“Probably my whole life is art in a way,” the Berlin-based artist and performer Juwelia said Thursday over e-mail. “It could be that I am an alien, or perhaps a crate of beer—who knows. Everybody can see in me what he or she wants, and for me it’s interesting to see what they see.” The artist opens her first New York solo show tonight at Jack Hanley Gallery on the Lower East Side, which dovetails with the premiere of Paintings, a book of her work published by Peradam. There will also be a performance. Saturday sees a book launch and another performance at Printed Matter in Chelsea.
“When I showed Jack Hanley and Brandy Carstens, the gallery director, images for the upcoming book, they immediately proposed the show,” Elizabeth Jaeger, who runs Peradam alongside Sam Cate-Gumpert, said Thursday. “The work speaks for itself.” The colorful paintings—which feature a self-contained aesthetic universe that often includes images of legs, vases, parties, puppies, and cakes—are matched up with interiors that at times mirror how the artist decorates the gallery itself for her shows. Images from performances make their way onto the canvas and vice versa.
“Many people see me as one cohesive piece of art, but I see my work and my shows as different pairs of shoes. Whatever is more successful at the time, painting or performing, dictates how I think of myself at the time, a painter or a performer,” Juwelia explained. Born in Korbach, Germany, Juwelia moved to Berlin at 22, in 1985, and started working on paintings on large canvases. Her performance name came about two years later. “The name came from a street sign I saw with a friend. He turned to me and said ‘your name will be Juwelia now,’” she explained.
Jaeger met Juwelia in 2009 after she blindly attended a performance at Galerie Studio St. St., the project space founded by Juwelia in 2006 that still exists to this day. “Since I was alone for the summer, Galerie Studio St. St. became kind of a safe space for me, and Juwelia and I became friends,” Jaeger said. The collaboration with Peradam came about after Jaeger and Juwelia reconnected last May in Berlin. They had a running joke back in 2009 that Jaeger would eventually be her New York gallerist—an absurd thought at the time, considering she was 21 and lived in Portland. “The book was a way of giving life to that old joke,” Jaeger explained.
The book is a catalogue of 74 paintings made by the artist between the 2004 and 2015 and includes essays by both Juwelia and Jaeger. Paintings is organized and designed by Juwelia’s friend Hagen Verleger, who has served as, according to Jaeger, “the translator, artist liaison, and manager on their visit to NY.” The book covers the painter’s full range of topical concerns: her gallery and the aforementioned puppies and cakes, yes, but also things like the countryside, seaside, and U-Bahn.
Although Juwelia mentioned that she has been having stomach problems—a mix of stress, excitement, and the feeling that “the water is not good in New York”—she is genuinely thrilled to be showing her work here. “The paintings look amazing in the New York light, it’s a different light than in Berlin,” Juwelia explained. “For the first time ever I can step back from the paintings and see them from a distance, my studio is so small in Berlin, and for the first time I see them completely—I realize I am a genius.”