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Episode 54
Kenny Schachter - Curator, Collector, Teacher, Writer, Artist, NFTism

  • 40 min read

Episode Description

A discussion with the unique and unparalleled Kenny Schachter. Kenny has been curating contemporary art exhibits in museums and galleries and teaching art history and economics at some of the top art schools for nearly 30 years. He is an obsessive collector with a home busting at the seams with renowned works and more in storage on multiple continents. Schachter has a “no nonsense” writing style that makes him a popular contributor at Artnet News. And above all else Kenny is an artist. He has been making work for years, but has found his greatest success in dragging the art world with him into the NFT space. He is so passionate about it that he has trademarked the term “NFTism” and has tattooed it on his arm.

https://www.kennyschachter.art/

Transcript

Craig: [00:00:10] This is Art Sense, a podcast focus on educating and informing listeners about the past, present and future of art. I'm Craig Gould. Today's episode is the second in a series featuring conversations that took place recently at and around the world's largest NFT conference - NFT NYC. On today's episode I speak with the unique and unparalleled Kenny Schachter. Kenny has been curating contemporary art exhibits in museums and galleries and teaching art history and economics at some of the top art schools for nearly 30 years. He's an obsessive collector with a home bursting at the seams with renowned works and more in storage on multiple continents. Schachter has a no nonsense writing style that makes him a popular contributor at Artnet News. And above all else, Kenny is an artist. He's been making work for years, but has found his greatest success in dragging the art world with him into the NFT space. He is so passionate about it that he has trademarked the term "NFTism" and has it tattooed on his arm. And now the incredibly insightful and always entertaining Kenny Schachter.

Craig: [00:01:28] A lot of times I start the conversation giving them,

Kenny: [00:01:31] Do whatever you want to do

Craig: [00:01:32] A lot of times I start the conversation with a person having the opportunity to tell us in their own words who they are. So it's like, if you are sitting down at a dinner party next to someone who's a total stranger, they have absolutely no idea Kenny Schachter is

Kenny: [00:01:49] That would be most people in relationship to me.

Craig: [00:01:51] And they said, "What do you do?" How would you how would you describe it?

Kenny: [00:01:57] Nothing. Well, many different things, like a dilettante used to be a good thing historically. And I just...I'm educated in the things I care about the most. So I'm self taught and the first art class I was in, I was teaching at the new school in 1992.

Craig: [00:02:14] So explain. I've heard you say that before, but how does that work? How how do you you were teaching...

Kenny: [00:02:22] So I had curated a half a dozen contemporary art shows out of law school.

Craig: [00:02:27] Got it.

Kenny: [00:02:28] So I never wanted to be a lawyer, but I didn't know what I wanted to do. I studied philosophy and political science. I was not cognizant that art could be bought or sold, but I had never been encouraged for anything as a child. So my mother passed away when I was young and my father was just terribly unsupportive about everything. Don't have a relationship, much of one today. He tried to get me to quit art when I finally did find art. So anyway, I just defined my life in the negative. I didn't. I wasn't going to do something I didn't like to do, but I had no idea. I had no hobbies or anything. And I was alienated. No friends as a child had my mother lost my mother when I was young and I was overweight and I stuttered. Now I never shut up. That's part of the reason no one ever listened to me. And I could. Inarticulate. I couldn't speak practically, but I did like cut things out from magazines. I voraciously collected magazines and I still love. I'm a journalist, partly, I would say anyway. So by the time I found out that art could be bought and sold, which was after law school in college I went to museums, but I was idiot idiot savant. And I thought that art artist made a painting, went to a museum, and that was the end of the equation. So I went to law school just to cast around looking for something that I would like to spend the rest of my life doing.

Kenny: [00:03:52] And at that point, having a degree in political science and philosophy, there was no such career other than teaching high school without having a graduate degree. Then I thought I would take a law school degree and get a PhD in philosophy, but that wasn't going to happen. And then I just started to cast about to look for work in law school, never went to class, took the exams, told everyone I was in night school, but there was none. Worked for Prudential Bache Insurance Company on the floor of the stock exchange doing options realized like...needing to count on my on my fingers was not did not portend well for a life in finance and I was terrible. Then, I did...I started writing as a legal assistant for various small law firms in school that I handed out my resume to 100 garment industry firms. I thought maybe I wanted to do something creative. I remembered my mother liked painting on the wall of the house at some point. And other than that, I never took an art class in my life, never took an art history class in my life, but I knew I wanted to do something somehow. The only thing I could think of that entailed some degree of creativity was fashion that was esthetics and entrepreneurial-ship. But I got a job as like a tie salesman for a designer and like Willy Loman, carrying around these monster sized suitcases of ties. And I was allergic to silk, which you couldn't make this shit up, but like...

Craig: [00:05:24] I've never heard of anyone allergic to silk

Kenny: [00:05:26] So, every time I would put a tie on, I would get hives. So I thought I was allergic to going to synagogue, which I think I am anyway. I'm against all religions equally. I studied Islam when I was in university. I read the Koran from front to back, and the fashion thing was like, I'm pathologically I have a bad sense of direction. And I was meant to sell neckwear to these mom and pop stores. And I thought I would start my own design company. And it was such a soul sucking, demeaning experience, fanning out these ties to sell or to like a committee of people for small department store to sell, like $1000 of merchandise by committee was very...not terribly pleasant lets say. 

Craig: [00:06:12] Right.

Kenny: [00:06:12] Anyway, so then in between procrastinating for jobs, I stumbled into Warhol's estate sale and there was art being bought and sold. Not just his collection, but they were gearing up for like a yearly spring contemporary art auction. And that was a revelation and an epiphany that art could be bought and sold. So back to your question, what do I do? I make art. I write about the art world, and I've been teaching for 30 years about the machinations of the art world. And because I always made videos and employed...I'm interested in technology culturally, the impact in how it affects culture. So I'm not a coder. My attention span doesn't last longer than flicking through one screen. Anyone who knows me knows not to make an email that lasts more than one screen. It's not purposeful. Unless I'm studying for a class to teach or writing, I'm like a mosquito in terms of my attention span. So anyway, that's...I mean, I've spent 33 years trying to create a role for myself that didn't exist. So I was embedding my writing with my videos. When the technology shift, I was making giant computer prints in the nineties. I did a computer animation in 93, and I've just been sort of...I love art. All I really. To sum it up in one word...I'm already boring the shit out of my dinner guest.

