Gallerist Jennifer Kostuik reflects on 25 years
Words Lauren Kramer X Photography Lia Crowe
It’s a thundering, rain-filled day in April, but there’s a peace and calm that hovers over Kostuik Gallery on Vancouver’s Homer Street. In a 3,000-sqaure-foot space filled with stunning pieces of contemporary art, Jennifer Kostuik reflects on art and why people buy it.
“Some buy it because they like the colours or texture—very surface things,” she says. “They like how a piece of art makes them feel. For others it’s because they have a connection to a particular work and can’t get it out of their mind; they don’t know why they love it, they just do. And some people like to meet the artist and hear the story behind the work. The art represents a change they’re going through in their own life.”
As the owner of the gallery, which is celebrating 25 years in business this year, Jennifer sees herself as a broker, easing a customer’s way through an art purchase. “It’s almost like being a psychologist,” she says. “I know what my artist is saying and I’m figuring out what my customer is looking for, even though they may not know it.”
A Canadian raised in Birmingham, Alabama, Jennifer studied art history at Queens University in Kingston, Ontario, initially intending to be an artist herself. Early on she realized she didn’t have the vocational drive to produce art full time, and felt she could better fulfill her creative process by promoting living artists. Post-college she worked in Toronto, learning about contemporary Canadian art before moving to Vancouver in 1996 to open her own gallery.
In 1997, her gallery opened with a collection of work by artists who had previously been represented in a gallery that had just closed. Those first years included a steep learning curve, Jennifer admits.
“I didn’t have a formed relationship with those artists, and because I didn’t know them and wasn’t behind the ideas that inspired their work, I found it difficult to sell some of their art.”
As she began to understand the significance of choosing her own aesthetic and having meaningful relationships with her artists, Jennifer began actively pursuing artists she wanted to represent. She flew around Canada to meet them and perused artists worldwide. She was looking for art that spoke to her and that would resonate with her clients in British Columbia, as well as with new clients made through exhibiting in international art fairs in Miami, San Francisco and New York City.
“As a gallery owner, I believe you need a good working relationship with an artist, like any business relationship, because art is very personal,” she says. “Art is an expression of someone’s soul, the spirit inside of them. And you’re representing someone else’s career as much as you’re furthering your own career. So, I worked hard at going after artists whose art I related to, who I wanted to represent, and who I felt I could work with.”
Today she represents 27 artists, ranging in age from 32 (Whitney Lewis-Smith) up to 72 (Stu Oxley). Just over half the artists are Canadian, while the remainder are from the United States, Europe, Mexico and Argentina. Just five of the artists are local to BC: photography artists David Burdeny, Judy D. Shane, Philip Jarmain, Whitney Lewis-Smith and painter Ghislain Brown-Kossi.
The price tags of art in Kostuik Gallery vary significantly, ranging from $650 up to $50,000 for the most expensive pieces. Jennifer’s advice to buyers is that if you’re buying anything over $20,000, “ask who the artist is and why their work is in that price range.” Anything below that number is within the average range, she adds.
“Art is an investment, and I believe it’s the best investment in any volatile market,” she says unequivocally. “It’s a better investment than gold because it never depreciates, it always goes up.”
She cites the work of local artist David Burdeny as an example. “His photography is collected internationally and his market value has gone up more than 50 per cent since 2001.”
Jennifer has developed a knack for knowing what her local customers are looking for. So, when American artist William Betts recently offered to send her a selection of line paintings from the series he had first exhibited and sold successfully with her in 2007, she gladly accepted them.
“My newer clients had never seen this series before and I had a collector of Betts’ work itching for more, so I had a feeling it would fly,” she recalls. “It did. I sold six of his pieces in one week!”
Some gallery clients are personal art collectors, while others are corporate clients including CBRE Ltd, Concert Properties and Hollyburn Properties. Liquidity Wines in the Okanagan featured a collection of work by David Burdeny and Philip Jarmain.
Jennifer relishes her connections to her artists and watching their work develop.
“I love forging new relationships with artists, and I really believe in what I do and in what they do. I believe having art in one’s life is a need, a necessity, and that’s why I do it,” she says.
The bonds with her artists are deeply personal, and many artists have become close friends. Often, the relationship is collaborative. The artists understand what Jennifer sees in their work, and sometimes even request her feedback on their new creations.
A collector herself, it can be hard for Jennifer to resist adding to her personal art collection.
“I know what the best artwork is and it’s hard not to buy the best of the best that you know your artists have made!” she admits.
As she reflects on 25 years in Vancouver’s art world, it’s gratitude that Jennifer feels first and foremost.
“It’s been a tough journey running a gallery in this city, but I’m very grateful for being able to do what I do here,” she says, adding, “The past two years were the best I’ve had in a long time, perhaps because of the pandemic. People weren’t traveling and weren’t distracted by life, so they could focus on themselves, their homes and their office spaces. I had the opportunity to reconnect with clients I hadn’t seen in years, and met new clients that finally had time to enter the doors of my gallery.”