Where are you from?
I’m from LA.
You moved to New York for Cooper Union?
I moved here in 1989.
What was Cooper Union like?
It was really great. The school is based on the Bauhaus model, so the first year you have to do basic things that everybody has to take. There’s no majors declared. It’s almost like a de-programming process. It was really good for me because by the time I had graduated from high school, this arts high school, I had developed a particular style of working. I had done a lot of work and shown my work and won awards and sold a bunch of stuff.
Really?
I had a weird childhood my last couple years of highschool.
Were you a teen art star?
Not an art star by any means but I had done a real body of work. At Cooper it was good for me to break that down and get re-educated.
What was the work you were doing in LA like?
The work was assemblage a with the French pronunciation. In a way its very mechanical, like the work I do now.
Remind me what assemblage is?
It’s found object art, when all the parts are subsumed into the whole. Like Joseph Cornell or George Herms.
Were your parents involved in the arts at all?
No, but I lived with my brother when I was in high school. I lived in this old house with a bunch of arts center students and then I went to LA county college for the arts which was like a college campus. There were great teachers there. I guess my early development as an artist was that I had really good opportunities to study with good people.
So you were going to art school and hanging out with art students, right? That sounds cool.
I was a major nerd. I also didn’t know how to drive, which basically made me a shut in. I would make art on the floor in my placed. At the time I lived with my brother in an old house in Pasadena that was full of art center students. I didn’t go out a lot though. I’m still the same way.
Did going to the art school help you get into Cooper?
I don’t think that it was a foregone conclusion. I got an early admission because one of the portfolio reviewers had come by from Cooper and I didn’t apply to any other schools. It was incredibly cocky. I don’t know what I would have done if I didn’t get into Cooper because I had no other plan and no money.
How did you get involved in Art Club 2000?
Art Club 2000 had started before I graduated from college. Two of my friends Patterson Beckwith and Craig Wadlin were interning at AFA (American Fine Arts.) At this point in the history of AFA a lot of artists had left the gallery, the economy had collapsed, galleries were closing…
How many years into AFA was this?
Well Colin would say “Whenever you start counting,” but some iteration of AFA had been around since 1986. He had a lot of success in ’89 and ‘90 to but Colin’s idea of what should happen and where a lot of artists wanted to go with their art wasn’t the same. I think he was looking to do something different. On some level Art Club 2000 was like a “fuck you” to what he saw as careerism.He wanted to see what would happen if he took some young people who didn’t have much to lose and put them in the position of “lets make a show and lets talk about it.” He got the idea to give Craig and Patterson a show, but then thought it might be interesting if more people were involved. So he said “why don’t you guys bring some friends,” the limit being seven people. Craig and Patterson chose some friends which included myself and other people.
Did Art Club 2000 have a model at the beginning? Reference points?
I think we started with an idea of other collaboratives that existed but there was certainly no serious attempt to be like “we wanna be like this or that.” We were involved to some degree with parody on every level.The main thing with Colin was that he didn’t want to see our work. He wanted to create a discursive project where we would talk about stuff for almost a year before we would figure out what the show would be about. We had weekly meetings and we would talk about things we’d seen and shows, there would be speakers that would come in. Colin was using the Socratic method: “Why make an exhibition, what is this place, what is a gallery, how can this be?”
It sounds exhausting.
It was. I think for Colin it was a chance to give us some information that we wouldn’t have had or would have take us longer to get... How the art world functions, and art doesn’t function and how exhibitions are made and why they’re made and how the works are collected. How media reception of an artwork can change its meaning. All this stuff that most kids getting out of school... it would take them a while to figure out. He wanted to see what would happen if that information was brought to the table earlier... and to do it in a way where in the end it was a collaborative work. It wasn’t like you had everything to lose if it completely failed. There was also no expectation of ever selling anything. We certainly toyed with the idea of “lets make a work that will sell,” that was a subject of conversation and how to do that. Mostly it was about trying to frustrate whatever normal impulses there were for making art and figure out what was maybe latent or hidden, just under the surface.I know that colin had his work cut out with us. Everybody had the same background. We were all just out of school or still in school so we had read certain things and had a certain knowledge of our own, but Colin was a fucking encyclopedia. He knew a lot and he had to bring the class up to speed. It wasn’t pedagogical. It was definitely torture though, he would definitely steer us away from certain impulses.
What would be a typical meeting?