Craig: [00:07:41] No.

Kenny: [00:07:41] It's like I just love art and I love to teach it and inspire people and to facilitate opportunities for other people to to infectiously feel the way. I mean, I lost one of my kids. I lost my mother. I've been through some terrible personal tragedies and art is the solace and this medicinal...like for me, it's just giving physical form to ideas and it's about love and passion and sharing and communicating. It's a means of communication for me and my kids. I have three kids. Two of them are really...one of them is a super professional artist having a big show in Florence. Workaholic. He's in the studio all night now, preparing for a show in September. I don't work like that, but he does. And then and my youngest one is studying at School of Visual Arts, where I've been teaching a studio class and my middle one is spending his way through life until he figures out what he wants to do.

Craig: [00:08:41] There you go. There's the capitalist, right?

Kenny: [00:08:43] I guess.

Craig: [00:08:44] So. In the list of things there, I didn't hear collector or dealer. And I guess I'd also ask, you know, you walk out of the Warhol sell, you went from there to deciding, I want to curate?

Kenny: [00:09:01] No. So I saw an ad in the newspaper for an exhibition of prints by Cy Twombly, Joseph Beuys and Sigmar Polke. I studied German philosophy and I somehow subconsciously absorbed the work of these artists at the East Wing of the National Gallery in Washington, DC. And I went to George Washington. It was the only college I've gotten into with my subpar grades and squeaked into getting into law school with the lowest LSAT scores. And I went to this exhibition advertised in the New York Times, and I never knew that you can own art and you still can't. Art owns you. You can only ever be a custodian for physical things. Sigmund Freud has written an analysis of the mentality of collectors, and he said, it's at the root of it is bad toilet training. So I must have been dismally toilet trained as a child because I guess initially, like... I call myself like an esthetic materialist. So like I don't get attached to the thing itself. I just get attached to like, well, there's a dopamine reaction to buying stuff but my house is wallpapered in other people's art because it inspires me and it radiates information.

Kenny: [00:10:23] And what I love about digital art and NFTs in particular, if there's anything you could say that's paradigm shifting or really a change in the nature of the artist audience relationship, it's that as a maker of NFTs, there's a whole other set of expectations in the buyers of NFTs. It's not just a static object that goes on a wall because they don't go on a fucking wall, but it's a ticket to engage. And there are certain expectations that a collector of NFTs have, which is wildly different from owning a painting. These people, which I've learned hard and fast through discord and through my relationships, there's a certain set of expectations about engagement, about communication, about a continuing obligation where you're compelled to like not just a painting and an art piece doesn't radiate a message off the wall? But it's engagement where you have to expect more things free art, airdrops, raffles, gamification. But there's some fun to be had from. 

Craig: [00:11:27] Yeah. I'm in town for NFT.NYC and I was at a talk the other day at Town Hall. You know, it seemed like everything in art was at the Marriott. But anyway, I go there. 

Kenny: [00:11:39] Yeah, that's the poor cousin in the NFT space. Less than 10% of the whole market.

Craig: [00:11:43] And so I went to this talk at Town Hall and CEO of Yellow Heart, Josh Katz, was there talking about how they did this NFT release with Kings of Leon where. 

Kenny: [00:11:57] It bombed.

Craig: [00:11:57] Well, it sounds like it did really well. 

Kenny: [00:11:59] That's what they say.

Craig: [00:11:59] Right. But they're like on the back side, they went back to the band and were like, "hey, you know, these NFT guys, they really this whole thing is about engagement. You know, they're kind of expecting you to throw in some other stuff now, you know, nine months, a year later". And they're like, "No".

Kenny: [00:12:21] Well, that's why their NFTs bombed. And they did bomb from the get go and there's an artist or Urs Fischer who did the same thing and I said to the Loic Gouzer, who was the facilitator of this project for MakersPlace, and he said, "I need some help to get more awareness and more support for this project". So I said, "you need to go to Twitter and you need to go to Discord. The art world (traditional art world) lives on Instagram and the tech world lives on Twitter". And I said that to him and he's like, "I don't suck up to anybody. I'm not interested". So I said, "You're arrogant and you're never going to make it because there's a whole other set of expectations". And like, even though I've been in the art world for 30 years, it's 33 now. Like after 31 years, I basically dropped all the pretense, all of...I started my whole life over and immersed myself through teaching because I, I teach to learn. And I started giving a lecture in March 2021 at School of Visual Arts. I think I've given 50 lectures at least since then and 30 podcasts.

Kenny: [00:13:25] And I do it just because this this whole sector changes with such rapidity. If you don't have an impetus to force yourself to constantly read, ask questions, engage with people and try to absorb the kind of...there's so much information that travels so quickly that you really it's a full time job just to stay abreast. And I love all that kind of the frenetic activity of change. I have an open mind. I mean, I'm old and it's such a misconception to equate technology and this type of enterprise as a game of youth because I've helped people...I'm working on a project with an 83 year old collector to collaborate on an NFT - Dakis Joannou - who just launched this Jeff Koons project in Hydra and art is about curiosity, learning, accruing knowledge. It's a slow burning process and it necessitates having...being open minded. And shockingly, in the art world, most people aren't. I mean, I had this notion before I got involved that everyone was drinking absinthe and going to orgies and hanging from the chandelier. And art has by far been the most backward looking conservative business that I've ever been affiliated with.

Craig: [00:14:45] Well, and that that kind of ties in with the panel discussion I was on the other day, which was asking a question about how do you bridge the crypto NFT artwork to the traditional art world.

