An Interview with a Dealer: Jayson Lawfer

Each week, CGN interviews a local art dealer to discuss the ins and outs of running a gallery in the city of Chicago. This week we caught up with Jayson Lawfer of The Nevica Project.

Name: The Nevica Project
Dealer: Jayson Lawfer
Age: 43
Previous occupation: Director of a nonprofit
Hometown: Freeport, IL

Chicago Gallery News: Please describe your gallery’s program in one sentence.  

Jayson Lawfer: Selling and promoting art and artists in both the primary and secondary markets—international in scope, personal in nature.

CGN: How did you become an art dealer?

JL: Long before I opened my gallery, I started collecting art and spending quality time with artists, collectors and dealers. Over time I saw an opportunity to create an interesting and fulfilling business. In 2008, while living abroad in Italy, I created the The Nevica Project and set it up as an online gallery working off of images and contracts. NEVICA is an Italian word that means “it snows,” and my idea was to build a small gallery business that would snowball into something bigger and bigger every year.

CGN: What's the first thing you do each morning when you get to the gallery? 

JL: I mentally pinch myself, because I feel fortunate to do what I enjoy each day.

CGN: Thumbs up or down on art fairs?

JL: Thumbs up. Anytime you can corral millions of dollars worth of art and the population that can afford it, you create a win-win situation.

CGN: Artists you admire but don't represent?

JL: Jonas Wood, Theaster Gates, Kerry James Marshall and Richard Serra. But the great thing about collection management is that my gallery has work by all these artists within our secondary market situations. 

CGN: Best sale you’ve ever had?

JL: One of the most profitable was a Viola Frey 9-foot sculpture but one of the most exciting was a Magdalena and Michael Frimkess vase I sold to Jonas Wood.

CGN: What advice would you share with new or young collectors?

JL: I really believe one should buy what touches his or her soul. But I also feel like making investments with artwork is underrated, exciting and smart. I always inform young collectors that when they support artists and buy their artwork, they have a position in the success of that artist.

CGN: Which artist that you represent or work of art you have recently acquired are you most excited about? Why?

JL: I recently acquired a Ruth Duckworth wall mural.  It was an interesting story because I was picking up a rare Duckworth we just sold (from a Wilmette private collection) and transporting it back through Evanston.  I saw an estate sale, so I decided to stop for a second. I couldn’t believe there was a Ruth Duckworth sculpture hanging on the wall in front of me.  I made an offer and next thing I knew I was transporting two pieces of historic art back to Chicago. I have only been to a few estates sales in my life, and it just seemed like something told me to stop there.

CGN: What major successes have you had this year? What about challenges?

JL: In this day and age, if you can keep your doors open, then that is a success in itself.  We have definitely reached a more global audience this year with sales happening in England, Holland, Saudi Arabia, Italy, Japan and Australia. That being said, The Nevica Project does about 95% of all our sales online and to people outside of Chicago. I do feel it is a bit of a challenge to keep paying rent for a brick and mortar space.  But it is our gallery’s dedication to the public that we keep a physical space and make art available. We want people to have opportunities to personally see the artwork by great artists such as Richard Serra, Cy Twombly, Richard Tuttle, Peter Voulkos, Neha Vedpathak, Jun Kaneko and Warren MacKenzie.

CGN: How do you view working as an art dealer in Chicago and Kansas City?  

JL: In Kansas City when you have an exhibition and an opening, people come. In Chicago it is different, because there is so much going on that we end up competing with other spaces. We recently had an exhibition of Magdalena and Michael Frimkess—two artists that are getting great press right now. We sold work to major collectors and other artists such as KAWS and Jonas Wood (we even had interest from Reese Witherspoon), but we only had a handful of Chicago residents come and see the show.

CGN: What is your favorite interest outside of the art world?

JL: Food and vintage motorcycles. 

CGN: What is your favorite work of public art in Chicago?

JL: I would say Richard Serra’s Reading Cones. I do wish it were one of his larger pieces so viewers could lose themselves in the space and be intimidated by the scale. But I am still grateful our city has one.

I also love looking at Theaster Gates’ house in Dorchester. I know it is technically private, but it is there for the public to see. To me, it really does stand for his roots in social art practices by creating a space and bringing communities together in it. He once said, “The word artist has been too small for too long… And I think I am just trying to fill the word up again so that it means more.” I feel like that house is a gift to Chicago and has graciously invited myself, collectors, investors, supporters, neighbors and friends to have a memorable art experience.

CGN: What are your five favorite art spaces to visit in Chicago?


  1. Rhona Hoffman Gallery
  2. Shane Campbell Gallery
  3. Peanut Gallery
  4. Marilyn and Larry Fields Private Collection
  5. Museum of Contemporary Art

Jayson Lawfer is the owner of The Nevica Project located in Ravenswood in Chicago. For more information about his gallery visit: The Nevica Project.