There was this one memorable meeting where Colin was like “this is going to be a working meeting” and we helped to move the gallery from the next gallery space from 40 Wooster to 22 Wooster. At night. Rolling copy machines down the street.
Why at night?
Because he was escaping from the lease.
What was Art Club 2000’s first show about?
It was about The Gap. At the time The GAp had an advertising campaign called The Individuals of Style, which used a lot of artists and actors and musicians. Annie Leibowitz was one of the photographers, and Cindy Sherman eventually did one. They were these beautiful black and white photos that were billboard size and on the bus shelters.
When Uniqlo got started they did a similar campaign with Kim Gordon, Ryan Mcginley…
It was just like that. The type of clothes that were so anonymous they would let your individuality shine through: you wear your old leather with a gap t-shirt. At that point we saw The Gap like Starbucks, it was everywhere, we wanted to show it as a symbol of conformity. That was the subject of our critique... But it was also this thing beneath the realm of what most institutional critique would focus on. We started borrowing or buying clothes from The Gap, doing photo projects with them and then returning them. And then later The Gap came out with these ads that were just like that . Everyone’s wearing the same clothes and everyone is doing synchronized dance routines. A lot of people seem to think our photos were parodying that campaign but that was way after what we did.
So you did a show of the photo prints?
No, the photos were something that had emerged from documenting our meetings and eventually became this sort of side project the group was doing. Colin was very reluctant to show the photos because he understood or suspected that the photos would become the focus of any attention that was paid to the project, and that is exactly what ended up happening. He made us print them 8 x 10 and they were in the second room of the show. Despite that, our first show became the most recognizable show that we did and got a lot of media attention. That had a lot to do with the emergence of “Gen-X” and the media blitz that surrounded it. We became sort of grouped in with Sean Landers and Rita Ackerman: Gen-X artists. Those photos replayed in print than more than in the context of the exhibition.
How did you guys respond to that?
We basically didn’t do another self portrait.
What were the other elements of The Gap show?
A lot of the art club was involved in different forms of research. We did ad hoc research projects about whatever we were looking at. With The Gap we went through their garbage, found a lot of information that we eventually generated into content for the show like employee handbooks and their logs. One manager would write a log to the next, what celebrities had been in, notes on how to prevent shoplifters.
It sounds a bit like Mark Dion, who showed at AFA too. His work involved a lot of research.
That bears mentioning that Mark Dion was one teacher that all of us had and we came to American Fine arts to look at some slides of his work. That was how we became introduced to the gallery.
The Soho So Long show was also research based, right?
Yes. Everyone at that time was talking about Chelsea. Colin’s girlfriend had moved to Chelsea, and there were basically 3 or 4 galleries there. It was clear a lot of people were moving there and we wanted to find out why people thought they were moving there, and for the people that weren’t moving why they were staying. We interviewed critics, gallerists, and collectors.
It was done with a sense of humor though, right?
Yeah, I mean all of our stuff was done with a degree of lightheartedness and fun. That was something that Colin insisted on. Although a lot of times it wasn’t fun. The point was to be self-implicating in the critique and to not take ourselves too seriously and to take everything with a grain of salt.
Was that a theme that ran through AFA?
That would be hard to say. A lot of serious artists showed at AFA but there was a lot of funny stuff that went down. I mean, when you talk about somebody like Andrea Fraser, there is great humor in that work, but its pretty serious stuff. With Art Club there was a degree of amateur-ness and that was part of the fun. Alongside us people were doing their own work in a totally different tone. There was always some element of parody and parodying the act of making an exhibition, which at that point we saw as a project; the idea of doing an exhibition and trying to change the world with it was a somewhat dubious and hilarious prospect but we were actually trying to do that.
What were some other shows you did?
We did a show called 1970 which was also a series of interviews with 9 artists. With Soho So Long we interviewed collectors, gallerists and critics because we felt like this decision to move to Chelsea had nothing to do with artists. For 1970 we asked a simple questions to 9 older artists: something like “What is the difference between 1970 and now in the art world and living in ny?” That show was great. Interviews with great people.
What was your first impression of the American Fine Arts?
The first show I saw was a group show Colin had curated. There was a giant Jeff Koons sculpture of a police officer and a bear, and a Vito Acconci convertible clam shelter which was this clam that was covered in clamshells and some classic Joel Shapiro figure. I think the second show I saw was Andrea Fraser’s May I Help You? It was incredible.
