with Dolly Frank Harry, at the Rennie Museum office: asking Wendy for $100 000 in less than 24 hours, to buy the Or Gallery auction in its entirety, while giving it all back to the Or, resulting in a 100% tax deductible gesture
a text-message conversation with Theo Lloyd-Kohls,
curated by Jenny Penberty for TCR, The Capilano Review, October 2013, 9000 words
A piece about the art object and the cadence of power within the philanthropic game of art collecting.
-How was the auction last night?
-We arrived almost two hours late. The cab left us at the Yacht Club instead of the Rowing Club, and because Stanley Park is a one-way affair, we had to walk back in the thick fog, which was my favourite part of the night; in our evening wear, we were ghosts of ourselves, stuck in a narrative we never left. While it was a short walk, there are miles of cultural distance between the general vibe of a Yacht Club and that of a Rowing Club. A complete different life style, an entirely different set of values and aspirations, another dream. Nevertheless, both clubs stuck in a desire of belonging, in this endless business of identity. Last night, it was about the Art Club inside the Rowing Club, for one dream.
-What did you wear?
-Ha ha. You really want to know?
I wore a fitted sixties black dress with a faint veil; nonchalant baroness style. Neither overdressed nor understated. The veil gave it a super hero vibe from another time. The sixties always flirt with futurism from ancient galaxies. I found that dress at House of Vintage for eight dollars. I could not find my 1920’s Egyptian necklace, which would have been PERFECT. The idea that I might have lost it forever makes me ill. I wore another Egyptian neck piece, with the snake biting its tail. Ouroboros. Tribal chic.
-Did you wear a hat?
-Yes I did. My Oscar de la Renta feather hat; the one in the shape of Nefertiti’s headdress. Except for my furs, it makes all of my other hats second class citizens. Save for a new black velvet hat Dolly found for me at Burcu’s. It is hilarious, pushing elegance into a whole new direction; humour as a tilting pivot. Also sixties but completely bohemian; the type of hat Fellini’s mimes would wear in their little abstract parades; LOVE it. The more Dolly and I are working on the garments for the L.A. piece, the more we aim at lines that reflect the artist as a trickster. The artist as both the Aristocrat and the Revolutionary; at once the Queen and the Jester. A&R. Q&J. It is an aesthetic position; less political than philosophical. Poetry winning over politics. The poetical. Comedy over tragedy. Yesterday we designed a reversible cape in black and white. We found this high-tech material at Fabric Time on Hastings. It takes the romantic out of the equation, and pushes the spy element to a choreographic twist; the artist under cover. I mean, all artists are undercover these days, except here the garments are performing the real: the artist as embezzler, thief, pick pocket, stealing from the collector, entering a space covered in white, and leaving it, covered in black. That fabric store is owned by a Jewish guy. Jewish shmatah. I like it when things are coherent with cultural heritage. Nothing makes me happier than to know that Italians still have the best fabrics, that Japanese and Scandinavians rule in forms; that Austrian lenses are still the best, that « Made in France » still means something; that you cannot beat the Germans for industrial design and that people with Down Syndrome are all about love and hugs. I have NO guilt whatsoever in cultivating stereotypes. I LOVE stereotypes, they fascinate me like archetypes. Ancestral traditions are anchors in my understanding of cultural production. I am very interested in the way artists contribute to national and regional identities. I think about that several times a day. I went to the fabric store with Mairin. She is quite magical. She is coming with us to L.A. by the way. She comes as my « spiritual advisor ». I am flying her in from Hawaii. She is so Aloha. I say “spiritual advisor” because she really has a hard time to understand my work, so she keeps asking unrelated questions which makes me think about the L.A. piece in a new way each time. But truly, she comes as the main driver, which works perfectly with the spiritual advisor metaphor as well. I miss you babe. So glad we are going to fly together. The rest of the crew arrives on Sunday.
-I know Mairin. She is a tripper right? Flaky as hell. It sounds like you were dressed like a sixties auction bidder.
-Yes, Mairin has a real pothead side to her but she gets lots of things done. She manages the Lion’s Den studios for years now and she had this improvised bean shop and she is involved in guerrilla gardening. She is a wild card. She gives me the impression that nothing fazes her, that nothing could shock her imagination; an impassive gaze, she reminds me of Diane Keaton a lot. Yes, my outfit was a total take on the 60’s auction bidder, especially with the long black gloves I picked up for 2 dollars at Daiso, the Japanese dollar store in Aberdeen mall, but there was no way I was going to bid on anything. And there was no way I could afford to pay for a ticket either. We were basically invited as window dressing. It is a tradition in the art world to invite artists to mingle with Normies at fund raisers, in case things get too boring and flat. We act as the extra bubbles in the champagne light.
-I kid you not; Lindsay was worried the room would feel empty and the Vancouver auction bidders, except for a few, are not exactly the stylish types. People do not dress up here. You would not notice them in an empty pool. Proletarian chic has been the general costume for over a decade. Some people really struggle with originality. We were not the only ones invited for ambiance générale. As I said, that kind of event always needs extra artists to shape the room. I am telling you, truth is in denial; it is all fiction darling. Sometimes, in fear that a piece would not sell, one of the board members would pretend to bid on it last minute, so as to save face. Save the face of the art itself. Auctions are very facial. Through this auction, I experienced the faciality of art in a new way. Art as a face more than a window; a mask. The art was not hung but carried, so we could see its back when it was returning backstage. In that context, the art was vulnerable.