Kenny: [00:15:00] When I first...I was giving a talk last year, literally a year ago at a crypto...I flew to Switzerland to give a ten minute talk. I had a fight and negotiate to squeeze it out to 20 minutes. The NFT.NYC thing I didn't even bother. I didn't really have anything else to say more than...I had to struggle for 10 minutes. And then, I kept getting like 50 emails like in 24 hours about everyone building a new platform that will be the bridge between...and I thought and I made a video an NFT funny enough of a bridge between a gallery and this metaverse and there was me blowing it up with TNT. I don't want to make the bridge. I mean, I'm being facetious because I am that bridge, but I don't want to bridge from one fucked up world to another. The worst thing that...did you did you listen to my stupid little talk?

Craig: [00:15:54] Well, I had...here's the honest truth, I had another meeting I had to run to.

Kenny: [00:15:58] Yeah, you mentioned that.

Craig: [00:15:58] So I caught like the last 5 minutes. So I went onto your site and watched the one from Switzerland.

Kenny: [00:16:05] Oh, God, Jesus. The hour one.

Craig: [00:16:06] So, I'm really invested.

Kenny: [00:16:08] Whoa, that's hard. I'm sorry, I want to apologize that you went through that. But like, okay, so there was one...I mean, I never repeat. I'm repeating myself now. For many, I only have one life story, but I have never repeated a lecture and I've given seven lectures in the last month. Like two major keynote talks. And anyway, so I had a few new images that I had never...and this stuff is is transforming by the second and so you just had KnownOrigin merge with eBay. Art block's, one of the great success stories in the history of the short lived history of Nfts, merged with Pace. That's a total all in merger and then like the Punks and the Apes merged and sucked in the head of Christie's.

Craig: [00:17:04] Noah Davis.

Kenny: [00:17:05] NFTs, what the fuck? I mean, this was all supposed to be the great libertarian experiment of decentralization. And the minute the money's on the table, there's a consolidation, and you end up like the NFT world and the fine art world of very separate parallel spaces. But already, like the NFT space is emulating the worst aspects of the fine art world. And when I made this video blowing up the bridge, even though I kind of am the bridge, but like we don't need a bridge from one place which is fundamentally flawed and to equate it to another place that has the prospect. Meanwhile, crypto is supposed to be this decentralized place to get away from this kind of hegemony of banks and central banks and governments. Meanwhile, you have to write your seed phrase down in pen. They don't even teach penmanship. Then you have to put it into a safety deposit box in your bank. It's meant to like reduce these prohibitively expensive fees of transferring money. And the gas fees are dwarfing the fees of a money transfer. So it's like, "What the fuck is Bitcoin like? It's a store of value." Well, as soon as the market tanked, it had nothing remotely resembling anything meant to be a store of value. It was a store of nothing. It's a store of false promises, if you ask me. At the same time, there's never been a mechanism to trade digital art and artist videos in a way that if if crypto imploded tomorrow, I could care less. I lost a chunk of my money from sales of NFTs, but I was jolly about it because I think intellectually and conceptually it's the best thing that could've happen. 1400 PFPs in one week if you take any entity.

Craig: [00:19:00] Yeah, just, just for reference, we're not talking about one edition of 1400 apps.

Kenny: [00:19:06] There were 1400 editions of 10,000 in one week a month ago on OpenSea. So if you take...I was just for my talk yesterday, I was speaking to someone and I just said like shrimp, so right shrimp next to NFT and you get 10,000, 10,000 NFTs. And then like and then on the other extreme is the pseudo-intellectual art world pretentiousness translated into NFT. And I mean, there's an artist who I'm friendly enough with who I respect, but then he just made an NFT out of oil slicks like sold in Ethereum. So the hypocrisy of the art world knows no bounds. And this convergence of like, we don't want a bridge, we want a new model which gives hope to people that...I mean, I go to art schools. I've been critiquing students in art schools for 25 years or more. And I would always say in the past, this is the difference in the models of how you would convey hope to a student. The schools never teach the most important class for art, which is what do you do the day after you graduate from school? In the past, I would say find the gallery with a similar sensibility, ingratiate yourself with the stable of artists, get to know the dealer, go to the openings, befriend the artists, and then get yourself into a group show. Now, in a million years it would never occur to me. I would say there's a fundamental, systematic shift from ground floor retail mom and pop businesses or even bigger chains. And it's going migrating to e commerce. And during the tragedy of COVID, the companies that weren't just going to e-commerce went out of business anyway. And there's never been more storefronts.

Kenny: [00:20:57] I would say band together with your friends, take over a storefront and then do a mixture of NFTs, go to Instagram, go to Twitter, and then just do it yourself. And I think that the beauty of this, which would survive even the demise of crypto altogether, many people are adamant about the fact that this is one giant pyramid scheme and I made an art piece like Mother Theresa. There was a book by Christopher Hitchens "Missionary Position" saying that Mother Teresa exploited poverty to help her zeal of like converting people to Catholicism in this missionary quest that she...the care for the poor and these foundations she created in India was subpar. She befriended Babyface Duvalier, some people, some businessmen in the US she took $1,000,000 from who was indicted in the savings and loan crisis. And it's frequently a critique of crypto is that it's the greater fool theory that all NFTs are just a justification to suck in more people to sell crypto and somehow legitimize this giant scheme...scam. And on the other level, digital art defines our era. And this people have never had a way to buy it and sell it. So the blockchain, in one form or another has created. I mean, why should a painting why should a digital video or video by Steve McQueen from the U.K. or Bill Viola or Vito Acconci, who died destitute as a US conceptual artist, why shouldn't their work be on parity with the paint on canvas? Because paintings on canvas are easy to store, easy to move and easy to sell because they take up a small amount of space.

Craig: [00:22:42] Sure.

Kenny: [00:22:42] And yeah. So in that sense.

Craig: [00:22:44] Well, I mean, I was having this same sort of one on one conversation yesterday with an alter, and part of that conversation is like, "digital art's never gotten its due".

Kenny: [00:22:55] Never.

Craig: [00:22:55] Why? .