What was that show like?
She had hired 3 actors to play 3 gallerists. The show was hung with surrogate paintings all the way around the gallery in a broken line. The paintings literally functioned as surrogates for an art exhibition. A gallerist would approach you, welcome you to the gallery and speak to you as if you were a collector and show you works of art. The script that they used was taken from various sources and pieced together with text from works that you were obviously not looking at. It was psychologically really complex.
How did you end up working at American Fine Arts?
Art Club 2000 did our first show Summer of ’93 and I ended up working there the end of the fall.
You worked there till it ended, right?
Yeah, ’93 to 2004.
What was your first position?
At the beginning I think Colin had reduced his staff to one person. My friend Patterson and I had basically no idea what we were going to do after school. We saw it as an opportunity to work with someone we’d already had experience working with. My first job there was managing the archive and handling slide requests but it quickly evolved into being everything. Colin wanted everyone to be able to deal with whatever situation was arising. There wasn’t a strict structure to who did what in the gallery with the exception of Christine who was in charge of all the accounting. The gallery office was open so it wasn’t this kind of thing with a front desk with some anonymous person sitting there. It was a different dynamic.
Did you help put together shows and work with artists?
Yeah. I would be the artists liaison. Every show was a different situation. There was a lot of crazy stuff.
How did it evolve? How did the gallery change?
I would say I started working there at a point that could be seen as the end of one aspect of American Fine Arts, and another emerging, even just with the stable of artists. When we moved to the second space on Wooster, Colin cut the gallery in half so that the gallery would never do one person shows: every show would be in two different rooms. This was part of his program against the career driven overblown ego genius artist thing. The second room was called the Reuben room, named after the Reuben gallery. I’m spotty on the history of this, but I think it was a gallery in the 60’s where the artists would help each other install exhibitions. It was a modern model. Colin was trying to put a stop to whatever he saw as detrimental to the process of art; The machine that artists get plugged into where the gallery benefits and the artist benefits but the art becomes sort of stagnant and self replicating rehash of whatever it is that sold.
Have those ideas stuck with you?
Yeah. Its something that in a lot of ways makes it difficult to make work, especially in a context where a lot of things railed against and hated by Colin are now the dominant way things operate. The corporatization of gallery practices and the way that galleries have multiple locations and huge galleries, generally just less experimental in their approach… the museumification of galleries, that kind of thing. What Chelsea became. Definitely it made it hard to want to participate. When I was at AFA, the fact that I was in a gallery all the time made it hard for me to do art. That’s part of the reason I began the jewelry line. It was an opportunity for me to do something creative that was outside of the art context.
You also saw the gallery switch from Soho to Chelsea too. Was that for economic reasons?
Yeah, the economic reasons were the deciding factor. It became clear that if the gallery were to survive it would have to move to Chelsea.
How did the gallery deal with those kinds of pressures?
It was a constant struggle. Colin was interested in sales and wanted the artists that he showed to sell, but that didn’t make him choose works that were going to sell. In the end, Colin would end up floating the gallery through money he made during the Armory Show. The whole period I worked at AFA it wasn’t a money making enterprise. It barely survived even with great personal sacrifice both on his part as well as from the people that worked there. When Pat Hearn died in 2000 we were running two spaces. Pat Hearn Gallery was officially closed but there were two memorial shows spanning two periods of Pats gallery. Pat had wanted her gallery closed and wanted Colin to move his gallery into her old space. It was really hard. Colin was reluctant to move. I remember at one point he wanted to turn Pat Hearn Gallery into a nightclub. He didn’t like being in Chelsea. He didn’t like what happened.
He was responding to it.
Well, yeah, Colin was always trying to stab at whatever was the status quo.
What was it like being an employee there?
When I watch the show “The Office,” it reminds me a lot of our situation. There was an aspect of torture through comedy with Colin. It was like a clubhouse. It was also high stress, low money all the time, and that created even more stress. But, at the same time there was a lot of fun involved in it. I think Colin thought that if it wasn’t going to be fun, he wasn’t interested in doing it. It’s kind of ironic because I know that it wasn’t fun most of the time for him. Especially after Pat got sick and died and he got sick. It was a nightmare. He got screwed over a lot, but he was kind of a clown. The play aspect was an important part of it for him on a philosophical level and that made it livable to be in this situation at the gallery, which was very disorganized. It was like young artist kids trying to help somebody, who’s not a normal businessperson, run a business. His management skills were not good. He’d sit down to show you how to do something on the computer and then he would end up reconstructing the program.