-What do you mean vulnerable?
--The art, coming in front of the audience, was walking in and out of the market place. Imagine the square surface of every piece...so much frontality. The way each piece of art was held by servants (art students) dressed in black; they looked like Egyptian slaves carrying a recalcitrant king, a mentally ill heir...either too young or too old. The way the art itself was both powerful and vulnerable. It looked vastly unstable, visually, but also a reflection of the market. The big painting by Mafanwy for instance did not sell and so it found its way back...backstage...and in a way, the art that did not sell seemed at times, more powerful...because it was underappreciated. More independent. In my eyes, there was a pride in not being sold somehow. But for the audience, there was quite a tension when Ian’s photograph was not attracting any bidders until someone had the nerve to offer less than the asking price, the disgrace! Ha ha ha. Leaving the stage with an intellectual stain. So much junk in the world, yet very few objects. So many pictures, yet very few images. That is the whole tension of art: not needed yet essential....Jonathan looked great in his rented tuxedo. I still wish I found a gavel to match his bow tie. Every man should wear a black suit with a white shirt all the time, even to sleep, especially to sleep. I truly think that the auctioneer should emphasize on the stories around each piece, which he did. Collectors as well as curators as well as gallery owners; they all want to hear stories; stories around the art, around the artists, around and around the objects. Storytelling is the human condition. Even with abstraction, you can’t kill narrative. Everything speaks. Most art collectors actually buy a story, more than the object itself.
-The art was not all displayed together in one room?
-It was at first, at the gallery, and they looked really great all together. The show was very well hung and did not look like an auction; but a curated group show. Afterwards, the entire show had to come down and travel to the Rowing Club where the auction was taking place. Then, when the actual bidding started, they were carrying each piece, rolling in and out of appraisal, to be diagnosed worth it or not, each walking back in a derelict manner; wobbly. Hierarchy is the human condition. We can’t get out of hierarchy, whether you are in the jungle or at an art auction. Even in communism, classes and subclasses were fully formed. It was like a puppet show, when the strings disappear and you actually believe the puppets are alive. The paintings were anthropomorphic, animated. I am sure everyone saw what I saw, but unconsciously. The role of art is to underline what everyone is looking at but do not see. What I saw is art as mentally ill patients or drug addicts: looking like incoherent crazies, unable to put one foot in front of the other, but beating records of lucidity in the theory of complexity.
-I can see it...Beside from the artists, who was there?
-Gallery owners and members of the so-called Contemporary Art Society.
-Who are these people?
-They are people with some means, casual collectors. They are the equivalent to Sunday painters but as collectors. They have organized studio visits with established or emerging artists. They LOVE that. It makes them feel famous. It makes them feel they have a life. My aunt tried to impress me telling me she was in the studio of Damien Hirst. Ha Ha « so nineties » I said. « How did you guys meet? » I asked. « Well, I do not know him personally » she said, « but he knew who I was ». « Sure » I thought to myself. « Sure ». Wealthy people fool themselves they are Famous, but they only have the Rich part of the duet. Very few wealthy people invest themselves in changing the course of art history, but the ones who do, are truly fascinating, as characters, because they actually play a role, even if a mean role at times, at least they are playing. The world is divided between the players and the spectators. Humility has never been very entertaining in the art court. As if only stars have a destiny and the rest of humanity is watching their celestial trajectory. Collectors who do not change the course of art history are minor players in the art food chain. But we still need them. We cannot get out of mechanics. Everything is a machine. The whole world is a huge sex machine; desire as the driving force. Deleuze was upset at Freud but he owes him a lot. He misunderstood the analyst for a priest; an honest mistake. I can never tire of Deleuze’s ability to abstract everything. He is my favourite poet. The Marxist artists resent abstraction. They resent imprecision and contradiction because it forces them to have to think by themselves, without leaning on ideology. The artist as free electron is something for them to be mistrusted. Everything has to have the common goal of denting capitalism. I do not blame them on a politico-economical level. We need them. But when it comes to art, not all of cultural production should be reduced to that responsibility in the name of ‘social practice’ or out of the ‘privileged guilt’. It is like forcing the philosophers in Russia, the few ones left, to spend time on the potato fields in the name of the common good. Social consciousness can really slow down research you know. Ha ha ha. I cannot believe that we still have to address feminist, environmental and racism issues in art; it is a disgrace. Not only they are boring subjects, but the disgrace lies in the fact that we are still struggling with these issues as a species. It is not my fault if the world is stupid and repressed. Current affairs will never succeed to make me believe we live in one world. These issues always remind me about the lower forms of existence from which I made a conscience choice to distance myself. This position in art for me relates to my position in high school. I just hung out with nerds and artists, away from idiots; we formed our own republic. But for artists with a lack of ideas, social issues give them a framework and a sense of belonging. That is why the last few years have been producing the so called New Poets of the Revolution. Except for the ones who actually invented the idea of borrowing a revolutionary tone as a literary device, like Comité Invisible, the rest of them are impostors, paying lip service to a revolution that will never happen, so that they have a good conscience of contributing to the idea of a better world and have nicely printed nothingness on expensive archival paper. For art that tends to reorganize the world, I prefer art that contributes to its madness. Some of the Marxists think I am a reactionary. They do not understand that I am actually more radical than them, more ‘anarchiste’. They just want a tenure position in the institution and coordinate lectures on social justice on a bi-weekly basis. I want the end of the 9-to-5-day-and-five-days-a-week-at-brainless-jobs, which I consider the biggest open air prison. I do not want everyone to become an artist, like the Surrealists plan, god forbid, no no, I just can tell that everything we consider normal is scary. The average living dead in voluntary servitude is a potential serial killer.