Kenny: [00:22:57] It's too ethereal in people's minds. There was nothing to grab on.

Craig: [00:23:00] Right.

Kenny: [00:23:01] It's that primal ownership. I want to see it. I want to feel it. I want to smell it. I want to poke in that does that people think digital art is.

Craig: [00:23:10] Are NFTs any different now?

Kenny: [00:23:13] Well, first of all, it's the it's the buy and sell trading element of OpenSea of that that's that's that's an absolute schism. I never know how to pronounce it.

Craig: [00:23:27] That's good enough for me. I'll take schism.

Kenny: [00:23:29] Thank you. So that never existed. That capacity to buy, sell. I've sold videos in my career, and I would put together five or six of my video art pieces, put it on a memory stick and sell it to a collector and say It's an edition of three edition of three one. I don't even have a record of one of those. I shouldn't be saying this. I only ever sold three or four of them, so it doesn't really matter. But like there was no way, even though like the scarcity and fifties is to some extent artificial or like these people released 10,000 pieces of shit and then they look and see if how many of the pieces should have corn in it, how much has peanuts in it. It's this reverse scarcity like Damien Hirst makes these stupid currency things. And then they hired a team of mathematicians to like, look at which ones bled through the paper, which ones have these dots, which ones have those dots? And then they create this artificial exclusivity scheme, which is completely...has no conceptual meaning other than money. And that's always been for me.

Kenny: [00:24:39] I mean, I just made I make satirical. You can equate what I do in my art to like a political cartoonist in the '20s or '30s or whatever. And like I do it in a social context employing parody. So there was like Damien Hirst when he released his project, fittingly enough, called "The Currency", he appeared on Bloomberg and the reporter said, "Are you going to keep the Ethereum or?" And he said, "I love all the currencies". And then he said, "Oh yeah, you know, I bought a Bored Ape and a Punk and a Me Bit and I forgot." Well, that's about half a million dollars. I don't know when the last time you spent a half a million dollars on something and forgot, but like that just sums up a lot. So I made a video where he's getting suffocated by Me Bits and Punks and Apes and turned it into an NFT. But like, I've never. I'm the worst. You mentioned dealer, "I can't sell crack to a crackhead" is one of my frequent refrains. I don't...I'm a self-sabotaging machine of, like, negation.

Craig: [00:25:38] So what I'm hearing in that response is that you are an art collector under the guise of being a dealer.

Kenny: [00:25:45] No.

Craig: [00:25:45] You acquire inventory.

Kenny: [00:25:47] No. No, I'm a I'm an avid...I squirrel things. I love art and I love to surround myself. Like I guess it fulfills a hole in my emotional...I mean, this is like a therapy session, but I would say that, no, I've never...I only ever sold art for economic necessity. And whenever I've tried to help other...I've only ever been a professional collector. And for the last three years I've, I've had these sales at Sotheby's called the hoarder. So I'm taking the piss out of collectors and using a. Creative way to describe the whole act of collecting. I've only ever been a fake art dealer, like curating shows that were self-wrought. And I would curate a show and then sit the space and try to sell the art, which I never did, because I am terrible at it. And I can't explain to you why you should like something. Life is too short. I have a bit of a personality disorder, you can say, and I get along with animals and children relatively well. I mean, I have to say, like, you know, I trademark this word NFTism, your here because of NFTism. That really brought us together more than fine art practice or anything. I had three people just before you from all walks of life, from all economic strata. I met with programmers and mathematicians.

Kenny: [00:27:18] And I mean, there's something that really reminds me of getting involved in the fine art world in the early 90s, during one of the worst...people talk about the Great Recession of 2008, that was like a short lived downturn. In 1990-1996, no one...like the prospect of making, selling art for excessive amounts of money never entered anyone's consciousness because it wasn't even, you know, it wasn't even a distinct possibility or an aspiration. And all great things happen. And people got together and hung out and helped each other and like and that...when I first got like...because NFTs are dog years. So like in the first year of my involvement in NFTs two years ago, someone gave me an Ethereum when it was valued at 1600 dollars, the good old days when... and that's how I got started and that kind of mentality. I have met people in the tech sector in Singapore and forged these relationships, one with a generative art specialist historian. And they just...we shared information and they taught me. And the more I sucked in, I would immediately, garner all this information and then share it with as many people as would listen. And that was a dynamic which I think like even in the NFT space began to evaporate over the past year when the greed just like became like a disease.

Craig: [00:28:42] Right. You know, a lot of people, when you talk to them about the NFT space, the only thing they can envision are all the PFPs.

Kenny: [00:28:49] Yes.

Craig: [00:28:50] And when you talk to that horde of people that are interested in the PFP space, they aren't interested in the esthetic

Kenny: [00:28:58] Money. They're interested in money.

Craig: [00:28:58] Right.

Kenny: [00:28:59] It's a substitute. It's a derivative substitute for non-regulated trading.

Craig: [00:29:04] Like an ICO. 

Kenny: [00:29:07] But that's also...well, first of all, contemporary art is traded on the same basis. I mean, I never...the only time I had a really engaged conversation about art in the past five years was when I showed my Mother Theresa video at Basel, I got a call from a journalist that I thought was an art world writer and it was someone from the Catholic newspaper, and they were like wildly open-minded and it was a really wonderful engagement and. 

Craig: [00:29:33] Interesting.

Kenny: [00:29:34] I was scared. I did a lot of research before and it was a really open-minded and and a very engaging and interesting and something that I really learned a lot from and felt that I wasn't judged for what I did, and it could have been seen as flippant and disrespectful, but it was a really balanced conversation. And the art world, nobody cares. Even like in the contemporary arts sector, all the artists that are being bought and sold at auction for millions of dollars, I mean, it's all the same, you know. But I just...that's why this whole downturn for me has been like a cleansing, because get rid of all the stupid speculation and get rid of these people that are just in it for them.

Craig: [00:30:16] Okay. So let me ask you this. I think you have a pretty good idea of what this space is now. Right? In terms of like there are PFPs, but then there are places where there are more curated finer art marketplaces.

