By Michael Gibbs
Illustrator and designer
When Jennifer Glave and BJ Kocen established the glave kocen gallery in 2007, their goal was simple: To create a prominent contemporary gallery, and fill their 3,200 square feet of exhibition space with exquisite art by dozens of local and national artists.
Mission accomplished. In the years since, glave kocen has become one of the most well-known galleries in town. Located in the heart of Main Street in Richmond, VA, it is just minutes away from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, one of the top 10 comprehensive art museums in the nation, and it features works from artists including Rodger Bechtold, Rob Browning, Mark Chatterley, James Del Grosso, Josh George, Steve Hedberg, Sheep Jones, Glen Kessler, Matt Lively, Susan Morosky, Greg Osterhaus, Ed Trask, and Steven Walker.
“We take pride in our solid reputation based on years of honesty and integrity throughout the art community,” insists Glave, who prior to establishing her own business was the director at the Rentz Gallery, a contemporary art gallery located within Robert Rentz Interiors.
Kocen worked at the Rentz as well, until one day the couple had the opportunity to buy a space just a block away that Kocen’s grandfather owned back when it was the Pepsi Bottling Company. “We jumped at the chance to break out on our own and to reclaim a piece of my family’s history,” he shares.
Services that glave kocen gallery offers clients include providing guidance for private collections, consulting and helping to buy art for corporate collections, and spatial planning, as well as the delivery, installation, and framing of art.
“Whether you are taking the first steps toward buying art or are an experienced collector, we can assist in finding the right piece of art,” Glave adds. “We also have helped dozens of companies assess their needs in an art collection based on budget, investment, and aesthetic goals. And, we are available to assist a lot or a little with placement of your art for a home or office.”
It is a pleasure to give our readers a glimpse into one of Richmond’s hot spots. Scroll down for our Q&A with BJ Kocen and Jennifer Glave.
Michael Gibbs: Tell us about how you got into the art business.
BJ Kocen: I got into it because I fell in love with Jennifer. I didn’t really care what the model was; I just knew I wanted to be in business with her because we fell for each other working together and the mojo was amazing. From that day to this, I’ve learned a ton from her and the fact that we’ve been at it now for 10-plus years.
Jennifer Glave: I majored in fine arts history and my intention was to work for a museum, but just to get out there I applied for an assistant directorship at a gallery and an ad firm and got offered both jobs on the same day! I went with the gallery and was with them off and on for 12 years.
Michael Gibbs: Your gallery shows are each unique and showcase a variety of styles. How do you decide which artists show at glave kocen?
BJ Kocen / Jennifer Glave: We definitely think in terms of a season and book exhibits out at least a year and a half to two years. We use a dry erase board so we can always glance up at it to see our line up last year, this year, and next year. That board basically calls the shots for us! We say to ourselves things like, “We’ve lined up some pretty solid exhibits in February and March so let’s stretch out and take a risk in April!” or “Well, we haven’t shown that artist in a couple of years so let’s bring them back!” Our guiding light when bringing an artist on is definitely whether they fit in with our sensibility, which is basically “transitional” — meaning between contemporary and traditional — and are they going to be a good partner? It’s just not enough to be a talented artist.
Michael Gibbs: Has your taste for different kinds of art changed over the years?
BJ Kocen / Jennifer Glave: Absolutely! We’ve become more concise and consistent, and even though there are exceptions to the rule, the pendulum doesn’t swing as wide as it used to. It’s definitely a dance with our patrons to make sure we stay true to our aesthetic while offering up some surprise as well to keep them guessing!
Michael Gibbs: The gallery business is not an easy one. To what do you attribute your success?
BJ Kocen / Jennifer Glave: The easiest thing I can say is we are dedicated, we are passionate. And both of our salaries come out of the business, so failure is not an option! I do ascribe our success to the fact that we found exactly what we wanted to do, we do it exactly they way we want to, and we work extremely hard to bolster our artists’ careers and be good stewards to our patrons.
