15 Minutes with Joel and Bianca ChenAuthor:Lindsey Shook
Few industry leaders have made a greater impact on global design than visionary curator Joel Chen. Since the L.A. showroom opened over 40 years ago, JF Chen has evolved into one of the most premier destinations for discovering internationally sourced antiques and contemporary collections. Now Joel and his daughter are shepherding the iconic galleries and showrooms into the future.
–You have greatly influenced the interior design and art industries through your expertise and perspective. What accomplishment has made you the most proud? (Joel) Over the course of a carreer that has spanned 40 years, I have encountered a multitude of graceful clients, famous or not famous, and they all still come back to us, whether to buy or to sell, preserve, restore or appraise. This, in fact, is my biggest accomplishment.
While JF Chen is most recognized for curating some of the rarest pieces of iconic furniture and decorative arts, you are also applauded for bringing contemporary and emerging talent to light. How do these two components of the business help fuel each other? (Bianca) My father has always taught me to mix things up and to use what I love. Combining antique, vintage and contemporary furniture and art brings together an array of influences, tastes and ideas. It may not sound cohesive, but they all draw from each other. Contemporary and emerging talents will become rare and iconic in due time if given their chances.
–What has been the most significant change you have witnessed in the California design landscape over the past 40 years? (Joel) Designs have changed tremendously. The Old-World look has diminished, although it is somewhat coming back these days. Mid- century was very sought after for some time; however, that is also gradually diminishing. What ensues is contemporary art, both as wall art and functional furniture, with a likeness without precedence. One can call it weird and eccentric, but it is embraced and liked. Certain sculptures and paintings from the near past seem to be fetching astronomical prices.
–It seems in today’s world that the practice of creating a family legacy is dwindling. Why is it important to you to continue your father’s work? (Bianca) For myself, this is probably the most important thing I can do in my life. As a Chinese American, born and raised in L.A., I have witnessed my parents build JF Chen from a tiny shop on Melrose Avenue to what it is today. I am absolutely in awe of my father, who, in my opinion, is the only Asian to be this successful in this industry—possibly throughout the world. I hated this business growing up as I thought it was so boring. However, now after working in it for two decades, I love being able to express my creativity, meet innovative people and embark on new opportunities. I don’t ever want to take any of it for granted and want to continue my father’s mission to educate and to share the beauty of design with anyone who is willing to learn.
–Working together must present many benefits but also challenges. How do you balance your family and business relationships? (Bianca) There are definitely challenges. The most important thing is to separate family and business. It is a daily obstacle, but I take a lot of deep breaths! We try our best not to talk about work at family dinners, and I try my best to not get impatient with him.
–How are you shifting the business to evolve with the future generations of art and design talent? (Bianca) I am always on the lookout for new artists/furniture makers to represent. I am also thinking outside of the box and looking for collaborations, but not necessarily with furniture brands. I will definitely be curating more shows soon.
–Which three emerging artists are on the JF Chen radar? (Bianca) Jeremy Anderson, Caroline Blackburn and Casey Zablocki.
–Which design fair in the world do you think is the best and why? (Joel) Art Basel, not only because of its vastness that spans every corner of the world, but also the ability to reach almost the entire facets of various arts and artists.
–What is the best advice you would share with a young collector? (Joel) Embrace all and examine all before delving into your desired interest. Be vast and inquisitive.
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