Whitehot Magazine

Interview with artist and director of Subtitled NYC, Jaejoon Jang

For more information about Subtitled NYC, please visit: www.subtitlednyc.com

By CLARE GEMIMA, April 2023

Jaejoon Jang's unique perspective as an immigrant artist from Korea brings a refreshing and diverse approach to his curatorial work at Subtitled NYC. While his nationality does not necessarily dictate his curatorial interest or relationship with art, it functions as a subtitle for others to understand him in the same way he needs subtitles when watching shows and movies. As an outsider wherever he is, Jaejoon embraces his foreignness and uses it as the basis for his casual and loose approach to curation. His interest in artists with different backgrounds stems from their unique perspectives that are new and foreign to him, even if their foreignness is relatable. Through his work at Subtitled NYC, Jaejoon seeks to create a space that celebrates and showcases diverse voices in the art world. In anticipation of his upcoming show Medium Rare, I wanted to understand more about Jaejoon’s process, values and personal influences as an artist, and how all of these combine to inform his curatorial practice.  

Medium Rare runs from April 20th - May 28th, 2023.  

For more information about Subtitled NYC, please visit: www.subtitlednyc.com

Clare Gemima: Jaejoon, your goal of opening a gallery space hit bumps during covid. What kept you focused enough on this goal for Subtitled NYC to be realised, and did the space’s initial delay pay off at all? When did you officially open your doors?

Jaejoon Jang: During the covid pandemic I had enough time to pause in my own practice and think outside of the artist mode. During the pandemic, it was really hard to have an actual physical exhibition and in person event. All that was given were opportunities for some online exhibitions or zoom artist talks. It was great to work in an alternative way, but I always felt a thirst for being realistic and hands on. I finally opened Subtitled NYC in May of 2022, in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.

Clare Gemima: What is your goal as an artist-run gallery founder, and who (locally and internationally, dead or alive) inspires your approach to curation?  

Jaejoon Jang: I am not really a ‘plan’ person, so I don't work towards any goals, as such. Actually, having a goal is the opposite to how I am running this space. I like to be flexible over the nature of this space and let it evolve over time. Only after I had spent time there and grasped the space, I was able to picture what I could do to make an impact. I like keeping things simple for the moment, for the sake of the present. Rather than curating exhibitions for the sake of each individual exhibition, I want to think of the shows I curate as a larger and ongoing conversation. I want to challenge myself more to make my space unique and true to my nature as a person, so I always try to have an exhibition in a more unconventional way, either curatorially, or by way of a show’s installation. It’s hard to say I take inspiration from a single person. What I can say for sure is that I am more inspired by artists than any other group of people. Recently, I visited Felix Gonzalez-Torres’s show at David Zwirner, and the exhibition as a whole deeply resonated with me. It made me want the artists I show to be able to fully express their capacity and depth.

Artist and curator Jaejoon Jang next to the installation “MOULT” by Hae Won Sohn. Imagery Courtesy of Jeremy Willie Cox.

Clare Gemima: How heavily has your Korean heritage played a role in your curatorialship, and your relationship with art?

Jaejoon Jang: Yes, I am from Korea. I wouldn’t say that my nationality plays a critical role in my curatorial interest or my relationship with art, but what’s important is the fact that I am an immigrant artist who lives in New York. My background functions as a subtitle for others to understand me, just like how I need subtitles when I watch shows and movies. This is one of the reasons as to why I decided on the name of the space. I have always been somewhat an outsider wherever I am; Korea or here. But it doesn’t bother me, and I am okay with it. As a matter of fact, I think this side of me is the basis to all I do. I like to stay casual and loose, which allows me an attitude to see things as new and foreign. And I am like that too; new and foreign wherever I end up, whatever I try to do. I am naturally interested in artists with different backgrounds, including Korean artists, because no matter how relatable their foreignness is, their perspective can only be new to me. 

Hae Won Sohn, 2023, MOULT, dimension variable. Work featured in MOULT. Image courtesy of artist and Subtitled NYC. 

Clare Gemima: How do you choose your artists, either for group, or solo presentations?

