Installation view of Carla Prina: A Rediscovery at Shin Gallery, New York, 2019 © SHIN GALLERY

How Gallerist Shin Hong Gyu Lives with Art in New York
Shin Hong Gyu, the New York-based gallerist of Shin Gallery, talks about New York and the art market today.
Gallerist and collector Shin Hong Gyu runs his own business in New York City, where everything from culture, art, and media all converge. His commercial gallery, ‘Shin Gallery’, helps promote and introduce established, emerging, and rediscovered artists. In his eight years as a gallerist in the New York art scene, Shin has achieved huge success. He has supported artists such as Andreas Emenius and Carla Prina, helping them earn critical acclaim. Art collectors, curators, and the general public seem to be following the young entrepreneur’s lead.

Shin Hong Gyu and his collections (Left, sculpture, Sonja Ferlov Mancoba, 1935 / Center, painting, Pablo Picasso, 1933, Femme endormie, Boisgeloup / Right, painting Paul Jenkins, Medusa, 1956) © SHIN GALLERY

“I’ve realized if you discover promising artists or bring forgotten artists back into the spotlight, markets will form naturally”.
Shin Hong Gyu

Installation view of Purvis Young & Édouard Vuillard: Prophets and Angels at Shin Gallery, New York, 2020 © SHIN GALLERY

Q. Tell us how your life in New York has changed during the COVID-19 pandemic.
A. I don’t travel as much and I’ve been able to keep a steady routine. I enjoy cooking after coming home from work. I stream cooking classes live on my Instagram page from time to time. I’ve had some pretty good response.

Dishes prepared by Shin Hong Gyu

Q. Do remember the time when, eight years ago, you first opened a gallery in New York at the age of 23?
A. The gallery opened on January 11, 2013. Interestingly, I have the exact same mindset now as I did back then. I am still thrilled to be able to go to work every day.  

Q. You majored in art conservation and art history. Why did you decide to start a gallery?
A. I moved to United States for my studies at 16. Early on, when I found artists I enjoyed, I contacted curators or directors of museums and galleries to see if I could view those works in-person. I asked a lot of questions about the number of pieces the artist produced and the historical significance behind the works. Although I was only 16 at the time, I would talk to gallerists in New York for hours. I learned a great deal from that experience. Those gallerists were mostly in their 60s or 70s, and they really enjoyed talking.
I studied art conservation at the University of Delaware. Professors at the time brought in x-ray photos of works stored in museums. I was able to learn about not just art history but the story behind an artwork. With the help of professors, I went on to take a museology course at Harvard. Those were some of the happiest days of my life.
I was also obsessed with collecting Ukiyo-e at the time. I tracked down dealers, collectors and curators in the U.S., Europe and Asia to gather information and collect works. I built my collection purely with my passion and my eye for detail. Soon enough, Ukiyo-e dealers and auction houses like Christie’s and Sotheby’s started calling and asking me to sell some of the works. Personally, I’d love to get my hands on all the Ukiyo-e pieces and open a museum dedicated to them in Korea.

Shin Hong Gyu in conversation with Alex Katz © SHIN GALLERY

Along the way, I’ve come to a few realizations. First, art dealers can collect large amounts of information more quickly than collectors. Second, ultimately, it’s the collectors, not dealers, who make money from artworks. And third, rather than trying to speculate about the art market, if you discover promising artists or bring forgotten ones back into the spotlight, markets will form naturally.
During my sophomore year of college, I decided to run my own gallery. I was determined to rediscover artists who never got their due and were forgotten when they were alive, much like Vincent Van Gogh. I felt a sense of responsibility to go out and uncover brilliant young artists who hadn’t yet achieved fame.

Q. It must have taken a while for you to earn recognition after first opening your gallery.
A. Thankfully, I was able to sell works consistently during the first year. Most of my exhibited artists did quite well. I showcased artists of different styles for each exhibition and I believe that appealed to a wide range of collectors. Many artists I introduced have exhibited at Biennales and world-renowned museums.

Q. Did you always have that collector’s mentality in you?
A. I always loved collecting stuff as a kid, like Tazos, key chains, toys and old books. A few years ago, I bought some Matchbox cars from the 1960s and 1970s for a few thousand won. Now they’re going for anywhere from a few hundred thousand won to a few million won. I didn’t buy them to make money. I am still holding on to my 60 Matchbox cars.

Shin Hong Gyu giving young collectors a tour of his home 2019 © SHIN GALLERY

Q. What are the works that hang on the walls of your house?
A. I have an eclectic collection at home, including ones by popular artists like James Abbott McNeill Whistler, Vilhelm Hammershoi, Pablo Picasso, Jackson Pollock and Jean-Michel Basquiat. I also have work by Congo, a chimpanzee painter from 1950s and a complete outsider. Once every four months, I replace every painting at home with something new. Once the change is complete, I invite young collectors, artists, critics or art lovers for a tour.

