Ready to experience a fusion of language, culture, and art like never before as two art enthusiasts with a passion for artists with unique perspectives and Korean BBQ come together to ignite LA’s art scene with Mon Dieu Projects! Meet Spencer Walker, a long-time friend and client of Juno Youn, the owner of Galerie Youn; together, they embark on this exciting new venture inspired by the question, “What if we start a gallery?” during their conversation at a bar.
The perfect phrase marked the birth of Mon Dieu Projects – “Mon Dieu“, the French expression for “My god!” – a fitting name that captures the essence, sheer excitement, and awe visitors will experience when they step inside the duo’s dynamic gallery space. It also symbolises the daring and unconventional approach that Juno Youn and Spencer Walker bring to art curation.
Their first exhibition, Intimate Exchanges, is a playful and thought-provoking exploration of sexuality, vulnerability, and humour. The curation features an eclectic mix of figurative artists from the US, Canada, Europe, and Asia, blending established names like Nadine Faraj, Michael Scoggins, Shen Wei, and Hugo Alonso with up-and-comers Bernice Lum, Ian Stone, Andrew Morrow, and Sean Mundy, showcasing a diverse range of mediums curated to push the boundaries of appropriateness and challenge traditional norms.
But who are the masterminds behind Mon Dieu Projects?
In this interview, we dive deep into the backgrounds and passions of Spencer Walker and Juno Youn. Learn about their journey to becoming art curators and what inspired them to launch this exciting new gallery space.
Hi Spencer and Youn, Can you give us some insight into your art background and why you decided to launch Mon Dieu Projects?
Juno Youn: My art life began as a visual artist majoring in drawing and painting from OCAD University in Toronto. I had some exhibitions and was forced by necessity to open up a space just to show my work in order to graduate. This temporary space turned into a permanent one, and so began my accidental career as an art dealer. First in Toronto with SPIN Gallery, then Galerie Youn in Montreal for ten years and counting. And, now in LA with Mon Dieu Projects.
Spencer Walker: I have been art-adjacent my whole life. My family is full of artists, collectors, and an art supply industrialist. My grandfather ran Van Aken International, a manufacturer of paints and clays, which I tested-marketed as a kid playing in his office. I dabbled in art, but my talents lie with words and not paint, so I stick to the art of collecting. I started off as a client, then became a friend of Juno’s. But, now I’m taking a leap of faith with my man, Juno – Mon Dieu!
The name of your gallery includes the French expression “Mon Dieu,” which means “My god!”. Could you elaborate on the significance behind this decision and what it represents for your gallery?
Juno & Spencer: The obvious answer is Mon Dieu is a nod to Galerie Youn’s Montreal roots, where many of the artists from our first exhibition are based. We were together in a mountain town in Quebec, and Spencer was drinking a Mountain Dew (don’t ask), and I exclaimed, “Mountain Dieu!” An inside joke was born. Also, we want visitors of the gallery to exclaim “My god!” and leave with a lasting impression – whether that be positive or negative.
With the aim of injecting a dose of irreverence into the LA arts scene, Mon Dieu Projects employs a bold curation style. Could you elaborate on the gallery’s program and your curatorial approach? Moreover, what criteria do you utilize to curate artists and artworks for exhibitions?
Juno & Spencer: We love art and the artists that make it. But the art world at large can be so damn serious. Certain works require you to furrow your brow in solemn contemplation. But that’s not what we’re about at Mon Dieu Projects. Our programming is certainly provocative, some might even say blasphemous, but we’re also here to remind the world that art can be fun and funny! Spencer has a background writing kids’ animation and crude food humour, and Juno is a Montreal fashionista with an instinct for what works in the art game. We blend our talents and passions into our curation and choose artists, whose work challenges and excites us. But specific curatorial choices really come from a gut feeling. When we know, we know.
Continuing on, how will you balance artistic freedom and commercial feasibility when selecting artworks for an exhibition? Additionally, what measures do you implement to guarantee the financial prosperity of the exhibition?
Juno & Spencer: Art and commerce are like apples and oranges. But, if done right, you have a tasty fruit salad, and everyone eats. Speaking of fruit, Mon Dieu Projects won’t do still-lifes, landscapes, or other decorative art. The artists we work with trust their instincts to make their best work while keeping one eye on the art market as well. The works Mon Dieu shows will be pretty out there, but we know there is an empty wall to fill in the right person’s house, office, or panic room.
What, in your view, is the significance of art galleries in the art world, and what do you feel is lacking in this sphere? Additionally, how does Mon Dieu Projects intend to address this void?
Juno & Spencer: To borrow a term from the tech world, galleries are the startup incubators for an artist’s career. Good galleries grow good artists into great artists. But, the art world is anchored in a handful of metropolises like NYC, Hong Kong, and LA, and artists tend to be overlooked in other cities. Mon Dieu Projects plans to represent these artists, and the goal is to expose international talent we love to key art markets like LA.
What are your future plans for Mon Dieu Projects, and how do you see it evolving in the coming years?
Juno & Spencer: If we survive launching our inaugural exhibition, Mon Dieu Projects will start doing solo exhibitions of artists with volumes of work. We hope to forge strong relationships with museums and institutions. And we’ll take our show on the road to national and international art fairs, sharing our inclusive programming with a wider audience. The dream is to open up a Mon Dieu space in Juno’s hometown of Seoul, which is finally having its moment.
Lastly, what does art mean to you?
Spencer: To me, art means possibilities. It transports me away from my myopic worldview. It makes you think differently and feel some type of way. I need my daily dose, or I just don’t feel right.
Juno: Art means imagination, freedom of expression, and doing whatever you feel like, without shame or apology. My friend Lisa Deanne Smith made t-shirts that I wore proudly:
“Art sucks, licks, and it feels so good…”
This pretty much sums up Mon Dieu’s mandate exhibition in LA… Intimate Exchanges.