- HISTORY OF YOUNG BRITISH ART
- DAMIEN HIRST
- TRACEY EMIN
- CHAPMAN BROTHERS
- SARAH LUCAS
- MARC QUINN
- CHRIS OFILI
- MATT COLLISHAW
- PETER DOIG
- ANGUS FAIRHURST
- GARY HUME
- GEORGINA STARR
- GAVIN TURK
HISTORY OF YBAs
To Drink up the Sea
Twelve Portraits by Kenny Schachter
- B. E. Myers
Have not you heard of that man who lit a lantern in the bright morning hours, ran to the marketplace and cried, incessantly, I seek God! I seek God! Whither is god? he cried. I shall tell you. We have killed him, you and I. All of us are his murderers. But how have we done this? How were we able to drink up the sea? -The Gay Science, Nietzsche The two elements the traveler first captures in the big city are extra human architecture and furious rhythm: geometry and anguish.
-A Poet in New York, Federico Garcia Lorca
It's what art looks like when it turns its back on nature.
-On Grids, Rosiland Krauss
One of the first things these portraits lead us to do is to challenge their existence as "portraits". We don't want to believe that this is true, that an artist's value can be summed up so neatly in a graph. We tell ourselves that, whatever an artist is or isn't, his or her value cannot be reduced to a single variable and then discussed seamlessly as one would discuss molecules and atoms. Art is not Science, so how can we depict€ artists in pure economic terms?
Instead of appearing lifeless and cold, these charts intrigue us. When we think of traditional portraits, we think of actual figurative depictions of people, not graphs and charts. But instead of failing, these prints succeed--terribly. The terror is in the fact that we can all relate to them so well. Once the terms are explained, once everyone knows the rules of the game (what K-numbers mean, who Damien Hirst is, etc.) it's all a matter of associative arithmetic. Any collector or critic who sees this work and "gets it" must feel a little like a heel. God is dead, and we have done it ourselves.
These images intrigue us because something far more important than "depiction" happens here. What Kenny Schachter is able to do quite subtlety is to offer up the proverbial "fuck you" finger to the art establishment and watch critics and collectors squirm in the texture of their own terms. When critics "see" these portraits, they can't help but "experience" these portraits very personally: these portraits make them come to terms with their own, unspoken terms. The arrogance of the auction, the shameless ass-kissing of the dealer, the greed and commercialism of the artist all come to a nice fat head in Kenny's most recent showing of portraits where "data" is art.
Whenever you look at a portrait and you do not see a face, you are thrown for a minute. Because whenever someone offers to show you a "portrait", they set your mind up with certain kinds of expectations. Principally, you expect to see some variant of yourself. Not you, of course, but something somewhat like you. But here, instead of seeing a raised brow, wrinkles, sagging skin or bad teeth, you see information. Pure information. And we immediately, culturally have a way of understanding these abstractions too. After junior high school, who doesn't know how to read charts and graphs? But how horrible to become one.
What Kenny does is to intensify our experience of the artist by exposing the very smelly way we know that the artist even exists. Schachter scrambles the facts of art and commerce, forcing us to be a part of the process, an element in the scramble. A more normative depiction of one of these artists, say a photograph, might cause one to stare into her eyes, or notice the way his weight shifts to one side, etc. A normal portrait would give body and presumably life to the artist, providing us with ways "in". Here, in these artists' portraits, our way "in" is there, but we know we have to go through the Scylla and Charybdis of capitalism first. We have to admit to playing in the holy waters of capitalism, and getting a little burned.
God is Dead In Nietzche's The Fool Speaks, a madman rushes into the marketplace in the middle of the night (ironically, much like Jesus' thief). Dressed in nightclothes and equipped with his lantern he screams wildly that "God is dead!" People look out of their windows and dismiss him out of hand. He is, after all, a fool. But he is so passionate, that he gains an audience. And audiences, by nature are so fickle, that people gather just to see and hear. What follows is one of the most poetic moments in philosophy: Nietzsche takes this fool in the marketplace metaphor and makes it his crowning achievement. By the end of the scene, the fool has smashed the lantern on the ground, proclaimed that God is dead, and that the people themselves had killed him.
It is no small coincidence that this kind of insanity had to take place in the economic arena: the common ground, the marketplace. That we would be forced to have insight, driven to clarity through the madman in the market is a beautiful analogy for Schachter's portraits.