Kenny: [00:30:34] Which one is that?

Craig: [00:30:35] Well. That's that's how they describe themselves. But let me ask you this. If you were to plan a more perfect world, say this whole thing crashed and all that survived was the technology.

Kenny: [00:30:49] Yes. Yes.

Craig: [00:30:50] What what would the new better version of this from from an art perspective look like?

Kenny: [00:30:57] I'm like a very laissez faire person. And I don't believe in I mean, I just like the mess. I like the way it naturally collapses. I like the entropy

Craig: [00:31:07] You sound like somebody who's been working in the art world for 30 years.

Kenny: [00:31:10] Well, I mean, I love art and I make art and I just don't care. Like, I just it is what it is. And I accept things for the way they are. And because I'm a writer, I guess I'm a bit of a pervert where like, the worst things happen to me. I had my best friend steal a million and a half dollars from me, which would really come in handy now to pay my mortgage down. And part of me is like, "Oh, this will make an interesting story to recount". I just don't care. But I think, like, I'm happy with the way the way it is now. I see great...you have to really dig. There's not one platform to buy and sell NFTs that I think is exceptional or I think is like...but then again, I couldn't find a single gallery that I think is consistently extraordinary. I mean, you just find the best at various things. So I think it would be better if there was like an OpenSea for higher consistently good NFTs. But I mean if you look for something you will find it. Most people don't care. And art NFTs constitute less than 15% of the market at best. Some people say 15%, 14% or 9%. I would probably say 7%. But there's no like Hauser & Wirth, not that they're anything other than like a clusterfuck of estates, restaurants, hotels and, you know, some decent art in between. But like, there's no great consistently high level fine art, digital art site. There's like this new some new Tezos sites that are pretty good, like object.io, whatever it's called. And I mean, I've used all of them Superrare, Foundation, KnownOrigin, Nifty Gateway, Rarible, all of these things.

Craig: [00:33:00] And so what is your opinion on the art in NFTs coming uniquely from digital creators or traditional art world artists, collaborating with the people with the technology know how and a tech studio, design studio to come alongside. Are you okay with somebody from the traditional art worlds making their way with help, or do you feel like this is a space that should be owned by a new breed of digital artists? That needs to be...

Kenny: [00:33:33] I mean, I'm all the above. I just think like I've made digital videos and digital prints for decades. And I think if you're a painter, just paint. If you just want to make wooden sculptures or bronze sculptures or whatever. I just think if the artwork lends itself to a digital manifestation on some level, then this is an ideal place to situate your work. So, I mean, there are artists like Kevin Abosch, who was a crypto artist well before NFTs. He came from photography and then he taught himself coding and he makes art, which is very specific to NFTs and to smart contracts. And Rhea Myers is another artist who makes art that incorporates the smart contract as the content. Sarah Friend was a painter who taught herself coding. She makes extraordinary works and it's again like you could buy the coolest art by great artists for $500. You could buy...I mean, I just bought an NFT from Sarah Friend. I bought some for $35. I bought one recently for $200. If you don't comply with certain parameters that she sets forth, you'll never be able to sell your NFT for 10,000 years unless you do some certain...you know, I love that kind of mentality because she had another NFT that like you couldn't even own the fucking thing. Like if you didn't give it away in 20 days, it would evaporate.

Craig: [00:35:05] Wow.

Kenny: [00:35:05] That's really cool thinking, which is the opposite of what you would value investing in art. I mean, I'm interested in just people making stuff. Some things I make have a have a solely physical manifestation and some things I've been making digital photographs forever, and selling a digital print of a computer file as a photograph makes David Hockney, who's been one of the most progressive thinkers in the world.

Kenny: [00:35:37] Whenever people from outside the digital world asked me to define an NFT, I use the example of an iPad drawing of David Hockney. He hates NFTs. He has stated that they're for criminals. They're small time criminals and scammers. But meanwhile, he used to have the most open mind, I guess at 90. Eventually his mind closed like a clam and he's saying stupid shit because would you rather buy a 20 by 30 inch photograph from Pace for $300,000 of an iPad drawing or would you rather just buy the file in an edition and you could project it on the side of your building or make a photograph or make it or put it in your wallet or leave it in your phone. So if your work is native to digital, that's...look, photography, videos, computer art, these are the things that are natively predisposed to end up in an NFT. The grass is always greener, so the artists want to be in bands or they want to make movies. The actors want to make paintings. Or now Jim Carrey's painting and making shitty NFTs and Paris Hilton's been quite clever about it. I mean, I think she she expresses herself as kind of ditzy, but she's been quite clever about what she's doing now. She's like the new Medici of the museum world, raising money to give in.

Craig: [00:37:00] Not to be confused with Cosmo Medici.

Kenny: [00:37:03] Like she's trying. Yeah, not like she's trying to be like a Medici Medici. Like, giving, you know, supporting NFTs to go to museums. But, like, you know, people should do what they want. I don't really care. And I just think, like, let the chips fall where they fall. I would like to see a lot of this froth dissipate from the field because when everyone's making stupid money, it's not the art or the quality that draws people in. It's the greed.

Craig: [00:37:31] Sure.

Kenny: [00:37:32] And computers are not greedy or not criminally minded. It's the assholes that are behind them that are stealing all the money, emptying your wallet and...

Craig: [00:37:41] Sure, my panel discussion in NYC the other day I was talking about how yeah, there's, there's Pace in these two or three top galleries that are moving in this space and acquiring. But there are lots of galleries out there and the galleries in terms of the traditional art world, the traditional artists do whatever the gallery tells them to and they collect. 

Kenny: [00:38:07] To some extent. 