Were people nice to each other?
At the gallery?
Yeah.
I think the aspect of financial gain and seniority in any office makes that game sort of more tough. I think at AFA, more than anything we were competing for Colin’s attention.
But there still wasn’t that kind of psychological terrorism that is kind of infamous at galleries like Mary Boone.
Oh, no way. While there were constant discussions, meetings, reforms, and strategy sessions about selling, there was never any pressure to sell. It wasn’t something you had a quota for or you were going to get in trouble for. There was some ridiculous commission structure that he set up at one point, which was like a fraction of a percentage. I never bothered to try to collect any of that.
When Colin died, you ended up managing the gallery, right?
Well, basically Christine,who was the co-director with me and I inherited the gallery with the idea that we would continue it and by virtue of the space and being in Chelsea in this great location. Obviously a lot of artists would leave but a lot would stay. Colin had the idea that the gallery could continue. But Colin had signed a 10 year lease to continue renting the space and the landlord, through controversial and possibly nefarious means, ended the lease. So at that point we had to decide whether we were going to go for a real estate hunt, raise funds to do that, which was just impossible after everything we’d been through, or close the gallery.
How did you start making jewelry?
I started making jewelry in the mid nineties… like, ’95, ’96. It was something that I did for my friends and for fun. Then I started collaborating with Susan Cianciolo.
This was a period of time when a lot of artists were turning to fashion as a way of working.
Yeah, Bernadette Corporation was making clothes. A lot of my friends were stylists and photographers. There has always been a lot of crossover between art and fashion but this was in part driven by economics. This wasn’t the bubble economy era of the artworld, and that must have had something to do with it. It was easier to get together a group of t-shirts or something and get people to buy them than it would be to sell an artwork. There was no real insecurity as to whether fashion was lower than art. I think it was seen as another possible venue for getting ideas out there. It was exciting.
This was happening in tandem with you making jewelry?
Yeah. I worked with Susan on her tenth runway show. The jewelry was offered with the collection. I basically started doing it because I needed the money. The idea of doing the collection and making orders and sending them to stores was something I knew nothing about. I had my doubts that I would be able to do it, but thought it would be fun to try. I was getting a lot of encouragement.
What did the first jewelry pieces look like?
Kind of like absurd jewelry that might look normal from far away. Then up close it tells a story or performs some kind of narrative that’s diabolical or sort of gothic. Each collection looked really different from the next. One of the first pieces was the 1984 quarter. It was a quarter from the year 1984 made to look really old. My friend Jess Holzworth who worked at AFA at the time made this pamphlet to sell my jewelry. Jess helped me write some descriptions and for the 1984 quarter we wrote“Ignorance is strength and this is one strong piece of jewelry. Supplies are limited due to scarcity.”
Mended Veil pieces are made out of figurative elements, but jewelry is traditionally abstract. How do you negotiate those things?
That’s sort of part of my strange combination of influences and how I make things. Sometimes the history of jewelry would be part of the piece or maybe it would just look like a classical necklace with a twist. Some of them are more language based, like the bad luck bracelet which would be all these symbols of bad luck. A lot of stuff has literary influences, from reading a lot of sci-fi and fantasy stuff. Basically every collection was a story in my head, with different characters and different jewelry to go with them. Every season was thematic: The notion of how themes are stereotypically represented with all these symbols. Jewelry is always symbolic, which is why I think it’s so interesting.
How is jewelry always symbolic?
Even the most pedestrian sort of jewelry is tied to long standing histories of jewelry making, which are based on symbols that keep coming back. The eye, the cross, stuff like that. It has always been this thing that is personal but also culturally reflective of its origins. It has an aura of magic or wealth.
Were you collecting jewelry before you made it?
No. My grandmother was a big jewelry person. She had a big collection of turquoise jewelry and antique jewelry that I spent a lot of time going through as a kid. The first pieces of Mended Veil were made from whatever broken pieces of jewelry she left after she passed away.
Do you wear your jewelry?
No, its bad luck.
It’s bad luck to wear the jewelry you make?
