Kenny Schachter has marked the art world with his own refreshing discourse and vision as an art dealer, curator and writer. Influenced by the view that art should not pander to an exclusive form of dialogue or be held hostage by the select few. In fact one of the things that stands out most within his work is a convergence of both high and low culture, a love of substances and material and a refreshingly open and sharp mind. He is at the forefront of a democratising movement that believes in the widest diffusion of art, art discourse and analysis. On the rare occasion that he did pause for air, we met before our annual pilgrimage to Art Basel Miami Beach.
Kathryn Simon (KS): What are you up to now?
Kenny Schachter (KSS): I’m mainly curating exhibitions independently and writing for various publications including British GQ, ARTnews, Vulture and a column in the Gloom, Boom and Doom Report for economist Marc Faber.
KS: It amazes me to see how much license these publications are giving you.
KSS: (Laughing). Yeah, it’s fun. I’m enjoying it. I’m on my way to Miami to cover the fair [Art Basel Miami Beach] which is the biggest thing right now.
KS: What I find especially refreshing about your work is the way you understand the convergence between high and low. I remember going to your gallery Rove in London a few years ago and you had an exhibition on rocks titled Between a Rock and a Hard Place?
KSS: Yes, curated by Danny Moynihan. That exhibition included old masters and contemporary provocations.
KS: There were even Chinese scholar rocks. It was astonishing to see the variety of expressions!
KSS: There was a Courbet in the show and the gigantic Hirst installation. It covered the gamut.
KS: It was such a good example of the current cultural landscape. You seem adept at discerning what’s important in a non exclusionary way while creating a new statement—one that feels relevant, not driven exclusively by the market.
KSS: It’s amazing how the art world has grown more in the past ten years than in the past one hundred. I have always been very democratic in my enterprises and try to reach out to as many people as possible. When I started, I remember reading about various people in the art world saying that if they could have fifty of the right audience members in the room, that would be enough. In contrast, I’ve always strived for five thousand of the wrong people and have tried to expand the community that engages with art at any level. The art world has grown so exponentially since I started getting involved, it hardly needs me to bang my drum anymore to get people engaged with art, but that’s what I do. I love to share information by teaching and writing.
KS: You are a critical and positive voice, informing and opening up the art world. Frankly, that isn’t so prevalent when it comes to what is actually happening in the art market and within art itself. Whether it’s your passion, or your keen insight into what’s happening; you do speak, write, and participate in revealing that dialogue. Fortunately for us, it breaks up what might appear as a consensus of some kind. What are your feelings about the art fairs and biennials?
KSS: A lot of people bemoan art fairs because they’re sort of an anti gallery show typically consisting of group installations. While they don’t provide the artist with the capacity and platform to expand their ideas and their practice, they do allow everyone to engage and see more work than what would otherwise be possible in a two to three hour tour of the London galleries. It’s important to be able to access information at fairs, auctions and biennials efficiently. All the different venues today including galleries, museums and private museums just add to the bigger pool of material to see.
KS: It removes some of the exclusivity and allows more people into the conversation?
KSS: The number of people visiting museums, galleries and fairs is increasing. As one of the few people involved in the economics of the business, I feel compelled to share how these transactions and machinations work—because there are just so few ways for people to get access to that kind of information.
KS: How did you get started?
KSS: I wanted to do something creative and entrepreneurial. Having been raised in the suburbs of Long Island, I was never exposed to an art gallery until I was in my mid-twenties. I came to art through visiting museums and studying philosophy, unaware of any activity where I could coalesce my interests. I tried various careers. I studied law, and then practiced for a short period, but that was more an exercise in hiding from the marketplace than trying to find my place within the legal community.
KS: I just remembered a particular adventure with mens ties early in your career, are you willing to share that?
KSS: Sure. After I finished law school I thought a creative practice was to be in the fashion business. I wasn’t even cognizant that there was such a thing as a commercial art industry, so I saw fashion as a potential interest and worked for a tie company. I thought that would be the best way to learn the business and help to work towards becoming a designer. Going in through sales was the only way I could to get an inroad. I literally went door to door with my resume in the garment center of New York. I found a job with this tie designer who was the grandson of a famous Italian designer. He was traveling around the East Coast of the States with these two gigantic bags of ties trying to sell them to the mum and pop fashion boutiques.
KS: I have a vague memory about someone getting tied up in order for you to break free of the owner?
KSS: I needed to get out of that business. I happen to be allergic to silk, and the company was going under because the proprietor was having issues with his gambling. At one point I had to bring on an allergy attack by rubbing the ties on my face to extricate myself from the commitment. I had to leave. I couldn’t take it anymore.
KS: When did this all occur?
KSS: It was before I realised I passed the bar, which was quite a surprise to me. The person who funded the tie designer’s fashion business was an art collector from New Jersey who was already collecting young and emerging artists. So for all intents and purposes in my early years of curatorial practice, I was employed by this young art collector who collected the work of emerging artists before there was a consensus about them.
KS: Were you actually trading and reporting to work everyday while you were a student—and dealing art on the weekend?
KSS: I lied to my family and told them I was actually in night law school. There was no such program of course. I was in fact working for Prudential Bache on the trading floor of the American Stock Exchange and if attendance was required at night school I’d have a friend add me into the class list without having to attend. I sat the exams after cramming a week before. Killed two birds with one stone.
KS: Describe your early introduction to the curatorial world?