-Ha ha ha. Who did you sit with?
-The seating plan was good. On my left, Dan Bejar, with his wife Sydney. He is quite hot. Not a lot of Sephardic Jews around. Then, I forget his name, but he is very nice. He works at Pulp Fiction. His wife has wonderful deep eyes. On our right, there was Scott Watson. Very British like. To me, he is a British Columbian archetype. He reminds me of Michael a lot, in his mannerism, in his culture. They are good friends. And they both like the word rigour. Rigour is such an ugly word. So MFA culture. It underlines the provinciality of it all. Something nouveau riche about rigour. Too reverential. Static. Acceptable. Palatable. Pre-digested. Professionalized. Processed. Art sous-vide. Risk-less as opposed to reckless. McLuhan said that when art is allowed, it is not art anymore. I tend to agree with that statement to some degree. I think for instance that performance should not be announced and that poetry should always take you by surprise, uninvited. Art that is so thought over looses all of its magical powers. Rational intelligence is over-rated. With the young neo-ravers, I discovered another kind of intelligence. Less into intellectual knowledge, the youth is socially much wiser; I learn so much from these kids, and from the music itself…ha ha “Rave my Religion”. They actually are the living proof of human evolution, in terms of freedom. Evolution is all about being freer, and art plays a role in that evolution. You can tell when the artist has no relationship with magic; the work is not inhabited, flat. The game of meaning-making has its own inner vectors and exit signs, but you cannot teach that in art school. You cannot teach that anywhere. I guess you have to be ready to understand things to actually understand them. Like destiny, you do not find meaning; meaning finds you.
-What is MFA culture?
-MFA art is a kind of art that looks like that kind of art. Not over done, just over thought so that the viewer can say that it is « rigorous » and in better instance, « well executed ». It is an approach. Not approximation as a style, that would be more relativist, no it is precise, in a bureaucratic way. Art students should stop reading art magazines. All of these catchy phrases that come up every year like radio hits. MFA art is usually art that one can understand analytically. It is art that makes the rational win over the irrational, even when dealing with ambiguity. It is often the enemy to the ineffable. Usually, the curator has the last word on the work too. It runs the risk to be stale, unless the artist and the curator are playful enough to put rigour and professionalism into question. But that rarely happens and when it does, it is a delight but it usually has a medium length thought process that is not long enough to bite its own tail. The show at Sunset terrace is very good right now. VERY good. Logan and Adam really outdid themselves. La légèreté. You have to see it. Not MFA at all. More related to the Victoria School…Kim Adams, Mowry Baden, Jessica Stockholder…playful and colourful. The MFA thing is tricky because it is the micro-climate in which post photo-conceptual artists are growing right now. It is an art eco-system. It is not always bad. It is just, rarely good. Which is fine. Art should be rarely good anyway. MFA art is known to be careful and afraid to have something to lose. The word risk comes from the word roots. Taking risks is being cut off from your roots.
-Any other fashionable words in art?
-This past year a few disposable words came up, such as « agency », « privileged », « labour »...Some of these words also come up in personal conversations as well. My friend the other day used the word “agency” about her love affair. I could not finish my meal. That is when I cancelled the second round of drinks. But these words are not from MFA culture, they are not from a micro-climate either; they come from the Neo-Neo-Marxist INTERNATIONALE. They belong to the artist-run-centre culture and these words get repeated endlessly all over the lower mainland, all over the art world. It is a form of dialect for people who can only converse with borrowed terms and received ideas; for intellectuals who do not own their own mind and trace over connections made by others.
-Did Dan Bejar perform?
-Yes, he did, that is why he was invited. He sang with his wife. They reminded me of the sixties duo Brigitte Fontaine and Jacques Higelin. But they started to sing right when we received our main course and at that point my seat was moved to the first table so that I can be used as conversationalist with other guests. It is never a good idea to use me for that reason. Lindsay should have known better. I always end up saying statements you cannot answer to. I splurt words that throw off the balance of the entire table. It is awful. I look the part, but I am not. I am a good conversationalist as long as the conversation is interesting. I cannot do small talk. Not even with my mother. Especially not with my mother. I need a double scotch before I call her. By sitting in the front, I could feel the Destroyer’s contempt for the crowd, all the way through the inside of my squashed peas. The best story of the evening is that Dan insisted to get their meal wrapped to-go, so they could leave the event as soon as possible, right after their performance. The presence of absence. Ha ha ha.
