a conversation with LEADAPRON

I think at root they (my careers) are all attempts to express myself through a discipline and to understand something about what it means to be a sentient human being. - Jonathan Brown

"You see, unfortunately I am an E X P L O R E R." - Lucio Fontana

(all photos by Marco Annunziata and David John)

LEADAPRON is a capsule on Melrose Place that sells rare, signed, out-of-print art and photography books. Select titles, including books on Andree Putman, Pierre Chaveau, Basquiat, Ed Ruscha, Donald Judd, and Lucio Fontana line the shelves. Jonathan Brown, owner, is a collector, and it takes only a moment to realize that this is not your ordinary book store. It's a place that merges design, interiors, and art effortlessly. Plexiglass boxes containing postcards, books, organized in a manner that speaks of space, time, and history are scattered puroposely throughout the open and vaulted rooms. Skylights cast quiet shadows and dance upon the whiteness of the walls and floors. In one collection is rare Ed Ruscha books, while printed works on Lucio Fontana's punctured canvases dominate another tall bookshelf.

I am not interested in the kind of space you are talking about mine is a different dimension. The hole is this dimension. I say dimension because I cannot think what other word to use.

- Lucio Fontana

What is LEADAPRON, and how long has it been around?

Jonathan: LEADAPRON began as Leadapron Productions 15 years ago. I was directing theatre in Manhattan. I came up with the name during my production of the Maids by Jean Genet. A Leadapron is what you wear when you get an xray.

In short, its a protective shield.

What was in this space before Leadapron? Did you have to do any renovations when you moved in?

Rose Tarlow Melrose House. I built a few walls, a front reception booth and shelves to showcase books and artworks, painted it many times, and added track lighting, etc....I changed some small details like switches and the locks, etc, and added a few fixtures throughout. At the time it felt like quite a bit, but I essentially just tried to make the space a blank white canvas so it would disappear and the objects that I placed inside would pop. I still walk around making minor renovations all the time...just refining the space endlessly.

I've seen some amazing shows, such as the recent James Lee Byars show in your gallery space. But, you also show collections of books, such as Donald Judd, Fontana.

Are the works from your personal collection?

Thank you for the compliment. The artists you mentioned are personal favorites. I show what I like. I spent 2 years assembling the Byars works. I suppose you could say that everything in the gallery is my personal collection, but it is for sale as well so I am just a temporary guardian. I keep a few works, but then sell them later only to replace them with something else.

What sort of work did you did before LEADAPRON?

In brief it went like this: Philosophy, architecture, draftsman, boxer, theatre director, writer, behavioral neuroscience, dealer.

Ok, tell me more about all these prior careers.
Is there something that links all of these occupations together you think?

Very good question. I think at root they are all attempts to express myself through a discipline and to understand something about what it means to be a sentient human being. Some are more murky waters to navigate and others might have been too direct or too clear. Some are too mental, others too physical or abstract. A dealer has to embody and encompass all of these disciplines should he be effective. He or she needs to have a perspective, an aesthetic, a sense of design and space, a daring, be able to direct and stage events and most importantly have a sense of what his/her clients want or need and furthermore, they should be able, though charm or ingenuity or force of personality to convey to their clients their ability to both understand and provide.

Where are you from? How long have you been in LA?

I was born in Korea, and then we moved around from Boston to San Francisco to settle in New York. I spent a year living in France as a child, which was wonderful. I mainly grew up in Bronxville, NY, which is a suburb 30 minutes from Manhattan. An idyllic little town with lots of tudor homes and cobblestone streets. Nothing bad ever happened there outside of perhaps the town drunk or a few divorces. If I didn’t grow up there it wouldn’t be a bad place to raise my kids.
At 18 I moved to NYC for 15 years. I’ve been in Los Angeles for the last 10 years.

Why do you think you are interested in objects? what do they mean to you? what is the obsession?

We learn about the world by manipulating objects as a child and I think this extends into adulthood. I enjoy the visual dialogue with objects. They probably give some sense of order or permanence to our lives and add to one’s narrative about their life. I practice letting them go, which is also a healthy disciple. Perhaps they punctuate space and make me aware that I exist, am existing and won’t exist someday....just like art, music and even friends.

In your office, there is an amazing collection of objects and art on your desk. Can you tell me about any of these works?
What sort of works do you collect?

What were you doing in my office??? Just kidding. I've been collecting chairs.

What sort of chairs have you been collecting?

Gio Ponti, Donald Judd, Mario Botta, Gae Aulenti, etc... I just like placing them around the gallery and in my house. They make me happy. There is something about chairs that are more than sculptures (aside from their functionality). They seem half alive, which is just enough to make them endearing.

Any upcoming artists you collect or are very interested in?

Christopher Astley. He works in concrete. I am planning a show of 5 of his sculptures. He's a cross between John Chamberlain, Philip Guston, Chaim Soutine, Francis Bacon and Claes Oldenburg.

What is the attraction to James Lee Byars' work?

It's simplicity, freshness, evanescence, fragility, beauty, intelligence and ethereal-ness. Byars had a great sense of humor and play, he confronted his audience with boldness and courage and developed his own vocabulary while keeping it universal. He is totemic, mystical and truly mysterious. I do believe that Byars was one of the most important artist of the late 20th Century.

Is it difficult to run a book store in the age of the internet?

Not really. The internet helps with sales.

Any favorite galleries/stores in Los Angeles?

I like Earth Bar, Yves Saint Laurent, Prism & OH WOW. Mind and Body all covered.

What can we expect from Leadapron in 2012?

I would say more, but smaller shows. Instead of trying to be bigger and better I would like to get back to basics and create thoughtful, almost salon style shows...and of course we will continue to provide our selection of rare, unique, out of print, signed art, photography, fashion and design books.

8445 Melrose Place, Los Angeles CA 90069