KSS: I was procrastinating for a legal exam once and was dragged in to see the estate sale of Andy Warhol right in the midst of the sale of all his jewelery, watches, art collection, and cookie vases. That was really the very first time I was exposed to art being sold, and it’s something that coloured my thinking ever since. I was under the assumption that art went from the studio of the artist into the museum, and I was entirely unaware that there was any commercial facilitation or system for art. That was the most eye opening experience. To this day everything I have done in the curatorial world and in my writing has to do with the commercial dissemination of art, the whole system of how art becomes a product or a commercial entity that emanates from the imagination of the artist. I’ve been critiquing, practicing and commenting on how the system works ever since.
KS: When I met you, you were the darling and the bad boy of Maxwell Anderson (former director of The Whitney Museum of American Art) and Thomas Krens (former director of the Guggenheim Museum) and the trustees of the Whitney and the Guggenheim in New York were coming down to your place to see your art collection when you were on Charles Street (later becoming Rove Gallery).
KSS: Right. You have a good memory. It’s funny because my life has changed so dramatically since moving to London ten years ago and yet in other ways it remains entirely the same. Since I moved here I’m working with The Tate, The Serpentine, The Royal Academy, The Victoria and Albert. I teach at the University of Zurich and I give periodic lectures at George Washington University, Yonsei University in Seoul and the London Business School. People are coming through my home on a regular basis. It’s a dynamic place where things are always changing on the walls.
KS: You did some work with Zaha Hadid didn’t you?
KSS: I love working with Hadid and I did for a number of years. After commissioning two concept vehicles designed by Hadid (Z. Car and Z. Car II), the latest commission was the Z. Boat (presently in production in Germany). I also curated a project of Vito Acconci recently in Zurich and I will do so again in the commercial side for the [Art] Basel fair in Switzerland in June. In my mind there isn’t much of a difference between dealing with someone like Hadid or another artist, except that she piques my interest at a level between functional objects and art. In that sense what’s incredibly difficult is a Sisyphean task of trying to start an entirely new collecting genre. It’s a kind of inbetweeness. It’s inspired me to become more involved and push myself to have more interaction in the field.
KS: What is catching your attention now and what artists are you looking at personally?
KSS: I’m engaging on every level I can and throwing myself into whatever I can. I’m where the action is, not unlike a wartime reporter in the trenches. Economics has become a main stay of the discourse in art today. Being able to engage in art professionally also gives me this very particular and acute perspective from which to speak and write about it.
KS: What are your feelings about performance art? Although Richter’s painting is performative, I am thinking of work from performance artists including Tino Sehgal.
KSS: I have written on Sehgal in the New York Observer and I am interested in it. As much as I am interested in this kind of relational aesthetic that steers away from the object and paintings, towards a more interactive experiential performative practice, in my notion of art appreciation, I’m a kind of a prude. I love paintings on canvas and relate to many varieties of art from traditional pencil drawings to installations and what they now (for some stupid reason) call post internet art, which basically uses the web as a jumping off point for making works. You know, I really want to see as much as I can, read as much as I can, learn as much as I can, to think about how it relates to the commercial side and the non-commercial side of art practice.
KS: I’m wondering if you are working in architecture now and how working in that discipline is different for you?
KSS: As the art market became hyper accelerated between 2004-2008—which was sort of capped by Damian Hirst’s £1 million sale at Sotheby’s—the market crashed. To continue working, I became involved in design to clear my palette and get away from the overly commercial side of art. The art market has really exploded since then, however, it’s become something else entirely which is what I report and write about now. So now, through writing, I have come to embrace it instead of running from the commercial side of art and over speculation, and all of the ways the business is changing, and how people perceive and consume art. It’s become such an inflated genre in itself. It’s given me a whole new lease on wanting to get back involved and push myself to have more interaction in the field, just to have more things to write about in a sense.
KS: What new trends do you see in art? Are you looking at any particular artists now?
KSS: I brought together an exhibition with the artist Joe Bradley whom I worked with from 2002-2004. I established some of his first exhibition opportunities. He is currently in a group show called Forever Now: Contemporary Painting in an Atemporal World that just opened at MoMA. We hope to work alongside each other on his earliest body of work which is a complete divorce from his modern works that he became very well know for. I’m also collecting Rudolf Stingel, Vito Acconci, lots of young artists and the conceptualists of the 1960s and 1970s.
KS: How do you feel about the digital space?
KSS: There are so many people that have been trying to crack the internet and its relationship to art and obviously there’s a plethora of sites and loads of different platforms from which people are communicating, buying, selling and engaging with art. It’s interesting to observe how the things that were least intended to have an impact on the art sector are the very things that are having tremendous impact. Not only on the making of art, but in how people are becoming informed about new trends. You can see how these exchanges have been evident in Jeff Koons work as well as Parker Ito, Ed Fornieles, Petra Cortright and Damien Hirst’s diamond encrusted skull, For the Love of God. All of these artists are using the Internet for information and also as a medium. Previously you would have experienced or engaged with art that incorporated technology in a very cumbersome way. I find that art is now getting much more fluid at incorporating these technologies, and making it even more profound and incredible to experience. Like the artist Wade Guyton, who I showed in 1997. He was using digital photography and incorporating ways of using printers, to make his paintings look like very traditional paintings on primed linen, incorporating all of the random accidents of his computer manipulations prior to printing on giant custom made Epsom printers. That work is really exciting and builds upon Robert Rauschenberg and Andy Warhol’s silk screens, while taking Richard Prince and Christopher Wool’s silkscreen pathology to another level. These are things that we are going to be seeing more of, in ways we can’t yet define.