-Ha.ha ha. Was the food any good?
-The food was surprisingly excellent. It did not taste like catering food at all. They surpassed themselves. Maybe it has something to do with the small old-fashioned kitchen they were working from. Someone said they researched it but truly I was later told that they come with the room and so they just lucked out. Lindsay looked amazing. She was not officially in charge this year but she cannot help it to be involved. She is a born host. She would hate to be seen as a socialite, and be happier seen as a socialist, which she is, and of course she is much more than that, but when it comes to hosting an event, she is top. She would prefer being described repairing her washing machine, or not at all. The lighting was perfect and she salvaged the soundscape by putting on Ethiopian jazz which was perfect. She is always exact in the clothes she wears for each occasion life brings on. There is always a story for each garment and piece of jewelry she wears, mostly ancestors related. Every object in her house comes from somewhere meaningful. I cannot believe she actually lives in a church. It makes her life narrative so Wild West: a Church, a Town Hall, Saloons and Inns where secret treaties are being plotted. She has the best stories about City Hall's inner workings and the history of this place as a whole. Unbelievable stories. She can be completely impossible but she is never boring. Ha ha ha. Lindsay. We are all a bit impossible in different ways.
-How was the room?
-The room was gentle and tastefully appointed. Country Minimalism. Charmed by a time when Vancouver was more of a resort town, somehow. Something East Coast about it, Cape Cod like: white wood paneling. I am always surprised how these leisure centres, occupying prime real estate, actually survived the CONDOfication of our city. It is hard to believe. These places act as monuments to time. A witness to a time before the CONDO life style colonized our thoughts while we brush our teeth. CONDO. CONDO. CONDO. CONDO. CONDO. Maybe if I repeat the word a million times I will eventually sublimate the creepy feeling it gives me on a daily basis. I hate that word even more than the word « rigour »; although they are not from the same groupings, obviously, they do relate, in their over-arching impetus, and in their drab colours: beige and grey. Last week, Eli lost his painting studio. The building sold in one day. Same thing with Instant Coffee studio. Although it seems it will take longer to solve that one. It looks like the City was involved in a scam. Lindsay rented a fence to secure the building and Jin and Khan were actually sitting vigil all night last week to make sure no one penetrates the premise. Same thing with the Exercise space. They just had a Developer sign hooked on their facade. Every artist I know is fleeing demolition. South Fraser is the New Williamsburg. Developers are buying entire streets downtown as well as in the industrial zones. That is the way the City makes money, by changing the zoning of vast amounts of protected areas, until the entire mainland looks like the word rigour. It is a total Wild West mentality. No vision. The Wild West has no past and no future. Anything lyrical in Vancouver is disappearing at the speed of light. Urban poetry is going extinct. The Real is under siege. Nostalgia is being lynched. Soon everything will be eaten by the CONDO giants; everything will be beige and grey with a daunting cold green tint. We are surrounded. Vanquished. CONDOification is worse than pine endocthrone. I want a Black wave-rapper to sing about this: CONDO-i-fi-ca-tion....CONDO-i-zation...CONDO-edification, CONDO CONDO CONDO I don’t want to leave the Congo no no no no no no ! The erasure is happening before our eyes. This city is sold out. The next thing will be the Gulf islands. It is already happening. CONDO islands. CONDO-lences. Every time I see something real, it is a gem hidden in stone, and it will not be stolen, it will be crushed, disregarded as invaluable. Value is devoid of cultural notions. Soon, we will all dress like patio doors and eat fake exposed structure. This city is condemned. Like Venice, besieged, eaten alive. Condominionization is worse than bio-terror. I heard that some developers are working on re-zoning Stanley Park. It is amazing how the Lawn Bowling Club has survived CONDOmaniac, a mystery. I only see senior citizens in white clothes, often immigrants, enjoying being cast into a British tale in a fifties resort town set up à la Vermont. The two green fields are very well taken care of and hardly anyone is ever playing. The whole thing is like an open air museum; land art of a sort; post-war light hearted fun; public-private harmoniously combined. Stanley Park looks like an exclusive resort. It is amazing you can still play tennis for free. At the Rowing Club, it felt more like a 1920‘s take on the rustic. The architecture is agreeably humble and appears like a community centre for citizens who share similar love for the water and for social gatherings about it all. But historically, it must have been super Whiteman place, you know, Duke of Edinburgh types. It's been there for 125 years. The surface of the earth is occupied by so many little groupings of different interests, with their own clubs. Each club has a court too with a natural hierarchy occurring. People think we abolished aristocracy but its main structure happens everywhere and everyday; especially in the art world. The court manifests itself at every art openings.
-Was the auction successful, did they sell anything?