Craig: [00:38:08] To some extent. And the collectors also follow the lead because I mean they're consulting both ends of the transaction, right? And probably not a perfect world. But you know, the gallerists I've talked to, "hey, what is your thought about offering NFT working with artists?" They come back to me and say, "Listen, all my collectors are baby boomers. They're not tech savvy. I don't want to drag them through a technology keyhole and tell them that they have to buy a currency and set up a wallet. And then those collectors want to be able to tangibly, you know, they're consuming art for a different purpose than a crypto collector. And so, like, they want to be able to tangibly feel a joy experience, have it on a wall and be able to brag. Right? I can help with the display. Right? But you know...

Kenny: [00:39:08] You're adding a little commercial.

Craig: [00:39:10] I'm not trying to but it happened, but you know.

Kenny: [00:39:14] Shilling, babe.

Craig: [00:39:16] Would you want to see a world where galleries are comfortable enough to on-board easily traditional collectors and have them start...

Kenny: [00:39:27] Sure. I mean more buy is the better for everyone. I don't really care, to be honest. And I just think like some people are willing to take that leap, other people are not. I think that Nifty Gateway has been this NFT platform, but it's not even really a crypto. It never even took crypto until recently. All of the private keys and all the...they created their own contracts that they they own all their smart contracts, they own all their wallets. So it's like it's it's all of like the kind of like they're not even a real NFT platform, but they're also the most successful. They're not the biggest platform in sales, maybe. But I, I presented my work in seven different platforms and they're the most consistently successful at selling NFTs because they've always been a fiat company. So I think Pace's success is most assuredly not assured because no one gives a fuck about pace in the crypto world. And this Jeff Koons going to the moon, that's probably, probably will succeed because of the kind of outlandishness of the underlying concept. Urs Fischer did not succeed. I think Pace has not been terribly successful to date with what they've done. Johann König in Berlin started his own platform and that wasn't successful because he was on Polygon, I believe, and or Flow, whatever it was. Like you have to make things as easy as possible for these people that are. From what I mean, it's funny to call like the super emerging contemporary art sector, the traditional art world, but like, I mean, I just think like it's such a new national...it's only been around for a couple of years. I mean, the first NFT is.

Craig: [00:41:15] You know, for a while I was calling it the IRL art world.

Kenny: [00:41:19] Right

Craig: [00:41:19] And then I'd have to explain to people what IRL means.

Kenny: [00:41:21] I also think like digital art takes up space on a server on a...I mean, everything is something more or less in one form or another. But I just think, look, this is a nascent sector in the world. I also think contemporary art is meant to be a reflection of the social, political, economic, technological times we live in. And that's just the fallacy, because in essence, fine art world market is driven by pigment on canvas since it came off the wall of a cave art has been coveted, but it hasn't really progressed. And the art world is is I use the word retarded in the sense that it's like it's back where it's the growth is retarded because they don't promote innovation.

Craig: [00:42:08] I think the word in French means slow.

Kenny: [00:42:10] Yes, but it even means like like prophylactically restricting the development of something because it falls back into the familiar. Like the model of art galleries is not even 200 years old. And it's not a very it's not a very progressive enterprise. And like I said, like, it's, you know, you have this romantic notion of the art world being filled with avant garde, crazy people, but it's just the cottage industry entrepreneurs. And the reason it's so I say it's like picking up a rock and seeing 300 worms because at $65 Billion a year, it's pretty much lunch money for Apple. So relatively speaking, although that's obviously a lot of money compared to other marketplaces, it's minuscule. And there's such a tiny amount of people that are driving the highest end of the art world, very, very exclusive, very wealthy, generally white people. But the art world, on the other hand, is also wildly opened up for artists of color, black artists, women artists and artists of different orientations, but like the tech sector is way behind the art world in that sense. But the buyers are more diverse and the artists are not. As you know, there's all like I just I really just lived my life and observe what's going on and try to make the best, keep an open mind, try to help other people, try to make it easier for people to transition to taking their lives into their own hands.

Kenny: [00:43:41] Just through my teaching and my writing, I've been able to help hundreds and hundreds of people to create opportunities for themselves that didn't exist. And that to me is with all the bad things that I've been through in my life, I only get joy from helping myself, helping my family, and just trying to inspire other people to just do the things they want to do without being assholes about it. You know, that's it. I'm grateful. I'm wildly appreciative of all the opportunities. Everything I have has been hard fought. I still don't know when the next dollar that I'm going to make is going to come from. It's extraordinarily difficult as much today as it was 20 years ago to make a living, although I do better at it and I know I could always fall back on selling piecemeal the art that I've relentlessly accumulated over the years. More often than not, not at a profit, generally speaking or not. But then I really don't care because I live with the art of my time. That is very rewarding to me emotionally. And that's enough.

Craig: [00:44:49] What do you think is the one thing that has garnered you the most success...of your personality traits of your loves?

Kenny: [00:44:59] My problems.

Craig: [00:44:59] What is it that has allowed you to...if I say you've made it, you'll probably disagree with me. But for you to attain what you've attained at this point, you know, what is it? Is it your gift for gab? Is it your use of it? I mean.

Kenny: [00:45:17] Shut the fuck up. I never stop talking. You don't even have. I don't punctuate you. Just give me a mic. I love a captive audience because my family will refuse to listen to me anymore. But I would have to say, like, it's the tenacity and perseverance and doggedness to just the stick-to-itiveness for just...I mean, it took I'm 60 years old today.

Craig: [00:45:41] Today is your birthday? 

Kenny: [00:45:43] No. I wish it was because I'm almost 60 and a half or whatever. But I feel like a child. I'm not tired. I don't feel old. I used to think 40 was old when I was a kid, but I've only felt comfortable in my skin for the last three years or in my life because I just was really hating of myself and had low self esteem. So I would say like find what you love and then never take no for an answer and try to share the things you've learned, try to share it and help other people get to the point where you are. So I think I've never given up. I've never...I mean, I get I'm very sensitive, believe it or not. And I get affected by other people's criticisms of me, even though I'm a critic, among other things. But I like being appreciated for my work. I love my work. And I left to like, I think like it sounds stupid or disingenuous, but I really love to have a platform to express myself. That's what art is about, communication. And I'm grateful that you're sitting here listening to me and made the effort to come all the way here during this busy time. I'm grateful to anyone who...I mean, I'm thesis advising students. I'm mentoring people from all walks of life. And I was a stuttering, overweight child who was miserable for a good portion of my entire life. And I never gave up. And I never I am cynically optimistic. I never gave up hope. And now it's like I'm struggling financially, even though I've done better than I've ever done. Sometimes I'll do really well and make a lot of money, and sometimes I can go months without making a dollar, but I don't care because that's...you have to have your priorities in life. And I, you know, I just don't care. As long as I can continue to have opportunities to do what I'm doing today with you, I'm happy.