How does man kill God? The same way man kills Art, innocently. Once Art and God succumb to the body and blood of capitalism, you don't look back at it like a disaster, like Lot's wife taking one last long look at Sodom. Instead, one pushes forward like Lot: one searches through the carnage and tries to re-build one's world, make it seem human again. Like the madman in Nietzche's drama, one grows frantic wondering:
Is there any up or down left? Are we not straying as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Must not lanterns be lit in the morning? Do we not hear anything yet of the noise of the gravediggers that are burying god? Do we not smell anything yet of god's decomposition? Gods too decompose. God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we, the murderers of all murderers, comfort ourselves? What was holiest and most powerful of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our own knives. Who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must not we become gods simply to seem worthy of it?
With God dead, society is speechless. It is like man stands on the border, disdaining the cataclysmic world that lay out behind him (which is his history), but also unable to move properly toward the murky horizon of what lies ahead. Modern man was caught between two worlds: a world he could no longer tolerate and a world for which there were no language and very little hope. We are not in a terribly different place today. Still, the old answers are inefficient, and everyone fears new terms.
Vulnerability Graphs can only offer up information, and modern viewers are oriented to receive this information (maps, charts and graphs) like second nature. When people set out to read the data, first they assimilate the graph's terms. No knowledge occurs without first communicating that knowledge and you must use terms to communicate. So, whoever owns the terms of communication, i.e., whoever it is deciding that "k numbers" are relevant variables, they set the terms for the entire outcome of the inquiry. To look is to inquire; to be open to rupture and change.
Viewers make themselves vulnerable to the work. Just like experienced whores, we are complicit, numbing ourselves to receive the new terms of the market daily. But we are in it not for the moment, not for the information, but for the truth. Just like the whores who work for reward, we work for reward too; the information pleasures us, satisfies something, maybe something primal.
The visceral experience of these portraits is that you are consuming a contradiction with which you identify effortlessly. But the mind-fuck is that you are forced to listen to a silent conversation using the artist's terms. And the artist's terms disturb you because his terms rub up against your sanctity. When you first see the print, you get the point. It may annoy you, but you can't just feel safe, secure in your terms.
You know when people hear the truth because they get all weak and squeamish in the eyes. Or they blink. That's why animals look at you, searching for the gut reaction. You can't just experience the data, the information behind these portraits: You have no choice but to enter the artist's world and identify with his ruse. You cannot help but think of the portraits in any way but on their own special terms.
So viewers are made to feel a little uncomfortable: making sentences, making evaluations with Schachter's terms. You feel a little used, like you've just fucked somebody you shouldn't have fucked. Like, "Oh shit! ...now what do I do?"
The joy, the vital force of this moment of looking at the portrait is that one has to surrender, and part of what we feel when we experience the work is a sense of loss. Of abdication. Our precious artists and their work are subsumed forever by the crucible of economic identification. And it is in this crucible of identification that something miraculous is forged.
Once you "get it", that is once you understand the artist's terms, the work succeeds. What Schachter succeeds in doing is splicing together the phenomenological moment of looking with the existential crisis of emptiness. After you "get" that, these graphs are colorful, cynical protests, a thickness is formed. The conceptual distance between the stuff on the wall and the stuff in your head is lessened, and existence becomes thick. It becomes thick; forms texture because we fold it into the ways we understand our world. We assimilate these new terms into our own body of knowledge, our own ethical code, and we feel a little embarrassed.
To be deaf yet determined to sing,
To be lame and blind yet burning for the Great Good Place,
To be radically corrupt yet mournfully attracted
By the Real Distinguished Thing.
-W.H. Auden, At the Grave Henry James
Kenny Schachter was the first "professional" person to visit my studio after I arrived in New York straight out of art school ten years ago. I'm not sure why he came except that he was looking at a lot of studios of a lot of young artists and I fit that bill. My work was unresolved and I was a shy and nervous wreck, but Kenny put me in a few shows that he was organizing in Brooklyn and Manhattan. I wasn't in his first show, but I think I was in the second. I still don't know what it was that interested him in the work. But I remember how incredibly exciting it was to be in an exhibition in NEW YORK CITY. It was so great, really great. It was validation. It was what any artist wants: to be taken seriously. My parents still have the invitation from my first group show framed in their living room in Connecticut. I suppose it was the first time in about five years that they perceived me something other than a total fuck-up.