-The auction was very successful in many ways. As I said, tastefully appointed. Elegant in its simplicity. Nothing ostentatious of course. When something fancy is prepared by artists, it is always a lighter version of all the classic elements down to details such as the bidding numbers drawn by hand. Everything was well crafted and well executed. They are trying to reach an established level of auction such as that of the CAG and the VAG. Everyone wants to be taken seriously; little brothers wanting to prove to their older siblings that they are also very able and as respectable. Everyone wants to be a serious institution, including individuals. They sold lots, mostly for the asking price, not that much higher. Brian sold a piece for 14 000 dollars even though the estimate market value was at 22 000. A Parachute from Falling Crate, made out of men’s shirt sleeves in Navajo wool. The way it was framed though, seemed to be squishing something that wanted to be free standing in 3D. All the main big names went. Geoffrey’s little women with no head sculpture was quite nice and delicate. It should come with a podium. It sold for 3000 dollars while estimated value was 5000. I think. My favourite piece was Shannon’s black and white photograph of a figure skater in the snowy night. The title is brilliant: Spin (Still). Ha ha very deleuzian idea of moving still. Sold around 700 dollars: a steal. Rodney’s painting was a thick oil impasto of blues and whites and pink. Untitled. Ha ha ha. Beautifully framed under glass over a jute background. Ha ha ha. I wonder if he made a series of these or if it is a one off. What I really think is that through that painting, he is selling the protagonist behind the painting, more than the painting itself. Ha ha ha. He is selling the idea of the character of the painter who would paint that kind of painting. It looks a lot like Emmet’s paintings actually; same palette in whimsical brush strokes. It reminded me of a painting at my grandmother’s place, early sixties vibe, not sure, definitely enigmatic and quite lovely. I really wonder what he is up to with this painting. He must have felt totally free to do whatever he wanted and something outside what he is known for which was nice and sassy. I mean Rodney has the power to do absolutely nothing and sell it for a high price. I think it sold for 15 000 dollars, even though it had a low estimate of 25 000. So the auction was a real deal for everyone it seems. There is absolutely no question that this painting will be worth much more in fifty years from now. I was watching a documentary on Andy the other day and he sold, to Irving Bloom, his 32 Campbell Soup series for 1000 dollars and the dealer resold them years later to MOMA for 50 million dollars but they are worth 100 million dollars!!!!! CRAZY. Then Andy did four of five single ones and they are today worth over 2 million dollars each. In other words, the paintings are invaluable. The Campbell Soup painting is still, to this day, complicated, in its implications.. In a way, all of the works presented at the auction are invaluable, when you think about it. Eli sold his painting as part of the silent auction. He did not want to sit through the derelict parade. Duane sold too of course, since Sobey invested in him last week, he is automatically worth more on the market, overnight, but the work sold for estimated value. I liked Hadley+Maxwell’s piece: a neon sign saying GENIUS. Ha ha…It sold for around 2000. What else was there... can't remember but basically everything sold under market value, which is perhaps the idea behind an auction of this type. Overall, I think it was a very successful evening as they seem to have raised the needed funds for their new space. Not that much to report really. It is too bad my performance did not take place, then, for sure there would be stories to tell.
-What? Which performance?
-The performance of me acting as a proxy for the Rennie Collection. It would have brought some electricity in the general phlegm of it all, an explosion in the gentility. Bob almost went for it but my proposal was too short notice for them to mobilize the funds, although he found the idea "imaginative and genuine". He and his team decided otherwise at around 4h30, two hours before the auction dinner. I was disappointed but I cannot blame them: I basically asked them to provide me with one hundred thousand dollars in less than twenty-four hours. Ha ha ha. The artist as the spoiled brat daughter asking daddy for cash. The chutzpah. Dolly came with me. He looked like a mysterious perched cat. He was not smoking a long cigarette with holder, but it felt like he was. The intensity of his brains commanded respect without him having to speak. I was very happy to have him there. We spent an hour with Wendy explaining the piece and asking her to buy the entire auction while I would act as their proxy.
-It was about the idea of an art auction as a prototype of a capitalist marketplace and the artist as proxy to confuse the issue. I asked Bob to buy the entire auction for my performance to be successful. The ENTIRE auction. E-v-e-r-y single piece.
-It would have been SCANDALOUS, and as you say, CONFUSING.
Bob Rennie!!??!! He provoked the ire of the Art Establishment!
-Precisely. I am enchanted that you understand the piece darling. Scandalous and Confusing is part of the language here for sure.
-He would then essentially be the primary patron of the auction and so as a result everyone would be working under the umbrella of Rennie’s patronage!
-I do not see it that way, although I see what you mean, of course, but the artist, as I see it, for this particular piece, is about the catalyst, because quite frankly, nothing is really happening in terms of public discourse in this town: it is all hidden under the carpet talks, behind the curtains, in the muteness of internet petitions...no one is actually opening the debate in a public context. In France, the subject of the future of an important art museum would be on every radio station and different voices would be heard and the public would eventually form an opinion. Here, people are afraid to disagree in a public way. At dinner parties, everyone has to agree. It is impolite to challenge your guests about their positions. Here, the tension is felt but not addressed, and avoided all together. In the auction, there was also the tension between capitalism and the mandate of the gallery which is partly run by Marxists. In my work, I live for those contradictions because tension means movement. I like to see how the human condition is about not making any sense. Humanity is all about not making any sense, even when we try to, especially when we try to. I like the idea of the artist as being on neither side of good nor bad; the artist as in between things. The artist as the flippant card, everything at once and nothing at all. The artist stuck between curator and collectors, or between artist-run-center and commercial gallery. The study of the Art Machine is a theme of mine this year; it started in Banff, and it is taking full form in the L.A project which you are part of next month.
