From a 50 percent commission system implemented at many galleries to expensive booth costs at art fairs, Lee saw the art world as detrimentally imitating commercial industries.
According to Lee, the financially draining and often constricting conditions encountered by artists trying to showcase their work are hampering their chances at connecting with audiences.
“Art can't exactly fall under the business system and it shouldn't,” she warned. “It's not easy to understand and appreciate art when you present one or two pieces crunched together to save space, while thousands are presented at the same time.”
For her own exhibitions, Lee would seek out public venues such as libraries and nonprofits to avoid fees, facilitating promotional materials and installation on her own. Yet with the limited volume and accessibility of these essential spaces, she decided to take things into her own hands.
Lee convinced her husband to convert their garage in Bayside into a rent-free gallery, known as the Garage Art Center. Asking her mentors and fellow local artists to serve as board members, Lee has developed a community nonprofit geared toward the promotion of the visual arts.
There is no charge to exhibit at the Garage, and the organization ensures that all profits made from artwork sales go directly to the artists themselves. The nonprofit also works to immerse the community in diverse art forms through educational programs and group visits.
The Garage intended to officially open this month, with a reception inaugurating “Friendscape,” a solo exhibition by New York-based artist Sueim Koo. However, amid the escalating COVID-19 crisis, the nonprofit is now navigating its role in an online space.
Lee says the Garage is working on a virtual viewing of “Friendscape” through the center’s website, as well as YouTube, Facebook and Instagram. Plans to further engage with the public through Zoom art workshops are also in the works.
“It's a tough time for everyone,” Lee explained. “I hope that being able to watch the art exhibit and connect with us online will relax and reassure the audience, and help them to scope the current situation.
“It will be frustrating for the artists not to be able to present their hard work,” she continued, “but with this platform they can at least have a chance for it to be seen.”
“Friendscape” as an exhibit serves as an expression of gratitude for the relationships we hold dear, a sentiment that takes on even greater meaning in current times.
With each work, Koo uses collage and oil painting to transform her feelings toward individual loved ones into abstract landscapes. Pieces are often titled by sentences that come directly from the artist’s personal journals.
Koo and Lee’s decade-long relationship through the artist group The Drawing Room makes this first exhibition at the Garage even more meaningful.
“I think ‘Friendscape’ is a good example of what we are aiming for at the Garage Art Center,” Lee said. “Living as an artist in a heavily commercialized world, to be understood by others is crucial to survival. And artists understand other artists more than anybody, so connecting with other artists in an open and positive manner is essential.”
After “Friendscape,” The Garage will host a series of additional solo showcases by artists working in a variety of mediums such as clay, ceramic and beads. Those exhibitions and related workshops will all be free and open to the public with registration.
“I hope artists at the Garage Art Center can stand for, inspire and support each other to grow.” said Lee. “And with that strength, we can continue presenting good artworks, by good artists, and share the joy of art with the community.”
For more information, visit garageartcenter.org.