We scratched an itch as well. We noticed that the perception of galleries across the board was elitist. We found that creating a warm inviting space, soft selling, spinning great music, and just being who we are (which is casual, even down to how we dress) made people feel very welcome and word spread over time. There are no corners to cut to be successful. If you can’t trade on passion, integrity, and honesty, you’ll have a harder go, at least if you’re a mom-and-pop shop like us.
Michael Gibbs: BJ, you started out your career in the entertainment business. In fact, you call yourself a song-and-dance man. Tell us about your background.
BJ Kocen / Jennifer Glave: I’ve always been in the arts. I’ve been an actor, dancer, singer songwriter (which I still am), and now the visual arts. My head-in-the-clouds dream would’ve been to become an “SNL” cast member since I’m just as passionate about comedy as I am with the gallery and my music. I just found that even though I loved acting, all of the stuff you have to do to get a gig or the fact that being in a play is so time-consuming, made it not enough to sustain me. I did it enough to say “enough,” what else is out there for me?
Michael Gibbs: Jennifer, you have been in the art world for much of your career. Tell us about what led to where you are now.
Jennifer Glave: My first job in the arts was a great learning experience for someone right out of college. I had a tremendous mentor who taught me all the ins and outs of the gallery world in the Richmond area. I moved on from there to a larger market and learned even more about handling artists and clients, but I think the biggest lesson from that experience was to be very careful with whom you go into business. The job ended when the partners sued one another over breach of contract. I wanted a change, so I started a jewelry store with my sister selling handmade jewelry and gifts by American artists.
By the time I left we had two retail stores and four satellite locations. This is where I learned all about accounting, publicity, and marketing. I eventually left because my true calling was in the fine arts and I went back to the first gallery I ever worked for. After a few years, I was ready to take control of my own career. BJ and I started our first gallery with another partner, but it just wasn’t working for the three of us. At that point we decided to “play in our own sandbox.”
Every experience, every decision and every failure brought me to where I am today. Starting my own gallery with my best friend, whom I trust more than anyone, was the right decision at the right time. A year or two earlier and it may not have worked. I remember the exact day that I said to BJ, “I think it is time we go out on our own.” After our initial conversation, we have never looked back. Full steam ahead!
Michael Gibbs: What advice do you have for others art lovers who dream of opening a gallery?
BJ Kocen: Don’t fool yourself! If you think owning an art gallery — or any business for that matter — is all romance, you’ll have your ass handed to you. I’d say become an intern, do your due diligence, learn some business skills (how to run your books, how to scrutinize your overhead), and make sure you have the passion to fight for your artists and your business! Also define yourself. When we were starting out, our shows were hit and miss. The more clearly we’ve defined our focus, the stronger our success rate has become.
Jennifer Glave: I would tell anyone thinking about opening a gallery to think long and hard about why. It is hard work from the moment you wake up until you lay your head on the pillow. Artists and clients want your attention, artwork needs to be hung, bathrooms need to be cleaned, and books need to be done. It is a lot, but I have to say it is also very rewarding. BJ and I become friends with our artists and we are close to a lot of our clients. We would not be successful if it weren’t for them and appreciate that every day.
Michael Gibbs: What was the most fantastic moment at the gallery, and what do you hope your legacy will be?
BJ Kocen / Jennifer Glave: We have had some pretty stellar moments for sure … big name exhibits, sell outs, proud moments when we are supporting a nonprofit, but our grand opening comes to mind. It was Sept. 7, 2007, and the opening was at 6. The contractors were still working in the space that afternoon and we really weren’t sure if we were going to beat the buzzer, but it all came together at the last minute and we were packed and selling like crazy on day 1. As the crowd dispersed and I stood upstairs looking down to the gallery, my heart just swelled with emotion. It was truly fantastic. And then the stock market crashed!
Legacy-wise, it’s honestly hard to say. Maybe that we didn’t screw up to badly and that we were good stewards to our community.
For more information, visit glavekocengallery.com.
1620 W. Main St, Richmond, VA 23220
Phone: (804) 358-1990
Hours: Open 11:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.