As a new director of The FLAG Art Foundation, time is on Jonathan Rider’s side. “The contemporary art world moves at a breakneck pace, which can foster a what’s-next culture of looking at and thinking about art,” says Rider, who’s spent the better part of a decade at the nonprofit exhibition space in the heart of West Chelsea, founded by art patron and philanthropist Glenn Fuhrman in 2008. In the spirit of a kunsthalle, FLAG borrows artworks from various lenders—artists, galleries, private collectors, institutions—to mount six plus solo and thematic group shows annually, whether organized in-house and curated by Rider, or designed by guest curators and artists themselves, such as blockbuster presentations by Awol Erizku and Elmgreen & Dragset. The Foundation is also heralded for its nimble response to current moments in the collective consciousness, such as “The Times” (2017) which explored ways in which artists used the paper of record to address and reframe issues after the 2016 election. “FLAG isn’t immune to working fast,” Rider says. “But our exhibitions are on view for up to three months at a time, which allows for thoughtful programming, time to commission scholarly texts and other opportunities to expand the conversation around the shows.”
He continues, “I spend a lot of time in artists’ studios and see as many museum and gallery exhibitions as possible. During these visits, I collect ideas and themes that could possibly be applied to future exhibitions.” Known for the unexpected, Rider draws influences from far and wide, pulling on vast reserves of art historical and cultural knowledge. Most recently, he curated “In Search of the Miraculous” (2021-2022)—a 20-artist extravaganza, ranging from minimalist artwork by German sculptor Wolfgang Laib, to 4,000-year-old Egyptian scarabs—inspired by Dutch artist Bas Jan Ader’s 1975 disappearance at sea.
When FLAG closed to the public during COVID, Rider didn’t stop public programming. “I organized a series of virtual ‘impossible exhibitions’ in which 25 artists, curators, collectors and friends—Polly Apfelbaum, Anthony Elms, Jim Hodges, Helen Molesworth, Nicola Vassell—were invited to create shows for Instagram that didn’t need to take logistics or practicalities into account,” he says. “It was all possible here.”