Craig: [00:47:34] You know, our conversation reminds me of a conversation I had a couple of months ago for the podcast with Joel Mesler. And I wish I could have taken a picture of your face, but Joel, you know, his friends just talk about and describe him as a hustler. Right? 

Kenny: [00:47:54] Yeah.

Craig: [00:47:54] And here's somebody who's like mid fifties and, you know, like you has finally blossomed into their own as an artist. And so it's it's interesting.

Kenny: [00:48:07] It's funny you bring him up because I don't know if you know, but he gave me a retrospective in 2018.

Craig: [00:48:11] Wow.

Kenny: [00:48:12] And we ended up like falling out.

Craig: [00:48:16] I did not know that.

Kenny: [00:48:17] Which is really funny because I think it's amazing his success. I mean, I don't want to get into like particulars about our relationship or about some of the machinations behind driving the market for his paintings, which has gone off the charts, which I think good for him. It's amazing he never gave up and he, you know, but at the same time, like I people think of me and my writing and my behavior and think that I'm some kind of a raging, angry, hostile lunatic, that I'm dangerous. Like people are scared of me because I write these articles and I just I write it with abandon and seeming disregard for my own...I've had my life threatened. I've had lawsuits threatened, people trying to throw punches at me in public. I've had enough of that shit, and I haven't done it for like a year and a half. But deep down I'm just a caring, relatively nice person and thoughtful and sensitive. But like Joel, who I care about, we are not really friendly the way we were before. But he exudes this niceness. But he's a hustler. I exude hideousness, but I'm a nice person and I'm anything but a hustler.

Kenny: [00:49:31] I love to have opportunities, but I don't do things for money because that doesn't make me feel good. Like Larry Gagosian, who I think is one of the greatest art dealers that ever lived. He is. So I love people that have created their own destiny. And out of all the art dealers I know, everyone had a leg up somehow, whether it's through family, not even money, but relations in the business. He is someone who is like totally invented through his own hard work and tenacity and pride and everything he like. He's completely transparent. He obviously loves art and he loves doing deals. I do not get a hard on by like selling a painting like I've sold this season. That was a friend of mine owned that was hanging in a museum and I've done that kind of stuff, but I derive no joy and I don't sit with money. If I have $10, I spend $15. If I have $100, I'll spend $150. And that's why like, I was born poor and I'll die poor.

Craig: [00:50:35] You can't take it with you.

Kenny: [00:50:37] No, and I don't want to. And again, like, you know, yeah, whatever. I don't care. I just like to learn and I like to study and I like philosophy and I like nice people.

Craig: [00:50:46] So what so let me ask you this. I mean, obviously, it sounds like you are raising a very artistic family. But in terms of your legacy, I hear you talk about...I've heard you say before that you have storage in Switzerland and storage in the UK and storage in New York. And again, we can't take it with you. I mean, as the legacy that when you're gone, do your kids manage an institution? They give it away, Right? or...

Kenny: [00:51:15] I don't care if they sell it before my body gets cold. I feel badly for them because I'm foisting upon them a whole heap of I call my collection a collection of junk. I used to say it was only ever a day sale collection, but now it's not even then at best, I have an on sale online life. You know, I just don't. My legacy, I hope, has nothing to do with the stupid material objects I have accumulated. I hope my legacy would be someone who lived a life in arts, made it, wrote about it and taught it, and shared information and knowledge and inspiration, the will to achieve on people without relying on on on outdated institutions and networks that, you know, are never have the interests of the artists at heart. The art world is such a self-serving...I say the perfect example of what drives this entire art world, crypto art world. It's a zero sum game where like one person is showing at Nifty Gateway at the expense of another person. Showing one person is exhibiting at David Zwirner at the expense of another artist showing. If a famous fashion designer or designer gets a show in an art museum, that means an artist can show. Then so very much this whole art world functions with a zero sum mentality that one person gains at another's expense. And that's a bit mercenary and a bit sad. And I mean, I see what's happening in the United States today with today was the overturning of Roe v. Wade. What the fuck is wrong with this world we live in? How can we be going backwards? It's 2022. And like with the Republicans, the behavior of racism and I mean, it's women.

Kenny: [00:53:03] Women legislate women, not a bunch of like right winger men. It's disgusting. It's disgraceful. It's wrong on so many levels. And if a Republican wins the next election, I mean, I don't even know if I could even continue...I came back to this cesspool and I thought things were going to be much better. But art gives solace, art gives hope, art. They've done studies. I used to say, artists suck the air out of your mouth and look right past you to see who's more important behind you. But they've done studies at Harvard and various other hospitals that living with art reduces anxiety, blood pressure reduces the length of hospital stays and the degree of medicines like there was a hospital accredited as a museum in London I did some work with. And there's a mental health facility in the UK that uses art to treat patients. I met the Minister of Culture when I was in Athens last week and they write prescriptions to get free admittance to museums for patients. That's so cool. What the fuck is wrong with this world we live in? Who? I mean, I don't know. It's so sad and so disheartening, and I just wish that art was used as a way to give people hope. People should just mind their own business and do what they want as long as they're not hurting themselves or other people. And I just don't understand at this stage of the game why we could be treading water and stumbling backwards. It's sad. I don't know what to say about it.

Craig: [00:54:29] Do you think your art provides hope?

