Jay Etkin Gallery Memphis: Building Artistic Success Through Relationships

Posted on April 28, 2015


jay etkin

If you are like me, you have noticed the steady resurgence of art venues, music scenes, and restaurants in Memphis since the recession hit in 2007-08. Among others, these three aspects breathed fresh life into the Jay Etkin Gallery after the national financial crisis that left many without much hope for our soulful city. One of the outstanding folks who influences Memphis and offers fresh and eye-catching visual art is artist and gallery owner Jay Etkin. The Memphis gallery, located at 942 South Cooper Street, features contemporary and ethnographic works of art. More specifically, Etkin focuses on acquiring and showcasing vintage African tribal art. In addition to art sales, Etkin also assists in the “acquisition of contemporary and ethnographic works of art for private and corporate collections.” Etkin’s gallery itself is an artistic, architectural feat. Working collaboratively with architect Jeff Blackledge, Etkin chose to leave parts of the building’s original structure revealed; cement floors and exposed wooden rafters. One can even rent out this dramatic space for private events.

You may be thinking that the name Jay Etkin sounds familiar. Right you are! Shortly after Etkin’s initial 1983 visit to Memphis, he decided to make Memphis home. At that time, he “mainly focused on producing new paintings and works on paper.” He showcased some of his work at Alice Bingham Gallery, married his wife Sheila, and became a father to his daughter Zoe, all in two action-packed years. Etkin shared a studio space located at 333 Beale Street from 1986-1989. This is where he began interacting with the public, leading to his opening of the first official Jay Etkin Gallery at 964 South Cooper Street. He ran the space until 1999. Etkin a self-proclaimed “pioneer of the Cooper Young neighborhood,” eventually landing a storefront, and his largest gallery space in Memphis is at 409 South Main Street. “Art, Art, Art,” Etkin explains, is what he brought to downtown Memphis. He even helped to initiate the last Friday of the month Trolley Art Tours we now call and have come to know as Trolley Night.

I had the privilege to ask Etkin how moving to Memphis, opening a gallery, moving it, closing it, and opening another, has challenged and informed his career. Etkin responded saying “It has been exhilarating to say the least. Some decisions were based strictly on the reality of the economy. I closed the South Main space when the economy was at its worst. I have developed a strong following through the years. I seem to be appreciated and have been well received back into the city.” A true “people-person,” Etkin focuses on fostering relationships with artists as well as individual and corporate clients. Preferring his seasoned eye to résumés, Etkin features artists who dedicate themselves to quality of work and commitment to craft. Unlike some art galleries, Etkin intentionally features local Memphis artists like Johnny Taylor and Roy Tamboli.

Etkin attributes his life-changing mentors like Morris Dorsky, head of the art department at Brooklyn College, and Philip Pearlstein, one of the most prolific American painters, to successes as an artist and businessman. I could fill an entire article with Etkin’s many personal art achievements alone. More recently, Etkin’s works were featured at the Dixon Gallery and Gardens for ‘Present Tense’, a survey of Memphis talent. He has exhibited twice at the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art. In New York, he created an installation piece for Washington Square Windows and had an installation at the old O.K. Harris Works of Art gallery in Soho.

Jay Etkin, a young man from New York with a shrewd eye for exploration and discovery, left Brooklyn to discover all that the South offers. In the mean time he opened a studio space in Santa Fe but has returned to Memphis to share art with a city he now knows and love. When asked to what he owes his success as a gallery owner, Etkin answers, “Some years ago, Fredric Koeppel wrote a review of, not the art exhibits, but the experience of going to the gallery openings. In that article he wrote, ‘there were more hugs and kisses at the Jay Etkin Gallery than any other gallery in town.’ That speaks volumes to me. Relations are the key. Business comes from there.” I urge you to check out Etkin’s gallery. You will be greeted enthusiastically, view thought-provoking artwork and leave with a grin.

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