Over these ten years Kenny has organized nearly fifty shows that included 275 artists. Many of these artist, like me, received their first New York exhibition opportunity in one of these sprawling extravaganzas. I suppose Kenny would like me to tell you about the artists he first exhibited who made it really big, but that really is not so important. What is important is that so many young artists, who made work that was often uncommercial and contary to trends, were able to get their work out to the public. Kenny inserted a rare dose of democracy into the system, and I like to think of him as an Andrew Jackson of the art world. Springing forth from his log cabin out on Long Island, equipped with an art education gained somewhere along the L.I.E., Kenny cajoled, bullied, and whined his way into the periphery of the art world (and ultimately onto the cover of the New York Times Magazine). Kenny's spaces were usually raw and cavernous, on the ground floor, and, like some later-day carny, he would wander out onto the street to drag in "the public." The openings, like Jackson's notorious White House bashes, offered plenty of free booze, and there was little doubt in my mind that this was art of the people by the people and for the people.
Years before pluralism became so au courant in curatorial circles, Kenny curated shows that contained a shocking diversity of work: representational painting cheek by jowl with perfomance video, conceptual photos, and kinetic sculpture. It was usually hard to decipher any leitmotif in these shows, but at times the disparate works came together in exciting and unexpected ways. But not always. The rub with democracy is that the trains don't always run on time and, in fact, a number of these shows had more than a passing resemblance to a train wreck. And when the wreck includes your own subtle monochrome painting, into which you poured your heart and soul, and it is hanging in a dark stairwell next to a giant, groaning, polychrome shrub, you long for a little more iron fist. I suppose if I were more of a Jacksonian I would have been enthralled by this messiness, but more than once I left a show muttering about Kenny what John Calhoun said of Jackson: "a worthless scoundrel, a poltroon, and a coward."
But poltroon that he is, Kenny always seems to win me back with his enthusiasm. One lesson that takes about ten years in the art world to learn is that people who stay in this business usually have a genuine commitment to the Real Distinguished Thing. Even the people you think are the most superficial or mercenary. The folks who are only interested in money or glamour or status realize pretty quickly that there are far easier ways to achieve those goals. So the people who stick around either really love art or are pathological, and Kenny, I suppose, is both. He really does go overboard in his enthusiasm for art; it is supremely important to him. I honestly don't know what attracts him and sometimes I am horrified by his choices. But the choices are unexpected and true and sometimes they lead me to think hard about work that I would otherwise pass by. His current perverse obsession with Fairfield Porter is a case in point. What the fuck is that about? I don't know, but the little paintings are pretty great.
Across the street from my studio in Brooklyn is the Glory Social Club, a hang-out for veterans of World War II. I have always felt a certain envy for these men, whose numbers are fewer every year, who had an experience that so powerfully shaped the rest of their lives. But glory, it turns out, is an empty storefront with a blaring tv, or one man playing solitaire and another watching traffic on the street outside. The "greatest generation" argument is ultimately an old man's argument- a curmudgeon's argument. Every generation has it's shining moment. Forty years from now, when Kenny and I have advanced onto the shuffleboard decks at Chelsea Piers, I suspect it will be this last decade that will occupy our small talk between shuffles. And while to be involved in art in New York City during the 1990s is hardly equivalent to invading Normandy, it has, I suppose, defined us just as deeply. And I remain convinced that there are worse ways to piss away a decade than to spend it in pursuit of the Real Distinguished Thing.
Definition of K-number: (selling price normalized for estimate range)
The k-number has been defined with the purpose of describing the relationship between the selling price of an auctioned piece and the piece's estimated range taking into account the size of the range. In other words, it is a measure for the performance of a specific sale relative to its expected selling range.
The formula for the k-number is ((selling price - lower limit of the estimate) / (range)).
Possible results fall into the following categories: negative k-number: the result of a piece selling below the lower limit of its estimated range.
positive k-number: the result of a piece selling at a price that exceeds the upper limit of its estimated range.
k-number of .5: the result of a piece selling at the midpoint of its estimated range.
k-number of zero: the piece has sold exactly at the lower limit of the estimated range, or at the lowest acceptable price.
k-number of one: the piece has sold at exactly the upper limit of the estimated range, or at highest suggested price.
*It is important to note that k-numbers only apply to pieces that have been succesfully sold
– Kenny Schachter