerce go hand-in-hand in this white-hot epicenter of cool. The gallery’s current exhibition “dawn till dusk” is a group show of painting and photography on view through July 30.
The show features established and emerging artists who capture various scenes at different points of the day from dawn until dusk. For example, Christian Chaize’s photograph of a sunny beach in Portugal would appear to have been shot at high noon. High on a cliff, Chaize eyes dozens of sunbathers and colorful umbrellas dotting the beach. A self-taught French artist, Chaize has photographed the same strip of beaches in southern Portugal since 2004. He’s also an artist whose work is offered through Bekman’s 20×200.com e-commerce business (more on that later), and had a one-man show at the gallery in 2009.
Jen Bekman was sweeping the sidewalk in front of her storefront sliver in 2003 when Jeffrey Teuton happened to walk by. He’d just arrived in New York. Bekman had only recently opened her eponymous gallery. A dotcom refugee returning from the Bay Area to her native New York City, Bekman cashed out her 401k to start the gallery.
After the street-sweeping encounter, Teuton became Bekman’s intern and gallery assistant in short order. Eight years on, he’s the gallery’s director, liasing regularly between the gallery and its stable of 22 artists (primarily photographers but a growing number of painters and mixed media artists too); engaging with collectors; attending art fairs; participating in portfolio reviews; and managing the gallery’s bi-annual Hey, Hot Shot! photo competitions. The competitions emerged as a result of the many photographers who stopped by the gallery wanting to show their portfolios. A panel of experts, including Bekman and Teuton, review the portfolios for Hey, Hot Shot!.
With a background in painting and printmaking, Teuton became Bekman’s right-hand man, helping her in 2005 introduce and manage Hey, Hot Shot! The internationally acclaimed competition helps launch emerging photographers into the fine art market. In 2007, Bekman created 20×200.com, a website and companion email newsletter business that promotes curated limited edition archival prints. The hook? Print prices start at $20, significantly lowering the barrier to entry for first-time art collectors. VC-funded since 2009, 20×200.com recently introduced framing services. Both Hey, Hot Shot! and 20×200 fall under the aegis of the Jen Bekman Projects umbrella.
And the Projects are a growing enterprise: At 20×200, Bekman now employs a full-time staff of 25, contracts with printmakers, vendors and shippers around the country to meet demand. Since is inception, 20×200 has shipped nearly 120,000 prints globally.
Teuton says 20×200 grew out of Bekman’s frustration with the archaic way galleries do business. “We knew there’s a way to reach a lot of people on the web by not waiting for people to come to us in the gallery,” he says. “Buyers get to live with something that’s a quality product. It’s not an Ikea poster and it’s not a Matisse. There’s a middle ground.” For 8 x 10 prints, prices start at $20, 16 x 20 begin at $200 and the prices go up to $2,000.
Bekman pens an email newsletter for 20×200 subscribers that explains why specific images were chosen for reproduction. Two or three new images are offered each week. “It’s a highly curated selection and is very much about what she’s drawn to at any given time,” Teuton says.
But the gallery remains a linchpin: “The main thing I want is for people to come and feel like they can have a dialogue about art. We will never move to Chelsea, ever! We just don’t want to be a part of that,” Teuton says. “Part of the allure of being down here is it’s friendly. It’s different. We have a gallery because we want people to engage with art.”
“Art is a vibrant, loud thing. It’s a reflection of the community. Big, white sterile boxes with heavy doors are intimidating,” Teuton says, in a swipe at the Chelsea scene. “The main philosophy of the gallery was to create an environment where people could feel welcome. Galleries can be very cold. We wanted people to be comfortable with art and to ask questions.”
“Jen and I both feel very strongly that art can change the way that you live. It can inspire a range of emotions and experiences, and you can have these experiences on a daily basis,” Teuton adds.
The traditional art world retains a lot of skepticism, according to Teuton: “Print and online are still very scary words for people in the art world. They don’t understand it. What they know is physical art on canvas. Paintings.”
For a list of local galleries participating in LES Third Thursdays, visit the Lower East Side BID’s here or pick up a guide in their visitors’ center located at 54 Orchard Street.
Tobi Elkin is a writer, editor and interviewer who lives in the Lower East Side and is a regular reader of The Lo-Down. Her diverse interests include arts and entertainment, film, food and cultural critique.