a dozen years have passed since Kenny Schachter decided to make
art his business. His entry into the world of art came at the
tail end of the excessive 80's and he hammered out his modus operandi
in the unstable and deflated early 90's.
the mid 90's he has received attention as something different
in the art world, most notably in a New York Times Magazine article
in 1996. Nowadays people like him and people hate him, but everybody
seems to have an unusually firm opinion.
average art audience member might have an opinion about the quality
of Matthew Marks' gallery. More likely they judge the gallery
show by show. Few who do not know Mr. Marks personally will have
opinions about the man himself. This is not the case with Mr.
Schachter. When it comes to Kenny Schachter there is no boundary
between the man and his gallery, and people tend to talk about
him/it as though it has been one long ten-year show. Whatever
your opinion is, it remains a fact that over the past ten years
Mr. Schachter has managed to create and sustain a viable alternative
to the white-cube style gallery space. The white-cube format mimics
the authority of a museum and thereby gives credibility to the
work of art. And it works. Art, even by artists you don't enjoy,
seems to glitter with pride and quality when hanging on the walls
of the Whitney or the Guggenheim.
effect can also be experienced, though not nearly as potently,
in the more prestigious galleries about town. Any gallery would,
of course, want to cultivate this atmosphere of cultural authority
and avoid dispelling the illusion that the only difference between
them and a museum is the existence of a price tag on the painting.
Not Mr. Schachter. He chooses instead to squat his shows in raw,
temporary spaces. When you come upon Rove (his portable gallery)
in a storefront, which the week before was empty, it gives you
the feeling of having discovered a black market.
Schachter's gallery format offers much less reassurance than the
white cube, but it does evoke the possibility of satisfying your
desires for art in the direct, unscrutinized and casual atmosphere
of flipping through bins at the corner record store. The spiritual
ecstasy of standing in the quiet of MOMA in front of The Piano
Lesson should not be underrated; however, the more intimate and
secular experiences that can be found at Rove have their own pleasures.
Mr. Schachter is not controversial just because he is an unconventional
gallerist with a mobile gallery. He also draws criticism for including
his own work in the shows he curates, reviewing his own shows,
and generally failing to observe the tenants of art world decorum,
including publicly criticizing other dealers.
Schachter denies being controversial for its own sake. He says,
"I don't just go around trying to get in fights with people. I
shy away from violence, but I have to keep my self humored, I
have to keep my self engaged. I think I'm like a roving critique
of the art distribution dissemination network in a fun way."
Before 1988 Kenny Schachter was oblivious to the art distribution
dissemination network. Though he had seen and enjoyed paintings
by Basquiat on the walls of the National Gallery in Washington,
he didn't know that you could buy one from Gagozian or Mary Boon.
The most he knew about Andy Warhol was that he had often seen
him at Studio 54. As a teenager from Long Island, he would go
to the disco almost every weekend and Warhol would always be there.
Schachter is neurotic and charismatic in equal parts and this
combination piques the curiosity as to what sort of disasters
have shaped this intelligent man. Mr. Schachter's callused manner
is as far from sentimental as one can imagine. Nevertheless, in
the cracks between his jokes and authentic indifference, one is
struck by the glint of an unspoken but unflinching acknowledgement
in him of being fractured in a terror-filled world. That he has
experienced great loss is palpable. Still he presents his viewpoint
in a fun way, relying on irony and sarcasm even when revealing
his own angst and pathos.
Mr. Schachter characterizes his childhood growing up on Long Island
as "not fun, not a good one at all" and "very isolated." As a
boy he would spend hours alone in his room cutting pictures out
of magazines and pinning them on cork bulletin boards, "more or
less what I do now," he said.
graduating with a double major in philosophy/political science,
Mr. Schachter went to law school. He had no intention of practicing
law but simply wanted to avoid getting a "$14,000 a year job kissing
someone's ass in an advertising agency." Mr. Schachter discovered
at law school that class was not necessary and would merely cram
for two weeks a semester and then take the exam. During this period
he worked trading stocks on Wall St. and lost all of his money.
The art world was still years away. Mr. Schachter was not without
experience in the world of buying and selling the visual. Before
he discovered art, he had wanted to be a fashion designer. Characteristically,
he had chosen to approach this profession by learning every aspect
of the business. This attitude landed him a job hoofing it around
middle America with two hundred pounds of ties in tow, pitching
his wares to fine haberdasheries in backwaters all over the States.
"It was Willie Loman in the worst way."
Schachter became cognizant of the commercial art world for the
first time when, while procrastinating from studying for a law
school exam, he went to see the Andy Warhol estate sale at Sotheby's.
Mr. Schachter went expecting to see the work of Warhol, as he
would at a museum, and discovered instead what was to be his first
lesson in art dealing. Mr. Schachter was surprised by the breadth
of the collection which included the art of many of Warhol's contemporaries.
The excitement of fetishistic acquisition, which Warhol embodied
so potently and with which the estate sale surged, must have aroused
in Mr. Schachter a feeling which he had not yet deeply explored.
Art had previously been interesting but removed from immediacy,
like the silent, looping demo of an arcade game. Now, under the
sign of Andy Warhol Mr. Schachter realized that he could put his
quarter in and play. He looked in on another sale that day, a
general auction of contemporary art, and shortly afterwards he
bought a Cy Twombly print from a gallery. Pretty soon he had taken
out an unsecured loan and was flying back and forth to Germany
buying and selling art.
the international art scene is considerably more stimulating to
Mr. Schachter than the necktie industry, he is still a traveling
salesman at heart. The reasons for this remain unclear and contradictory.
He certainly could make more money by staying in one place and
shepherding the career of any of the young talents he has discovered
over the past ten years. Though his nomadic ways may have begun
in financial necessity, the fact that he chooses to continue rejecting
the established system in our current booming economy gives him
the air of an iconoclast. It is important to note that any attempt
to glorify him as a moral opponent to what is "corrupt" in the
art system completely misses the point of what is authentically
interesting about Mr. Schachter.
Schachter is doing it the way he likes in complete disregard to
the conventions of the art world out of self-interest, a self-interest
which extends beyond the financial realm into the more subtle
worlds of personality and individual style. Mr. Schachter's inclusion
and reviews of his own work in shows that he curates is an example
of this. Despite considerable resistance to his art from his public,
Mr. Schachter refuses to be shamed into not showing it. Just as
the man cannot be separated from the gallery, showing his own
art can not be separated from the entire enterprise of being Kenny
by many standards Mr. Schachter is quite successful, compared
to Damien Hearst, as he himself points out, he is not. Speaking
with Mr. Schachter one gets the impression that he still has considerable
ambitions to fulfill. Recently Mr. Schachter has begun broadcasting
via webcam the daily events that occur while he is gallery sitting.
These events vary from brief appearances by Calvin Klein inspecting
the space for commercial purposes to Mr. Schachter being robbed
at knifepoint. Unfortunately, Mr. Schachter's assailants in London
stole the video camera, and the footage of that robbery has been
lost. As Mr. Schachter put it, "there's plenty of people out there
who'd like nothing better than to see me getting my ass kicked
on live television."
is surprising that Mr. Schachter did not begin televising his
exhibitions sooner. Now that he is doing so, it is perfectly clear
that he has always approached being a curator based on the model,
not of the gallerist, but of the talk show host. He features on
his show(gallery) a diverse line-up of ever-changing guests(artists).
And, like a talk show host, he also performs an occasional skit(his
art). The only question is whether he'll change his act when he
moves from late night to prime time.