Kenny: [00:54:32] My art is more of like satirical. My art is...I mean, I like to make something...I wish I could make art that was beautiful and I wish I could make art...I think for me...Okay, you made me...my art provides something that's almost it's equally as important as beauty. I use humor. And for me, humor is not just a defense mechanism. Thank you for making me think about that. I stumbled, but my art makes people smile and makes people laugh. And I think that's a gift.

Craig: [00:55:09] You know, I looked at your Instagram feed today and I saw you interviewing KAWS's door and I laughed.

Kenny: [00:55:15] Yes. So that that makes me feel really good. That makes me feel. And he's such a mean person who acts like he's such a nice guy. He was like getting people. 

Craig: [00:55:25] He looks a little bit like Eminem.

Kenny: [00:55:26] Yeah, he was getting people like he was having Nfts taken down from Opensea for appropriating his imagery. And his whole body of work is taking my favorite characters from my childhood and putting Xs through their eyes. It's just completely vacuous.

Craig: [00:55:42] It's like Richard Prince asking somebody to take down something for appropriating.

Kenny: [00:55:46] He would never do that. He I never liked his work so much until I really started to think about it. And I met him and we spent the day together. And that guy has art coursing through his circulatory system, never sold out a show in his lifetime until he was 67 and made these Instagram. It took a late 60s guy to like make art that just put his finger right into the heart of what's driving the whole culture today, which is like social media, the dopamine shifting, like engineered, engineered like, you know, this experience we have of this death scroll to like get affirmation in our life through getting likes. And he just put his finger right on it. And the work is so smart. And he would never he said he made a comment, I'm being sued for copyright right now for taking a saccharin image off the Internet to use as the backdrop for photographic artwork of mine. Richard Prince said It's all a free concert and he's someone who like, lives by what he preaches. He appropriates art. He's an intellectual provocateur. He's a philosophically minded thinker and making jokes onto canvases and bifurcating the canvas like a Rothko. That's like, I wouldn't say it's beautiful. It's it's thought provoking and it's funny.

Craig: [00:57:03] Sure.

Kenny: [00:57:04] And he he loves cars and he makes car hoods that are beautiful, that are formally stunning by by employing by redeploying something, totally changing the context of it and making something transforming it into something totally different. And I haven't gotten to beauty yet, but I hope to someday. Yeah, right now I'm content with humor.

Craig: [00:57:25] You know, good art is thought provoking. And I think good art, it can fall into a lot of different categories. And I think one of the categories is challenging someone to understand you better. So like.

Kenny: [00:57:43] Or themselves better.

Craig: [00:57:44] Right. I mean, like when, when I was talking to Ben Davis recently, you know, he wrote this book and in the prologue. It's about, hey, in the future where people can kind of plug in to it and they're served up images that satisfy them. But you know what? That doesn't challenge us to understand the viewpoint of the artist. It doesn't challenge us to to understand somebody else's world. And I think some of the best artwork does. It challenges our way of thinking. It gives us humor. Maybe we, maybe it's beauty, but I guess there are different motivations for why we consume art, right?

Kenny: [00:58:26] Yeah. But also like forget the consuming from the making standpoint. It's also like challenging convention, analyzing the way we see, the way we experience like Cézanne, the way he broke down images and deconstructed things to create a way of seeing that was different and breaking things down and reparsing them. And so I think that in that sense, like art is often a form of creative destruction to build, take what's been done before and put it through a blender and then recontextualize it or look at society. And also not just to be a witness of society, but to be a critic of society, not just to pinpoint various aspects of, you know, of poverty, of subjugation, of social issues which have been depicted in like a Van Gogh painting of potato pickers and the plight of various peoples. Or even I just saw a Walter Sickert show in the Tate Britain and he's...instead of...it was against the depiction of idealized beauty and it was showing working class people or prostitutes or all of these different strata in life. And at the same time, art is also like, yeah, challenging conventions. And in a way it's like a historian or writing about current events in the newspaper.

Craig: [00:59:51] You're taking things through a level of analysis and repurposing them. And so it's not just...I mean, to make a beautiful picture today in a way that's contemporary and compelling is one of the most difficult things that you could do. And it's it's one form of art making through abstraction. Abstraction could be art about art or art about museums or about color, art about pigment. Robert Ryman painted in white, and that was the parameter that he set for himself. It makes me think of like Samuel Beckett's story, where this man is shifting these stones in his pocket and then he goes from one pocket to the other pocket, or Kafka. And this kind of like some of these things are just have no meaning, but it's a framework within which to convey a story or make a meaning for yourself. So I think that art is a means of self-expression. It's a means of contending with your life, with your situation, and speaking about others, what you see around you. And then just like, yeah, distilling it in that way.

Craig: [01:00:55] So if you had never walked into that Warhol sell, where would you have wound up?

Kenny: [01:01:02] Jail. In the gutter. I mean, if it wasn't for art after losing my kid, I have three other kids, so that's sustained me. But Art and speaking about the situation that I've been through has been very life-affirming in the face of unfathomable loss and tragedy. So, I mean, I probably I never would have capitulated. So maybe it wouldn't have been the course that I've taken, but I hope it would have been something that I think like for me, art has given meaning to an otherwise meaningless life. And I think we all have to find our meaning. Some find it in God, some find it in hunting mushrooms in the field. Everyone just comes up with their own, you know, their own way. Finding your own path and then trying to. Yeah. I don't know.

Craig: [01:01:53] Kenny. You have been far too gracious with your time and welcoming me in your home. And I. I really appreciate you sitting down to talk to me today.

Kenny: [01:02:02] Like I said, thank you for listening. I'm appreciative. Thank you for your time.

Craig: [01:02:06] That's all the time we have for this week. You've been listening to Art since you can find the show on Apple Podcasts, iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher Radio, Spotify or your favorite podcast app. If you've enjoyed this podcast, be sure to subscribe. And while you're there, please rate the show and leave a quick review. Your feedback is the key to other folks finding us. And if you'd like to see images related to the conversation, read the transcript and find other bonus features. You can go to canvia.art and click on the podcast tab. If you'd like to reach out to me, you can email me at craig@canvia.art. Thanks for listening.

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