hARTjobs: “The Gallery Makes Me Feel Alive!” Dorota Roesler in Conversation with Jason Robinson – The Owner of Podgorny Robinson Gallery

Dorota Roesler: When I first visited Saint-Paul-de-Vence in 2018 on the recommendation of a friend I met at ArtBasel, I was stunned. The town itself is a pearl of medieval architecture and a Mecca for artists who have come here since the 1920s. Footprints of names like Picasso, Duffs, Mattise, Chagall, Leger, as well as the world cinema stars, like Greta Garbo, Sophia Loren and Catherine Deneuve, may be found there. I came to Saint-Paul-de-Vence during the Art Biennale. Contemporary art was present within the walls of this medieval town at every turn, appearing even in the most unexpected places. 

The possibility to see, enjoy and admire the impressive sculptures of Jan Fabre and Arik Levy harmoniously integrated into the public space as well as number of works of artists presented in the 14th-century collegiate church, complemented by a visit in the nearby Maeght Foundation, was an absolute ‘dream come true’ for someone sensitive to art.

Meanwhile, it turned out that there was something else that made me come back to Saint-Paul-de-Vence regularly, often even a few times a year – two contemporary art galleries, representing internationally renowned artists, which regularly appear at major art fairs. One of them is Podgórny-Robinson gallery with world class artists such as Bernard Brezzina, John Franzen, Arik Levy, Reza Derakshani and Nicolas Sanhes.

I have the great pleasure to present you the interview with Jason Robinson, the owner of Podgórny-Robinson gallery. This interview was inspired by conversations with Jason that I had a chance to experience during my trips to Saint-Paul-de-Vence, touching on Jason’s art choices, the people and the path that led him to his current position and what does „Podgórny” mean in the name of his gallery. I hope you will enjoy the read!


Jason Robinson

Position: the owner of Podgorny Robinson Gallery.

City: Saint-Paul-de-Vence

Dorota Roesler: Searching your professional background on the internet I only found notes referring to Podgorny – Robinson Gallery, which you have been running since 2015. Can we make a step back? What have you been doing previously, what are your roots? Has dealing with art always been a one and only, obvious choice for you?

Jason Robinson: I started to be interested in art when I moved together with my sister and my mother to Saint-Paul-de-Vence in 1990. I was 6 years old, my mother found a job as an assistant in the gallery I own today. The gallery was organizing many dinners with art collectors and artists. As my mother was alone taking care of me, I was at every dinner with her. I was passionate about those conversations, and the idea of working in the artworld was growing in my mind at that time.

I interrupted my studies in science when I was 20 years old, I wasn’t interested in school. I wanted to work in the art world, but at that time I didn’t know where to start. One day a friend of mine, Antoine, proposed to me that I sell Picasso’s paintings from one of his father’s contacts. I proposed them to many galleries, and one of them was interested in purchasing them. The gallery was owned by a famous Belgium art dealer, Guy Pieters.

At every appointment with the director of the gallery, new questions concerning the painting were coming out (provenance etc.). After 10 times coming back to the gallery, we didn’t speak about the painting anymore and they proposed that I work for them. I worked for this gallery for 9 years in total.

DR: What was the reason for you deciding to open your gallery in Paris and how come after one year you decided to move to French Riviera and took over the  venue after Gallery Guy Pieters? Who is “Podgorny” – the name which sounds to be very Polish?

JR: I decided to work for myself to be able to take my own decisions and make my own choices. It was very important to me.

Podgorny is the maiden name of my mother, I decided to take both of my parents’ names, as Robinson was very common. For me Podgorny Robinson was more unique.