Jaejoon Jang: I try to keep my eyes open everywhere. I try to check out as many exhibitions as I can, exposing myself to new artists constantly and enjoy stumbling upon names that are new to me. Thanks to social media, I am able to research many artists all over the world inside of my studio, but of course nothing beats studio visits. Not only do I get to see the art in person, but also what projects and ideas are in progress, the artist, their words, their recommendations of other artists, etc. 

Clare Gemima: What’s been the absolute worst experience in your curatorial career, something you’d want to help others navigate if they were hit with it? 

Jaejoon Jang: Hmm I don't really have any bad experiences, but I definitely always face difficulties, all kinds of them. Schedules and plans change frequently due to unexpected situations. I think the important thing is flexibility and communication to overcome such difficulties. Also, there happens to always be someone offering help when I need it. As an artist-run space, the artist community is really important. We respect, understand, and support each other. Communication and support is integral to running this space. Looking back, facing any challenge has eventually turned itself into a great experience, and it’s definitely proved that I have amazing support. 

Amra Causevic, 2022, mariarita, 23 x 18 inches. Work featured in Several Species of Small Furry Animals Gathered Together in a Cave and Grooving with a Pict. Image courtesy of  artist and Subtitled NYC. 

Clare Gemima: How do you measure the curatorial success of an exhibition? 

Jaejoon Jang: It doesn’t matter to me whether the work sells or if a huge crowd was attracted. To me, the utmost importance is knowing the artist is proud of the exhibition itself.

Clare Gemima: I’m guessing there must have been some sort of moment or experience that sparked the expansion of your art practice to involve curation. Maybe it was a conversation, or a visit to a seminal gallery show. What, or when do you think it was? 

Jaejoon Jang: As an artist, it was really hard to show my artwork to the public. I have gotten many rejections and failed attempts at open calls and applications. It was pretty discouraging. During the pandemic, the situation got worse, and I wanted to liberate myself from the system. I wanted to make the ideal a reality where artists are able to explore as freely as they’d possibly want to, and on their own terms. I believe the freedom of having my own space and letting artists do their own thing at Subtitled NYC has become my practice.

Sam Cockrell. Calendar, 2019 - ongoing. Acrylic on canvas. 48 x 48 in. Image courtesy of artist and Subtitled NYC. 

Clare Gemima: Your next show, Medium Rare opens next week, and features works by Amanda Ba, Jacob Patrick Brooks, Marcus Civin, Sam Cockrell, Kevin Ford, Annette Hur, and Kate Liebman. The show is about unfinished work, and the viewer’s response to paintings in process. Why is in-process work important to see within a gallery setting?   

Jaejoon Jang: A frequently asked question among artists and their work is whether a work is completed or in progress. I thought it would be funny if this question itself became the theme of a show. I personally prefer medium well done, but wanted to try digesting medium rare. It is an experiment for both myself and the artists — a fun one. I think it’s important because it’s fun knowing how each artist progresses through their ‘painting’,  and fights through the idea of not necessarily knowing how to finish one. Because the works presented through this show are in their raw stage, I think it conversely highlights a special aspect of a painting practice; What is underneath? What needs to be surfaced?

Clare Gemima: Why have you invited these specific painters to showcase their in-process works? Do you think this is a vulnerable, and rare situation? 

Jaejoon Jang: I tried to invite artists with diverse technical approaches to “painting.” Sam paints with airbrushes, Kate paints through accumulated layers of various techniques, Amanda paints with figures, and so on, and so forth. I am excited to share such a diverse range of painting styles in their different stages of completeness. 

Clare Gemima: How has working with artists and their paintings changed your passion for art making?… and since I asked you to share one of your worst moments, it’s only fair to ask about some of your better ones. During your time nurturing Subtitled NYC, what’s been an experience so pivotal to you that you'd opt to relive it? 

Jaejoon Jang: I have enjoyed almost every moment since founding Subtitled NYC. I would say the studio visits are the most exciting and interesting part to me. I learn and benefit a lot from the artists speaking and opening up to me which I really appreciate. It is truly the studio visits that make each exhibition what it is; an intimate experience of the artist’s works, and a truly meaningful overall statement. WM

Clare Gemima

Clare Gemima contributes art criticism to The Brooklyn Rail, Contemporary HUM, and other international art journals with a particular focus on immigrant painters and sculptors who have moved their practice to New York. She is currently a visual artist mentee in the New York Foundation of Art’s 2023 Immigrant mentorship program.

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