-Why do you see that having Bob Reenie buying the entire auction is a good thing for the gallery and for Bob Rennie even?
-I see the piece and the position of art in general, as beyond good and evil. In this case, I do not think that the gallery would owe Bob anything in terms of how to conduct their daily affairs, mandate, etc.
-Bob is familiar with artist-run-centres; their role in art production and their political positions as well. It is not a secret that artist-run-centres are leftist, and sometimes Marxist, definitely not commercial and focusing on art as a political voice first and foremost, encouraging experimental actions rather than commodifiable forms etc. We all know that, but at the same time, we are all sitting at an auction dinner, and it is undeniable that the theme of the evening is the Art Market and not the undermining of capitalism. By having Bob buy the entire auction, the gallery would not owe him anything legally. Plus the sweeping of everything is a performance, and that gesture was to be internalized by both parties; the gallery as well as the collector. To answer your question, what would be good for the gallery is that it would actually get what it needs: MONEY. Lots of MONEY. I am aware that they would not like that all of the artworks would be going into Bob’s collection because it prevents the artworks to have a life, somehow, outside the warehouse. But I had the idea to have Bob gifting the entire auction back to the gallery, because I was told that when you buy art and gift it back to an institution, you get 100% tax deductible for charity. That is mainly why I was confident about asking so much money in such short notice; because I understood that it would not cost Bob anything if it was handled through tax games. Everything is a game. Also, I had imagined that the gallery could hang the works in the new Artist-in-Residence space they wanted to acquire through this very fundraiser. To answer your question further, it is not because one is getting funding from City Hall for instance, that one is prevented to exhibit artworks that are critical of City Hall. We live in an out-of-control capitalist system, but it is not as bad as communist censorship. I think that quite the contrary; it is more powerful to bite the hand that gives. That way, the freedom of speech and action becomes more meaningful somehow.
-I think the next art show at the gallery is about a piece by Garry Kennedy and it is a wall painting criticizing Bob Rennie as a super power.
-Yes, I heard that too. I actually heard this, after my meeting at the Wing Sang. It made my performance even more à propos. I think the show will also be about Jamie Pattison. I think that Kennedy, as a conceptual painter, and as an outsider more or less (he is from Halifax) is computing the colours of power in this city: power for art and power for real estate. In capitalism, art and real estate are the only things that never lose value in the long run. I might be wrong but that is the way I understand Garry’s piece: Art and Real Estate are the most valuable items on the market; more than technology. That fact always fascinates me. Art, when stolen or damaged, is by law considered a crime against humanity. And as for real estate, well, like my friend Nathan says: “g-d isn’t making anymore more land”.
-Good Old Nathan! How is he doing?
-Nathan looks great. He is now 80. I think he is happy. He does not come over for dinner anymore because he does not like to drive at night and finds our sofa uncomfortable at best, but we certainly miss his stories. I love Nathan but I cannot spend more than an hour with him because when he gets started on the incredibly interesting narration of his life, it's pretty much a monologue for hours and all of his stories end up converging towards the Simon Fraser Purge in 1970. He and his colleagues were blacklisted in all of North America. They were seen as radicals, politically, you know, Cold War neurosis; anyone left oriented was seen as a potential communist. Although Nathan is the most leftist man I ever met, he was never much of a communist. His family was Russian too. Russian Jews were persecuted on either side of the Revolution. The SFU story never came out straight. It was horrible. Some of them committed suicide as a result. Others became schizoid-avoidant-paranoid. Nathan became my muse. His New Orleans Jewish neurotic style for sure made me understand something about the neurosis of history. He specialized on the Cold War as well as in the history of the Middle-East. He is an open encyclopedia with an Alan Ginsbourg dash Leonard Bernstein voice. I miss him terribly. I think he is still upset because I refused to look for his long lost Degas the last time I was in Paris. Crazy story. Some twenty years ago, his lawyer friend emptied his storage room underneath his New Orleans Slaves Quarter unit, and took his entire art collection, which counted some Group of Seven as well. I’ll explain to you later. I felt he was high jacking my trip. I still feel guilty about it though but I am no art police. Now that I know more about how life works, I should have done it. But the details he gave me were so vague. With recurrent emotions, on the verge of tears, he described it to me as a woman with amber hair coming out of the bath looking towards the window. I mean, how many drying redheads did Degas do? He wanted me to research in the Paris Christies catalogue raisonné to find the image and take a photograph of it. The real problem was that his other friend, who worked at Christies at the time of the purchase, may have tricked him as well. I mean the stories of Nathan being taken for a ride are endless and I sometimes wonder if they are not figments of his imagination. On the other end, you never know, I mean life is crazy enough that I might just have found the painting and now we would be millionaires. Anyway, I think the Proxy was a perfect piece.
-Well for YOU it was. Not sure how the gallery would have appreciated it. And how is it good for Bob? How would he react to Kennedy’s critique afterwards?
