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zingmagazine10 autumn 1999

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reviews
Kenny Schachter, Installation View

KENNY SCHACHTER: BRANDED; SANDRA GERING GALLERY• NEW YORK, NEW YORK

A lunch was arranged with Maxwell Anderson, Whitney leader and contemporary art maven, with a view towards my involvement with the institution on some level. Word came back that there was a conflict due to the fact that I support my life and curating by selling the work of other artists. Coincidentally or not, a day later Bice Curiger of Parkett Magazine, who interviewed me for an editorial position, mentioned the same issue. Pariah status was accorded to me because doing more than one thing in the art world allegedly impinges on integrity. I was ineluctably part of a dreaded breed: dealers. This begot the invitation for the show which was my profile with the word Dealer scrawled on my face á la Prince when he only appeared in public with Slave on his, to lobby for terminating a record contract.
Starting with the worst: the problem with not having the competence to do something yourself is that you have to rely on the incompetence of others. One of the cornerstone pieces in the show, a “Portrait Machine”, at best rarely functioned as it was intended since the internal mechanics were never properly fleshed out. The concept was a non-static method to hang and view family or art photographs, which consisted of a computer printed vinyl scroll with a motor to forward and reverse the images, housed in a clear Plexiglas frame, in the vein of the latest Apple computers.
A more successful attempt was the work “Princess Di Computer Carpet”, a giant sticker in three parts, cut perspectively in a corner of the gallery installed on the walls and floor. Removed from the original tabloid picture were people, text and context; trees, flowers, and a boundless passageway remained. The result was a three-dimensional pastel colored field with painterly qualities, simultaneously resembling a commercial photo studio. Adhered directly to the gallery surfaces, the piece had a pleasing fugitive aspect in that after the show it was peeled off and discarded.
A new technology developed for cigarette industry advertising enabled an image to appear on a lightbox when not switched on, which I found funny in relation to art only plugged in during cocktail parties. For “Liz-a”, I overlaid four images of a haggard looking Liz Taylor, and a bloated, indulgent Liza Minelli and connected a computer timer that flickered on and off. When off, Liz was visible, and when powered, a crossbred monster of the two heads fused together evincing a post-celebrity take on consumer scrutiny and consumption of stars, reminiscent of Warhol and Cady Noland (excuse the hubris).
The title of the show, “Branding”, derived from the creation of a line of consumer products including tools, silverware, wallpaper, mugs and shirts, under the rubric: Shovelware.com. As a sufferer of obsessive-compulsive disorder, the shovel shaped spoon inspired the collection, referencing the act of shoveling food in a serial manner without regard to hunger. The remaining tableware were shaped as farm implements, a sword, a devil’s pitchfork, and a switchblade. Tools, cast in translucent lady-like shades in resin, also aped the Apple esthetic. There was an alluring box cutter which could pose as an undetectable designer weapon for high school students in the know. In a move that obstructed the pieces from being seen in their own right, the tools and silverware were cluttered together on a lightbox table in the form of a shovel, lit by blinding florescent bulbs so strong they practically prevented direct viewing. This hodgepodge resembled the hallmark sensibility of any one of my curated group exhibitions. A re-composed 8 x 10 inch Paul Thek painting from ‘79 was transformed into a 12 x 4 foot sheet of wall covering. Taking an historically significant conceptual painting and dumbing it down to the point where it is reduced to purely decorative is not as easy as it appears.
T-shirts were draped over pipes on the wall in a grid formation adorned with computer transfers of manipulated appropriated imagery, text, and original graphics. Subject matter spanned the many times operated upon face of Jocelyn Wildenstein, to Pavarotti with a gaping mouth and heaping forkful of pasta. The moniker “Art Fag” was emblazoned on mugs and shirts akin to the emblem for the Broadway show “Art” and “Y me?” accompanied a depiction of a falling plane with Y2K on the tale wing. Though the objects were cited in the press as “mock commodities”, shirts and mugs sold briskly at $20 each, and I have very crass intentions of profiting from the mass production and dissemination of the items. A 30 second video TV spot which intermittently aired on the VH-1 cable network advertised Shovelwear.com, accessible on the web, and the gallery show. The commercial sophomorically spoofed sex, art and selling on television, but nonetheless had a catchy beat.
Ken Johnson of The NY Times termed “Branding” an uneven show, highlighting the silverware and a piece entitled “Group Show” which was a liquid nitrogen tank supposedly containing the sperm of six contemporary artists: Donald Baechler, Rob Pruitt, Hiroshi Sunairi, Robert Chambers, Lawrence Seward, and myself. The essence of the work related to the frenzy to predetermine and engineer the outcome of a birth, as well as the intense desire to possess a product of the artist’s own hand (one could say). The level of unorthodox reproductive activity today encompasses choosing among a collection of fashion models as egg donors from the internet, for $50,000 a pop; or, engaging in sperm spinning, which is a method by which the outcome of having a girl can be increased to 75%. Why not own an incorporeal, preserved bit of the artist rather than be bogged down by art itself?
In the end, the term uneven can symbolize more than the disjointed character of my first NY one person exhibition in the 12 years I have been in the professional art world. Uneven can reflect an innate tenet of human nature which describes the highs, lows and in-betweens experienced on an everyday basis by all. Not such a bad thing to behold.

Kenny Schachter
New York, New York
1999