Q. You were named one of the world’s “Top 200 Collectors’ by ARTnews last year, alongside gallerists like Larry Gagosian and David Zwirner. This was a significant bit of news in the art world.
A. To be honest, being on the Top 200 list doesn’t mean much to me. I know a collector who has drawings, paintings and tapestries by Leonardo da Vinci, Rembrandt and Michelangelo. That collector has over 100 drawings by da Vinci and unveiled them at the Royal Collection in 2019. That person didn’t make it to Top 200.  That person is Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom. As nice as is to be one of the 200 collectors, I hope to be known as a collector who shares his collections with the public and inspires people in the process.

Pablo Picasso, Femme endormie, Boisgeloup, 1933, Oil on Canvas 10.2 x 20.3cm © The Shin Collection

Oscar Wilde (1854 – 1900) Two leaves, pp 31-34, from The Picture of Dorian Gray in Lippincott's Monthly Magazine for July, 1890, with Wilde's autograph revisions toward the book-version published in April 1891, leaves mildly smudged and thumbed. It’s the only revised version in existence. © The Shin Collection

Q. You’ve been able to put little-known artists like Andreas Emenius and Carla Prina on the map. What are your criteria for selecting artists to showcase at your gallery?
A. First, it’s a gut feeling. Second, I ask myself if the artist is going to play an important role in art history or if that artist can influence other artists. Using my background in art history, I try to see if there have been similar works in terms of techniques and styles. If I see entirely new concept or style, I keep a close eye and select them for an exhibition.

Q. Works from Shin Gallery have made their way to the lobby at LOTTE NEW YORK PALACE.
A. We displayed works by the Swedish artist Andreas Emenius. He’s expanding the boundaries of art. He taught at The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts and I collected his works while visiting New York during school breaks. We exhibited his works at LOTTE NEW YORK PALACE.

Andreas Emenius, Muscle Memory, 2018 Acrylic, Oil and Marker on Canvas 152.4 x 182.88cm, on display at LOTTE NEW YOK PALACE © Andreas Emenius Courtesy the artist and Shin Gallery

Q. Why did you choose those pieces?
A. Inside LOTTE NEW YORK PALACE, you have marble walls and floors, along with luxurious candles and chandeliers. The hotel is built on the concept of high culture. Works by an Impressionist would make the place feel like Paris, but New York is one of the world’s great melting pots and needs to represent diversification. If a Korean gallerist brought the latest pieces by an up-and-coming Swedish artist for an exhibition at a hotel, then I feel people wouldn’t necessarily have to go to an art museum to enjoy the finest contemporary art that New York could offer.

Carla Prina (Italian, 1911- 2008), Agrigento, 1966, Oil on Canvas, 60 x 80 cm

Q. Who are some artists you’re keeping an eye on?
A. Carla Prina, an Italian female modernist. She exhibited at the Venice Biennale in 1942 and founded the Group of Abstractionists of Como in Italy. Prina shared a studio with Joan Miró, and together they opened an art university in Spain. I believe she was forgotten for being a woman. Her geometric abstract works with their balance of planes and gradation are critical to understanding art history from the 1940s to 1960s. Many directors and curators from some of the world’s top institutions have taken notice. I believe Prina’s works will be displayed at or owned by those renowned art museums.

Q. What sort of changes has the New York art market undergone over the past year?
A. I think galleries with substance were able to separate themselves from the ones that were all about style. Overall, sales for anything in the 30 billion won range have slowed, and it may seem as though the market is struggling. Yet prices for Impressionist and Modern works have risen, and the contemporary art market saw a lot of young artists evolve. It was a good year for galleries that knew how to plan their exhibitions and showcase talented artists.

Q. As a gallerist and collector, you must be able to spot talent.
A. To develop an eye for talent, you should go to museums to see great works, and take notes of ideas that pop up in your head. If you keep asking yourself questions and trying to find answers, you’ll realize you’re developing a pretty good set of eyes.

Chris Burden (1946~2015) WARSHIP Mixed Media Assemblage, 1981, 25.4 x 83.8 x 15.2cm © The Shin Collection

Q. How do you define great art?
A. Great artworks always transcend time and hold human emotion. There is an honest reflection of society from that period in time.

Q. What’s your immediate reaction when you see a piece of work you like?
A. I get tunnel vision and stop seeing everything else around it. I get chills down my spine. I can get so carried away that I try to see the same picture from different angles. I can’t stay still.