-Oh, the gallery would have been furious at the beginning and eventually probably understood the piece over time, through other works of mine. I am about Performing the Fiction of the Real. But mostly, I think they would feel upset for the art pieces being prevented to go to more genuine homes. I was told that Bob does not like to lend his art for exhibitions, but that is not a concern of mine because there is always more art to buy anyway. I mean there is a show at the gallery every month of the year. And hopefully Bob will buy the Kennedy piece. I think that buying a piece critical about himself would be a good way to react to the show, especially if, for instance, there was an evening where the gallery would invite Bob and Garry to be in conversation. And yet another evening of public discussions with Pattison. Now, the entire show would be worthwhile, because quite frankly, I am in doubt that it will create any waves otherwise. You need to create action to get action. Movement needs movement. Echo needs echo. I also wanted to use the rhythm of the auction as a ‘musical’ layer for my text, using the tempo of the auction, presenting each piece, and then boum,boum boum, swipe the final sale for absolutely everything each time. Slow-slow-slow-BANG. Slow-slow-slow-BOUM-BOUM-BOUM. A real fantasy of mine. I would have been ridiculously thrilled. But artist-run auctions are not that rhythmical. They have more of a baseball game tempo.
-But your performance could also have been seen as power...
-Yes, precisely. It was a site specific performance. In the auction, there was no way art was able to overcome its commodity. It was a little parade of art objects valued and devalued by the market in real time. The overt display of power in this case was to prove that money is more powerful than art, but that art is also the motor of value; underlining art’s vulnerability as much as its power, and how art and capitalism are undeniably intertwined. The tension inside the contradictions is what interested me as well as confusing the issues. In my work, I do not seek to counteract, I seek to magnify: it is an aesthetic choice. In art, I prefer the mirror rather than the propaganda. I like to confuse rather than clarify, like in a dream; I do not seek direct pedagogy. I like when art seems disengaged but in fact is always playing double agent: neither here nor there, vanishing before you can catch its intention; already elsewhere, plotting away another scam; an irresistible monster, like money itself.
-The flexing of capitals over mere mortals…
-Yes. That is a nice sentence you just wrote. I love that sentence. My performance as a proxy buying the entire collection aimed at displaying power like a bulldozer walking over smaller powers, present in the room. But also reflecting what is happening outside the room, in the city, in terms of CONDO development. Bob, although he is not a developer per say, he does represent CONDO Power in the city as well as Art Power. A power that bulldozers entire streets; deletes entire strips of history, displaces entire communities; marches on culture, subcultures; a CONDO power which kills in many ways underground happenings; making the city an ugly place to look at, not all the time, most of the time, without architecture, just developer-driven-taste-driven-by-revenues…all this terrible ugliness that makes money re-invested into the art world, and from which he is seen as bulldozing as well, even though he does give lots of money to a lot of galleries, and to art education, especially the VAG and ECIAD as we know, but I am told that the art community would like him to have less of a say in the future of its art institutions as we know, and so on The debate is already dead but my point is that there was no debate, only opposition en masse, but no real conversation. And now I am told that the VAG wants a star architect for their new building. This is so misguided, especially in this economical climate, a stupid move. Can you imagine a Zaha Hadid computer generated blob or a Herzog and de Meuron death station? Even a Frank Gehry would be so wrong, like the one they are building now in Paris, defacing Jardins d’Acclimatation. So parvenu and unoriginal. While I see the problems attached to Bob’s idea of several galleries dispersed in the city, I do not see how an incredibly expensive meteorite is a great alternative. I still think that the Eaton Building would have been perfect. I was absent when the whole issue came up between Bob and the VAG, so I had to interrogate people retroactively which was most interesting. Some keep comparing Audain and Rennie; some people even pride themselves in saying that Audain comes from old money therefore has more humble intentions when it comes to his power in the art world. They say that he lets the art administrators decide and that he does not try to interfere. Ha ha ha. Some others say that he is more of an aristocrat than a Nouveau riche like Bob. These sayings come out of the mouths of neo-neo-Marxists dressed in proletarian nouveau-genre...it is so entertaining, I live for these contradictory situations life and thought is made of. I mean the entire auction was a total living contradiction in the first place. Audain did NOT make his money in a nobler way than Bob. He was also involved in CONDO development. The leaky type. Ha ha ha! Someone leaked that even though he knew that his CONDOS were leaking, he was still shamelessly selling them. Ha ha ha. So noble of him, yes. Marxists despise money in all forms. One of them wrote an entire text accusing Rennie to spend his money in the wrong way. Since when do we have the right to tell other citizens how to spend their money? Bob actually buys art while he could easily buy yachts or invest in technocracy. I thought that taxes were the official way to tell each citizen how to spend their money and that was enough. Some people just think that art collectors are supposed to belong to this very rare species: the type who have not only endless funds to give to art, but also that these funds are earned in a socially conscious way as well, and that on top of that, these superior individuals would keep their mouth shut in terms of opinions about how their funds should be spent, while also have an impeccable vision in terms of what they collect. Well, that kind of human being just simply does not exist. It is called a saint. Saints not only do not exist or if they do, they dress really badly and agree with everything and have no stories to tell and are frankly quite boring. Plus I think that Rennie does have a vision and his private museum is actually quite a big present to Vancouver. Not perfect, but who is? Ha ha ha I see an art dealer, he has a white beard, he has wings, and he is descending upon us, to save the art world, give money to artists for them to criticize money...ex machina..ex capital...ha ha ha ha and this individual will be canonized, we will build statues of his bust, a benevolent art king....ha ha ha meanwhile money does not grow on trees and now is already passed and we need capital. We desperately need it. Money. Money. Money. I truly wonder if there is an honest way to make tons of money, like billions. I think not. I think all money is dirty and it gets cleaned up and gets dirty gain, like rivers, like thoughts, feelings.