No my jewelry is bad luck. The idea that “this is my lucky thing”, that’s the thing about jewelry I find so fascinating. People immediately want to ascribe some sort of belief system to this inanimate object that they are wearing. I often try to do things that were doing the opposite of that. Bad luck bracelet. You know that story about the Monkey Paw?
No.
The monkeys paw is a hand of a monkey that gives a guy three wishes. And each wish is worse than the next. He asks for money, his son is killed in an industrial accident…
He gets the insurance money.
Yeah, so the husband wishes for the son to be alive again and the corpse arrives revived at the door and then the husband has to use the last wish to erase the last two. So a lot of the jewelry I make is for people that are willing to confront superstition as a questionable belief. I’m trying to make stuff that would make people think about those things.
Do you still make jewelry?
I stopped in 2009. I don’t think I exhausted all possibilities but I definitely took it to the point where as a business I was either going to have to up my game and expand it or stop doing it. I ended up being on this constant scavenger hunt for things, not just a certain color of bead but a certain size and shape of bead that relates to the next bead, like a spectrum idea. This stuff became almost impossible to get and then production had to happen. I spent a lot of time in the bead district looking for things that didn’t exist anymore... 5 months after I made the sample.
How many pieces would you make for a collection?
It would depend. I would make 30 odd pieces per collection and then I wouldn’t know which one the buyer wanted or which one the customer would respond to. I would have to be ready to make 100 of something and for that reason I had to buy a lot of stuff that didn’t get used. Then for things that were ordered heavily I would have to buy stuff that didn’t exist in the quantities I needed. Because they were artworks in a way, it was very specific and it became very time consuming.
Did you do lookbooks?
Yeah. This one was called “The Dungeons of Mended Veil” and it was a vampire slayers charm bracelet, with all the stuff you would use to kill a vampire if you were a vampire slayer: Dungeons and Dragons, dice…
What do you think when you see other people wearing your jewelry?
It usually makes me happy. People have a tendency to say, “look I’m wearing one of your necklaces!” before I really have a chance to notice it. But I’m usually more concerned about the condition of the jewelry. Trying to see if it’s held together OK. A lot of the methods I used to put these pieces together were not traditional and as a result they sometimes fell apart.
You’ve recently started making artworks right?
My show opened the day the stock market crashed. I somehow managed to get out of the art world before the last bubble and then got back in…
What motivated you to make the pieces you started making?
I’d had this stuff going around my head for a long time and I guess it was always my secret plan to make work again. Enough time had passed since the gallery closed that my exhaustion with the art business was waning. I was also getting tired of the fashion cycle, having to do 2 big collections every year and doing production the rest of the time. I was invited to be in a show and that’s when I first started making these pieces. I had been collecting action figures and playing with them, on top of my TV or whatever. For me that work went back to my initial influences in LA and the kind of art I was making at that time - people from the beat generation, doing awesome assemblage and found object art - combining that with my influences having worked at American Fine Arts. I wanted to make stuff about my life and the people around me. I live in a shitty tenement apartment, even though it’s now in a prime real estate area of New York, this is a run down old place. I started thinking about getting older and being an artist but living an outmoded lifestyle that doesn’t really have much play anymore. That seemed like the right format to work with those kinds of things. I see myself as a litte bit of an outsider artist as well, even though I’m very much an insider in the art world.
These works felt really gossipy. Trying to figure the parallels out who was who, what was what…
They’re bit like scenes from soap operas. Somebody described them as being a “dilema driven practice.” These are situations that are faced by people all the time. I was making it in the context of this big boom of buildings going up in Manhattan, and everyone having great art careers and museums expanding… I sort of made this work about people who got left behind. Bohemian Monsters, the title of the show, was about becoming a monster where you’re a spectral reflection of a time that existed before, looking at another context which you don’t really fit into.
What are you working on now?
I basically took a year off, which was supposed to be relaxing but has sort of driven me crazy. Now I am trying to decide what my next move will be. I’m working on something now I can show you. This is sort of about the credit crisis. It’s the chest-burster from alien…
It’s coming out of Beatlejuice’s ass?
It’s Uncle Sam. It’s a monster Uncle Sam. Out of the aliens mouth is a credit card offer, one of those “your name here” kind of things, and then there’s a vulture perched on Uncle Sam’s shoulder…
These pieces are so aggressively didactic but they’re not illustrations.
It’s like a political cartoon that keeps fucking with your head over and over again.
How do you think you accomplish that?
I like to think that they’re good sculptures.