Q. How will the year 2021 play out for Shin Gallery?
A. Expansion work that has been ongoing for three years will be done, and we’ll have a grand opening. For the opening exhibition, we will have works by African-American artists who were enslaved and self-taught. This will include artist David Drake, a renowned potter who was a literate slave. From January onward, our resident artists and I are will be hosting pop-up exhibitions called Shin Project. Art exhibitions will take place in outer-borough New York communities and will include free art classes and portfolio reviews for students. I will also begin construction for my first art museum in Upstate New York.
Shin Gallery 68 Orchard St., New York

Edgar Degas, Three Dancers in Yellow Skirts, 1891 ©️SHIN GALLERY

“If a Korean gallerist brought the latest pieces by an up-and-coming Swedish artist for an exhibition at a hotel, then I feel people wouldn't necessarily have to go to an art museum to enjoy the finest contemporary art that New York could offer.”
Shin Hong Gyu, Director of Shin Gallery
Q. We’d now like you to tell us more about the New York that you know. Do you have a favorite brunch spot?
A. I really like Café Sabarsky, on the first floor of Neue Galerie New York near 86th St. in Manhattan. The gallery specializes in German and Austrian art, and I go to the café for Bavarian sausage with warm pretzel and sweet mustard. I would also recommend a beer to wash it all down. 
Café Sabarsky 1048 Fifth Ave., New York

Façade of Neue Galerie, home to Café Sabarsky © Shutterstock

Q. Your favorite bar?
A. The Box near Shin Gallery. It’s a quintessential New York bar.
The Box 189 Chrystie St., New York

Q. Your favorite shop?
A. I frequent Strand Bookstore at Union Square. It’s the world’s largest used bookstore and Umberto Eco once called it the loveliest place in America. I usually buy art books from the 18th to 19th centuries on the third floor in the section featuring rare volumes.
Strand Bookstore 828 Broadway, New York

Strand Bookstore, a New York landmark © Shutterstock

Q. Your favorite working routine?
A. I take a stroll on Pier 35 in the Lower East Side almost every morning. I start my day by looking out toward the Manhattan Bridge and thinking of my goals.
Pier 35 FDR Dr., New York

Q. Your favorite most recent exhibition?
A. I took a private tour of the exhibition “Making The Met: 1870-2020”, commemorating the 150th anniversary of the MET. Without any outside visitors, I toured the place for about two hours with the curator. The Metropolitan Museum of Art had humble beginnings, and I could sense the pride of the people there who were so driven to develop it into a world-class museum for future generations. I found it really touching. A great exhibition can change your perception and your life too.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art 1000 5th Ave., New York

A special exhibition celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Metropolitan Museum of Art © SHIN GALLERY

Q. If you were to show us something that screams New York, where would you take us?
A. I would recommend The Met Cloisters, an annex of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. At the entrance, you’ll get a great view of the Hudson River, and the foliage in the autumn is gorgeous. I really enjoy going for a picnic at the park near the Met Cloisters and then going inside to see the art.
ᆞThe Met Cloisters 99 Margaret Corbin Dr., New York

The Met Cloisters © Shutterstock

Q. What about your favorite New York meal?
A. Check out the modern American restaurant called Traif, right off the Williamsburg Bridge. For my money, that place is as good as any Michelin-Star restaurant in New York. I like the casual ambience. Try the Chef’s Special, featuring a nine-course menu and two desserts. It’s only $55 per person, an incredible deal.
Traif 229 South 4th St., Brooklyn, New York

Q. Can you recommend classic New York destinations to experience?
A. The Morgan Library & Museum is located in Midtown. It was the mansion for J.P. Morgan that has been turned into a museum with public access. Go see the collections and other special items that Mr. Morgan acquired. Then go to the second floor dining room at Keens Steakhouse for lunch. Albert Einstein, President Roosevelt and Morgan used to be regulars. Finally take a walk in Central Park. That is New York in a nutshell.
The Morgan Library & Museum 225 Madison Ave., New York

Inside the Morgan Library & Museum, and its collections © Shutterstock

Where to Stay in New York: LOTTE NEW YORK PALACE
LOTTE NEW YORK PALACE has the best of both the antique charm and modern sensibilities, as it’s housed in the late-19th century mansion by the financier Henry Villard and also features a 55-story modern tower. Having been featured in the popular U.S. TV series and other films, the hotel has become a must-stop destination in New York. It offers 909 rooms, plus a beautiful courtyard inspired by the 15th century Italian cathedral, restaurant Villard, luxury lounge Rarities and cocktail bar Trouble’s Trust.

Address 455 Madison Avenue at 50th St., New York
Phone +1-800-804-7035
February 2021 Editor:Jung Jaewook

Where to stay?

  • February 2021
  • Editor: Jung Jaewook
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