The Gift of the Gab: Kenny Schachter

Posted by Lorena Muñoz-Alonso on 22nd July 2011

How to introduce the larger than life Kenny Schachter? This tireless art polymath has traveled the world discovering, buying, selling and making artworks and collecting incredible stories in the process. He is also one of the first curators to have joined Rise Art and always has incredibly insightful comments and advices that we couldn’t do without. Quick, generous and terribly hilarious it is probably the best idea to let this man do the talking…

You are a dealer, an artist, an art and car collector, a curator, a teacher, a writer...  Are you a Rennaisance man of sorts?

I have been called a ‘dilettante’, with the most derogatory of intent. But there is a kernel of truth in the jibe inasmuch as I do many things not equally well. However, I have one life and will pursue all of my interests with equal force and curiosity.

Little Kenny on the right. Before it all began...

The mighty Vito Acconci designed your first art space in NY and that happened to be as well his first proper built project. How did that come about?

For years I pined for the chance to work together with Acconci, mainly to be close to the mind behind such a seminal (literally and figuratively, if you are aware of his work ‘Seedbed’) figure in the world of conceptual art. To no avail I had been calling and faxing and trying to get in touch with such a formidable figure until I read in an interview that he was struggling to get commissions in the worlds of design and architecture, where his practice had shifted. So after a decade of curating roving exhibits, stating to any and all that under no conditions would I ever open a public space, I commissioned Vito to design conTEMPorary, what was meant to be a short term venue prior to finding a longer term solution than having the back of my house open to the public…

What happened next?

Such a “temporary” project turned into thousands of pounds of steel with snaking walls and furniture that all spun off the protruding front door like a crazed Möbius strip gone awry. The collaboration started when I asked Vito to base the exercise on the work of Frederick Kiesler, who had designed Peggy Guggenheim’s Art of the Century gallery in the early 1940’s, where the walls rotated and the furniture had multiple functions. The wire mesh walls of conTEMPorary, which required no nails or holes to hang things, also morphed into chairs and pedestals (by pulling out and slotting in). The space was the most integrated environment imaginable, like living in the 4th dimension inside Vito’s head; to this day there has been nothing to compare the experience to, other than Zaha Hadid’s all encompassing installation at Sonnabend gallery in the show I helped organize in 2008

conTEMPorary gallery. Installation by rory macarthur

What happened to conTEMPorary when you relocated to London?

I decided to move to the UK only a short time after the space opened (2002) so the sad reality was that either I dismantled the structure and stored it for perpetuity, or as a lark, I thought I’d post it on Ebay and give it a go. In the end, I opted to place the innards of my gallery into what was at the time the newly burgeoning world of “Design Art” auctions, where my personal office (room sized) went to auctioneer Simon de Pury, and what amounted to the front door of my former West Village house and the galvanized steel window shutter and reception desk and seating went to Greek collector Dakis Joannau.

 I have seen on your website (and listened) that you also write songs. Tell me a little bit about that.

In an amateurish way, I have always made art (see comment above re dilettantism), mainly videos and manipulated newspaper imagery—plenty of fodder going around now with tabloids consuming themselves with their own bad behavior. One video depicted the acting out of rock performers, as a heightened contrast to the staid, overly cautious and controlled world of art. When non-artworld-ers conjure artists they think of Van Gogh slicing off his own ear, rather than the reality, which is a bunch of aspirant cottage industry entrepreneurs. This video was comprised of just the screams and yells minus the songs, but from there, it wasn’t much a leap to get to actually writing some lyrics. I felt why couldn’t “music” be more like an object, so the songs were about my sons wearing dresses, the economy, middle age, etc. I once met Michael Jackson and I told him I was in the world of contemporary art  and his response, in his inimitable elfin like manner, was “you mean like twisted hangers and stuff?” to which I corrected him that even a song could be constructed as art (ok, maybe not mine!); that anything done well is art.

A piece by Kenny Schachter featuring Tracy Emin

The first piece of your art collection was a print by Cy Twombly, who recently passed away. Did this sad event make you reflect on anything in particular?

Not to be flippant, but it made me think about what a wonderful, inventive painter he was and how sad I was to own nothing more than a replacement impression of that very print I had previously sold.

You have been a very serious collector of the artist Paul Thek. Is there any artist working right now than excites you in a remotely similar way?

There is no person or art work in the world that excites me in quite the same way as Thek did when I first laid eyes on his early ‘Technological Reliquary’ sculptures, containing elements of hand fabricated fake meat. After watching my mother slowly perish from a degenerative disease, nothing quite captured the fleeting characteristics of flesh/life so profoundly. They were housed in minimalist containers maligning Judd, while critiquing all the surface and pomp that was pop. They were conceptual art about art with a vulnerability and poetic beauty in and of themselves unparalleled to this day. So the answer would be no. But I love so much art, from all things Vito to Ai Weiwei to young African art to a plethora of others. I guess you might call that a sickness.

Paul Thek. Untitled (from the series "Technological Reliquaries"), 1965. Collection: Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, Turin

You have been involved in Rise Art pretty much from the very beginning, what exactly attracted you of this project?

I am very democratic and non-hierarchical by nature (don’t fact check that with my kids) and gravitate to systems attempting to widen the channels of dissemination in art. Rise Art is just such an enterprise so I was immediately drawn. Also I have no tolerance for the widespread hypocrisy and elitism that certain elements of the art world are still emblematic of, and Rise Art is an end run around it. 

Kenny Schachter's ROVE gallery is on Lincoln House 33-34 Hoxton Square, London, N1 6NN.

You can check his exhibitions, collection and artworks on his site.

To visit and follow Kenny Schachter's Rise Art Channel click here.

Kenny at Sonnabend gallery, with a Zaha Hadid installation