Kenny Schachter, artist, curator, dealer, critic and lecturer, is more than just a microcosm of the art-world - if everyone else were to vanish overnight, he is possibly the only person in the community with the right resume to be voted the last man standing.
After studying philosophy and political science at George Washington University and moonlighting as a Wall-Street trader while attending Cardozo School of Law, Schachter traveled the country with a suitcase full of ties he had patterned during a brief stint as a fashion designer. Then in the early nineties, he abandoned these disparate endeavors and devoted himself to buying and selling contemporary art. But even after he settled on his field, he never allowed himself to settle down. Instead, with a salesmans ability to roam, a traders facility with money and a lawyers way with words, he made the strict and staid art-world the stage for his satirical and smart one-man show.
As the curator of Rove, his nomadic gallery, Schachter would assemble exhibitions in gutted garages and empty shops where he gave artists such as Janine Antoni, Andrea Zittel and Graham Gillmore their first break. Rove TV (www.rovetv.net) exemplified Schachters prophetic brilliance as he turned the gallery into a reality show. As an artist, he taunts and teases the art-world and its pretensions like a high-school hero thumbing his nose at the popular table instead of allowing himself to be bullied into obsequiousness. This month Schachter pushes further ahead, by moving to London where he will reopen his gallery on Hoxton Square, directly across from White Cube.
Ana Finel Honigman: What inspired your decision to open a permanent space?
Kenny Schachter: The fact that I have an on-going gallery situation is unusual for me but DIY has constituted the entire way I have structured my career. I had the idea to have a gallery a few years ago when I was curating group shows during the recession. Then it was apparent that due to the downturn in the art market, there were no established galleries looking at the work I was interested in showing. Twelve years later, there are approximately 250 galleries in Chelsea showing that same sort of work. So, I sort of became obsolete as the approach I had taken to curating became increasingly common and therefore I established my gallery on the basis of what I didnt want - not what I had wanted.
AFH: What in particular were you reacting against?
KS: I didnt want it to have four, homogeneous white walls. I ended up opening the gallery on Charles Lane, in the West Village, which was never my intention. I was looking for a more accessible location but it happened that I selected that spot by default.
AFH: But your new space is at the epicenter of the Londons art scene.
KS: I will definitely increase my audience now because I am going to be in such an accessible location in the East End, across from White Cube.
AFH: Do you think the divisions between various factions of the art-world are artificial or necessary?
KS: They are definitely not necessary. They are like the concrete barriers around the American embassy in a foreign country. It is an artificial division that symbolically states that you are simultaneously inside and outside. These separations are profound but they are impractical and symbolic at best.
AFH: Would you say that the art-world tends to be more bureaucratic than bohemian?
KS: Yes and there is an exclusionary mindset that determines who is in the in group and who is not. The reason the art-world moved from Soho to Chelsea was to cut-down on random walk-in traffic. That migration was intended to preclude a certain demographic, otherwise known as riff-raff or non-art world people, from patronizing the galleries.
AFH: Why do you think the marriage between the art-world and academia is so overt while there is so much discomfort acknowledging the relationship between art and commerce?
KS: Well, in an ideal world, art should be a perfect blend of commerce and education. I teach and I lecture and I have people over to the gallery. That is part of the enterprise. By nature, we need a certain explication process built in otherwise emerging art gets lost. Because of the academic side of things, the art-world has a very queasy relationship with commerce despite the fact that they love money, the love using art as money but if you ever try and have a discourse about art in economic terms, people recoil. It is just a façade.
AFH: Would you say that real economics of the art-world are often misrepresented?
KS: Yes. If you ask dealers how they did after any fair they will tell you they sold their booth out.
AFH: But that sort of optimism generates the glamour that convinces collectors to buy, right?
KS: The money is the glamour. There is tons of money swishing around the art-world right now. The freedom of expression aspect of art is a myth.
Recently, I did a series of studio visits at R.I.S.D and it was so refreshing to divorce the conversation from the commercial dissemination system and instead focus exclusively on the work and its meaning. When you have a conversation with a collector, they are mainly interested in where an artist is showing, how they are selling, who is writing about the work and who else is collecting it. There is such a separation between speaking about art and speaking about the economics of art.
AFH: Dont you think art students are just a little bit careerist?
KS: In this country, the notion of the artist as a celebrity only developed in the late 1980s when artists became celebrities for the first time since the 1960s and Warhol. In England, Hirst and Saatchi, hand in hand caused the same effect. Applications to art schools rise in relation to publicity.
Well, there are certainly particular critics for whom artists make their work. Vito Acconci, who designed my space and with whom Ill be working in London, will lecture and say that all artists are social climbing yuppies.
That is a bit extreme but we are all guilty and complacent but if kids are striving to be art stars, as a way to be like a rock star, then there have to be a lot better ways to achieve fame because only 1% ever become Tracey Emin. There has to be a focus on content regardless of whether you want to be famous or not. You need some talent.
AFH: Do you define talent as technical skill?
KS: Well, Picasso was making drawings at five years old. That $104 million dollar painting was an example of his immature work. There is a current school-of-bad-art which has the appearance of being slipshod and poorly made. When I think of talent, I think of some form of hyper-realism skill, deftness in drawing or something technical that most people dont have time to master or perform. A lot of kids wanting to get on the cover of Artforum will just pick up a video camera.
AFH: Are you saying that conceptualism might just be driven by laziness?
KS: I am not really that cynical. I would consider myself an idealistic cynic. The other day, a student told me that she develops all her own photographs and when I think of the school of photographers photographing their darkly glamorous life, a lot of whose work I like a lot, you just think of someone whipping out a camera and then blowing it up. In painting, the toast of the artworld is often someone who produces work Hilton Kramer would find terrifying. I find that there is something alluring and seductive about that work because the skills might be intellectual, even if the execution is easy.
AFH: How would you describe your tastes as a curator?
KS: I have a very democratic notion of work. I think it is impossible to codify what constitutes good art. My interests are so varied that I could find beauty in pure abstraction though typically, I shy away from abstract work. For me there is usually some shard of figuration, text or something.
Seeing a word painted makes you focus on, break it down into components, look at it in different ways visually and conceptually. Art provides different ways to register and consider information
ANA FINEL HONIGMAN is assistant editor at Artnet Magazine.