Jonathan Brown: from Neuroscience to Art.
Hodgepodge of fine arts.
How did you get into bookselling and art dealing?
As a kid in New York, I was always selling something; I was a little bit of a hustler. My mother was an antiques dealer, and she would bring me to antique shows. Later, when I was at the tail end of a career in neuroscience, I started working with booksellers in my spare time. I found it to be very romantic.
Here is a group of people who are interested in ideas, the promotion of ideas, the preservation of ideas, and they sell books, and at the end of the night they go out for a wonderful meal and talk about those ideas. It was a way to have a thoughtful life and also feel like you’re keeping the culture alive.
Poetry of the brain.
How did you go from a career in neuropsychology to this?
I worked in neuroscience for 15 years. I went into it because of my interest in theatre: the gestures of theatre and the language… I got a job in a psychiatric hospital in New York, and I wound up working with Oliver Sacks. I was interested in the poetry of the brain and how it could shed light on the human condition. It is marriage of art and science. That mixed with my theatre background and a love for beauty and aesthetics eventually led me to being a dealer. It was the perfect school of life training for what I do now.
Libertines in the “City of Angels”.
What made you decide to move from New York to Los Angeles?
I moved to Los Angeles primarily because New York had lost its effervescence to me. The things that people always talk about – how interesting, exciting and varied it is – became cliché to me. I grew up coming to Los Angeles. I loved the balmy evenings with night blooming jasmine. I loved the majesty of California as a state. When you’re living in New York, it doesn’t wait for you to figure out what you’re doing with your life. You don’t have time to think about it or explore your options. If you don’t make up your mind, New York will make up your mind for you very quickly.
The wallet of Basquiat.
What is the idea behind the name LEADAPRON?
The idea is that everybody who wears an apron is a worker, whether they’re a craftsperson, a waitress, a sculptor, or a cobbler – they’re the people that make the objects that furnish the culture and therefore drive our civilization. A lead apron is also what you wear when you get an X-ray; it’s a protective shield. I like the sound of it. It’s oblique, strong, and plays to contrasts – lead, which is hard and strong, and apron, which is delicate and fragile. The apron is the front of a stage, so it’s a place for arrivals, it’s a place for drama, it feeds into the whole spectacle of what I do.
Was there one particular book or object that sparked it all?
I had all of Basquiat’s personal items because I used to date his last girlfriend. I had his wallet, his coat, and a toaster he made. I had very unusual items, and I started getting collectors and clients. A client told me that as long as I was patient, everything would come to me. Now, I build libraries for people.
The G 550 – A mobile artwork.
What is it about your car that you most enjoy?
I like the brown leather. It has a robust, austere power and elegance to it that’s classic and timeless. I have space, and I love the roar of the engine. The senses are activated. My first car was a Mercedes, it was a coupé, the 280 C and it was blue. I love the history of the G-Wagon. It’s an exquisite design. It feels very masculine, and I like to feel the road. Also, it’s useful to my business, whether it’s carting books or paintings or furniture. It’s a great utility vehicle with great visibility, a work of art, that’s beautifully designed. And it’s safe for my kids.
Art in the modern Wild West.
Los Angeles has been getting more attention than usual lately. How do you feel it’s changed since you first moved here?
When I left New York, all of my friends said, “Why would you move to L.A.? It’s this barren wasteland with a bunch of vapid people…” I said, “You’ll see, in about ten years you’ll all be asking me to help find you a place out here.” In the last year or two, it seems like it’s changed dramatically. There’s a lot more industry, and it’s the new capitol of the art world. It’s still the wild, wild, west – anything goes – a place where you can create your own life. It’s still possible to create a life here based on an idea.
I feel like Los Angeles right now is like the Acropolis 2,000 years ago. We’re living at the helm of culture. It is the dream factory of the world, after all. Some of the most intelligent people I’ve ever met are right here in Los Angeles.
Thank you, Jonathan for this interesting conversation and spending the day with us!