Interview with Jim Kempner Fine Art during NYCJW

Exclusively for NYC Jewelry Week, Jim Kempner Gallery hosted the works of creative artists in the world of jewelry, in particular: Heidi Abrahamson, Stephanie Dubsky, Rocio Ines Marsyas, and Jay Kelly. Laura Inghirami, founder of Donna Jewel interviewed Jim Kempner, discussing his career and the art experiences that led him to become one of New York City’s most important contemporary art gallerists.

Jim Kempner during the interview in his office during NYCJW 2023
Jim Kempner during the interview in his office during NYCJW 2023

How did you get closer to the world of art, Jim??

It is quite an unusual story. I had a few different careers before art. I owned a small business in Miami making Italian ice, which is very popular in New York City and Philadelphia. It is truly the most delicious thing. Later, I moved to California and worked at Bed Bath & Beyond, which had numerous stores in the ‘80s. After quitting, I began doing stand-up comedy for a few years. While I was pursuing comedy, I encountered a private art dealer. We got to spend some time together, and he explained me a lot about prints, how to distinguish a good from a bad one, the woodcut, the etching, and more. The experience got me excited about art, and I decided to study printmaking independently in my free time and I started collecting old master prints. One of my first was a Dutch landscape from the 17th century. My passion for art spread: I began appreciating pieces from different times, eventually moving to contemporary art. Then I moved to New York City. I still enjoyed doing comedy at night whilst I worked as a bookkeeper and accountant during the day. I also visited numerous art galleries. Once, they had a sale with 50% off prints and an extra discount exclusively for art dealers. I purchased a print by American sculpturist George Seagull. There and then, I decided to become a private art dealer, which I was for the following seven years. In 1997, when my sons were born, I had to move into this building. (Jim Kempner Fine Art is in an iconic building made by Smith and Thompson Architects, address: 501 West 23rd Street Chelsea, NYC)

How old were you when you came in contact for the first time with the art dealer?

I was 25 years old. I was passionate about art, but also about comedy. I love that today I can devote myself to both of these passions. I am doing a comedy show called “The Madness of Art.” My show is about an art gallery with collectors, dealers, and artists, and it is set in New York City. I’ve been doing this show for a long time, and now there are seven seasons. You can find it on, on my website, and YouTube.

Jim Kempner in his gallery
Jim Kempner in his gallery
Tell us more about your gallery: this is such a special place.

I was very lucky to find it! It was a matter of being in the right time and place. When I moved in, most of the galleries were located South, on 22nd and 28th street, so I thought I was too far North, but luckily, more businesses opened, and now I am right in the middle of Chelsea. In the gallery, I usually represent 20 to 25 artists at a time, including photographers, painters, sculptors, and various contemporary artists, all of whom appeal to me. Many artists have collaborated with me for years, so it is just like a family.

It’s beautiful to see jewelry artists in your gallery during New York City Jewelry Week. Your gallery is like a bridge between art and the jewelry world this week.

Thank you. I consider jewelry as art and we love using the gallery to spread beauty through several projects. We also host shows here, using the gallery as a theatre.

You are considered one of the most respected art collectors and gallerists in NYC. What is the biggest satisfaction you had in your career?

I am most satisfied when people come in and tell me this is their favourite gallery. Not necessarily because of the art selection but because they feel welcome. That’s always what I enjoy the most. You see, I met some of the most extraordinary people here, from all walks of life: actors, politicians, and writers. Usher came in once and bought a $100,00 cookie jar for his girlfriend, Robert Reich (former Secretary of Labour during President Bill Clinton’s office), and several famous actors, James Spader, Julianne Moore, and many more. 
Artwork made by (Heidi Abrahamson Jewelry, Jay Kelly, Stephanie Dubsky, RIMA JEWELS) exhibited at Jim Kempner Fine Art during New York City Jewelry Week
From left to right, artworks made by Heidi Abrahamson Jewelry, Jay Kelly, Stephanie Dubsky, RIMA JEWELS exhibited at Jim Kempner Fine Art during New York City Jewelry Week

Which advice would you give a young person who wishes to pursue a career as an art collector or gallerist? 

I would say to someone who wishes to pursue a career as an art collector: follow your passion and heart. That’s the most beautiful thing. You can enjoy art without purchasing it, but keep going to all the shows and visit all the exhibitions! As a gallerist, it’s trickier. It is difficult to open a new space, but if your heart is genuinely in it, you can make it!

What are your dreams for the future?

To continue to organize shows, keep exhibiting great art, and meet new collectors.

Who is your favorite artist?

Difficult question! Probably Robert Rauschenberg.