I was thinking that Paris was the place to be for a gallery, while also being  more fun for a young person. A friend of mine was the owner of a space in Rue Vieille du Temple (5 eme arrondissement). He was renting it to people for small events from time to time, so I proposed to make it an exhibition space during the time the space wasn’t occupied and share the benefit with him. It was a very successful first month, but the next month the attack of the Bataclan happened and then Paris was completely empty. I couldn’t afford to stay there without making any sales. The only solution for me appears to be to move back to my roots in the south of France. That would have been easier for me as I worked 9 years in that area. The space of Guy Pieters was empty, I succeeded after a few months of negotiation to find a deal with him for 3 months. The gallery was so successful that we stayed 2 years. After that we moved to our current gallery which is more central.

DR: No doubt, you have a great portfolio of artists whose names mean a lot in the international contemporary art scene – what are the criteria that decide your choice to an artist under your umbrella? Is it relationship or professional intuition? Do you rather use your mind or your heart? 

JR: I think it is a mix of everything, it’s difficult to explain. Maybe intuition, feeling of course but also the personality of the artist. So, I can say that I use my heart more than my mind even if they are complementary.

DR: Who is your role model? Do you have personalities who inspired or still inspire you in your professional choices?

JR: I think it is difficult today to have personalities that can inspire your professional choices one way or another, the world is changing quickly and that comparison is difficult to make. The way the art world works today is not the same as 15 years ago with all sorts of new technologies. People live differently today, even more so with COVID since a few months ago.

If I have to name one personality, I’m choosing Yvon Lambert. He grew and started in the same area as me, he is one of the bigger gallerists in France. He presented many fabulous artists that today are part of art history.

DR: Ai Weiwei said about the collector of his works, Uli Sigg: “He made me” and “no matter how famous I became, he is my creator”. Is there any artist who started their work with you at the early stage of his career and that you helped becoming famous?

JR: I alone don’t make artists famous, it is teamwork, galleries, collectors, institutions… I don’t pretend to do that, but rather we work hard to promote our artists.

DR: What has been the most surprising event, project or lesson in your professional career? What had the strongest impact on you?

JR: I think I don’t have a specific moment. Working closely with artists is always a surprise and a lesson. They believe in their dreams and make them concrete; it is what I try to do with my life.

DR: How can you describe characteristics of your long-term collectors? Are they only private collectors or also corporations? 

JR: A big percentage are private collectors, and now more often institutions. Collectors with time become friends and it is like a big family.

DR: We all lived in the “new normal” for a few months now. What can you say about change in the behavior and approach of the collectors? Is art more desired by them than in the past? Is the art market in your opinion stable or is falling into the crisis? What actions do you take to adapt your business to the new market conditions?

JR: Yes, it has changed.. We see more French collectors today as all borders are closed. Normally French collectors are 40% of our clients, this year it is 85%. People are more enthusiastic: we sold less but bigger artworks, so we don’t feel the crisis yet.

DR: Do you have a plan, or do you decide based on the current development of the situation?

JR: As we can’t travel and make art fairs, we started to develop the gallery on the internet. We also do more exclusive appointments with one collector at a time, sometimes we even do a solo show for one presentation.

I had a project to open a gallery in a big city like Paris but with COVID this project is suspended. We will see what the future reserves for us.

DR: How would you summarize the five creative years of your gallery? Having the knowledge you have now would you go for it again?

JR: To summarize these 5 years of gallery? Meeting lots of fabulous personalities …

On a more serious note, the first  3 years were full of  and lots of doubt … but it was also very joyful to succeed step by step with my establishment. Today there is less stress and more of the joyful moments.

Of course I would go for it again! The gallery makes me feel alive!

The interview was conducted by Dorota Roesler, certified art advisor, art branding expert, enthusiast of combining art with business, huge fan of contemporary art. For many years associated with the international business environment, professionally involved in the area of business development, marketing, CSR and communication strategies, within which she successfully introduces art to corporations. Her recent projects include creation of art collection in the premises of the international law firm and the DUOS 2020 project consisting in combining mature and young artists, juxtaposition of their works and presenting them to a business audience, which after the first edition has gathered exceptional opinions and reviews. The reactivation of DUOS shall take place as soon as the epidemic situation calms down.

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