at Me&Ro, 239 Elizabeth, NYC

November 15th – December 20th, 2003
Opening Reception: Saturday November 15th, 6 - 8pm

Thanks to zingmagazine books, Jasper Who? has made its way from the mind of Kenny Schachter and the mouths of a hundred New Yorkers to the pages of a colorful and insight-filled little book. Hot off the press, its publication is being celebrated at a launch November 15 at 239 Elizabeth Street. Available at the event will be a selection of 30 large-scale prints taken from the book.

Jasper Who? opens with an interview of Schachter, and he speaks about the context and purpose of the interviews that became the heart of the book. In his words, "the intent was to subjectively gauge general perceptions of the relevance of contemporary art to the everyday lives of a cross-section of people." Initially, Schachter felt that the discourse on and awareness of art has faded from the popular consciousness, in contrast with the days when Jackson Pollock was profiled by Life magazine, or when Andy Warhol could be seen in a cameo on "The Loveboat."

So Schachter decided to take to the streets of Manhattan with a camera, a list of questions, and the wherewithal to ask a hundred people, from various neighborhoods in Manhattan about their relationships with contemporary art. He was right to assume that hardly anyone would know who Matthew Barney was, yet what came out of Schachter's research was "the fantastic, eye-opening revelation that art effects, and impacts more people than [he] ever could have imagined." Schachter has this to say as well: "People love art, love making things, love taking a creative approach to life's everyday problems and issues. Art has a democratic definition more expansive than I—or the art world—could have ever conceived."

So on the one hand, there is this "shared open-mindedness pertaining to art broadly defined," this democratic definition of art, yet on the other hand, many people seem to regard contemporary art as an elitist, inside joke. Indeed, the political impetus of Schachter's project comes out within the questions he asks: "Have you been to an art gallery in the last 5 years? Do you recall what you saw? What was the experience like—how did you feel? Did you feel uncomfortable?" While a number of individuals derive a lot from going to Museums, almost no one said that they attend art galleries, because of their "antiseptic" and inhospitable feeling. "It's like they expect you to look a certain way," one interviewee remarked.

People from all walks of life seem to share openness towards the many forms of artistic expression in our culture, and yet the contemporary art scene puts them off. Between these two attitudes that coexist in many of the interviewees, there must be some way bridge the gap. As Schachter puts it: "The solution is for people in the art trenches to reach beyond an audience of a small handful that they continually perform for…We are on the threshold of an unparalleled opportunity to expand upon art appreciation and acceptance internationally."

Perhaps Jasper Who? will tempt those in the trenches to come out into the No Man's Land between the art world and the real world, waving white flags—or Malevich prints—in the air.

--Benjamin Berlow

Read interviews excerpts and more info about the Jasper Who? Book
Read Kenny Schachter's essay about this project published on Tema Celeste Magazine Fall/Winter 2002.