-So your performance was about The great Bob Rennie overlord of the provincial Vancouver art scene buying all the work in one fell swoop. Garish showing off? Would Bob be upset at your piece once he understood it fully?
-I seriously doubt it. I am sure his investments have to be coherent but he knows enough about art to get the language at work in this piece. It might not be the kind of work he wants to invest in at all, but the art works in the auction were definitely names he has been supporting for years, so nothing too incoherent in the end. High minded patronage is what very good patrons want to be most. And part of being high minded intellectually is about being open to criticism. It is not a new thing that anti-institutional art and anti-market art have been absorbed by both the institution as well as the market. Even installations, even ephemera can be bought. In fact, at the end of the auction, I offered the master of ceremonies to sell the « The memory of the evening for a dollar ».... (Including the French quotation form)…He refused saying that he had no more voice. Ha ha ha. Maybe one day, this last minute idea will be worth something.
-Ha ha. « A memory of the evening for a dollar »...that is cheap to own someone’s thought no?
-Well, yes and no, again, buying a thought is perhaps one of the most elegant form of art collecting. There are collectors of that sort in the world, but perhaps not in that room. Like there are curators of that sort as well. But for a dollar, an artist in the room would have bought it. Art back to art. I don’t know. Also the notion of one dollar in our culture is symbolic. Someone can sell you land or a car for the symbolic sum of one dollar. It’s a thing, for bookkeeping.
-Yes, I am aware of that tradition. And your piece also underlines that Bob is very different than anyone else buying art.
-Yes, the other collectors are different than Bob. Most of them were from the Contemporary Art Society. They are minor players. Bob becomes more like an archetype. He is bigger than life somehow. He is a figure in the art world, in the wild west of art and real estate. Even if the artist community wants to turn their back to him, he is still there. He is still here.
-Well it is like a mirror, as you say, the same yet different. I am sorry your performance did not happen
-Well, my text is perhaps more important, and usually I make art look like an after-thought anyways. I like to mistreat art as much as the audience. The art accompanies the main text so to speak, part of a set of interventions. For instance, in Banff, I was writing a site specific text about Banff and afterwards, as an after-thought, I opened a clandestine champagne bar in a utility closet, flirting with relational art, but pushing the audience out rather than welcoming them. The idea was to offend everyone until only the best minds would stay. Ha ha ha it really worked out that way. It was called the Alpine-Tribal bar. Ha ha ha my tribe was the best tribe.
-How did you push them out?
-Well it was clandestine so you needed to hear it by word of mouth ...it opened at midnight and once in, the walls were plastered with aphorisms about my critique of Banff as a corporate centre, about the inadequacy of the program, about the poseur writers, about the pollution of theory, about the art machine, and so on. Not a critique, in a conceptual sense. I am not a critic, I am a criticizer. I criticize everything I find questionable. Everything that makes me uncomfortable. I like to expose received ideas. In a Shiva sense, I destroy as much as I build. By questioning things, one frees things as well. The artist as a destroyer and a builder within the same situation. It is not like shooting bullets in the air though. It is targeted and site-specific.
-I start to understand when you say: Performing the Real. Vancouver is largely a fiction. The West is.
-New York is not fiction. Or it is fiction as reality
-I think New York is a total fiction. Everything is. When I was living in New York, I thought I stepped into fiction, on the other side of the mirror, but then, I later realized that I stepped into reality, which was fiction. Everything is a construction.
-It’s a feedback loop.
-Yes, and I like to work directly with life’s fiction, rather than staging my own, because it is already there, and as Filiou mentioned, Art is what makes life more interesting than art. That is more complex than thinking that art is more interesting than life; which is one thing. There is no dialectic here. It’s a dynamic love triangle. A trio is more electric than a duo. Complexity is dynamic. Dialectics are static. That is why I was excited about the Proxy as part of a trio: the curator, the artist and the collector as a dynamic which is full of tensions, contradictions and co-dependencies, like a dysfunctional family, full of internal neuroses, with money, like Eros, walking on our heads.
-Lovely talking with you. I’ve got to go love
-Okay bye bye honey. Arrive at my house around three o’clock. We will cab from there. I have five hat boxes; they are going to charge me extra for sure. I can’t stand Delta Airlines. We will be flying back with Air Canada.
-I’ll be there at three. I am bringing only one bag. Did you get tickets for the Turrell show?
-Yes. Tickets for everyone. For the last day, when we are all on low sleep after the rave; still in a hallucinogenic mode.